COPENHAGEN—Opening the 3-day climate conference here, Danish Minister for Energy and Climate Connie Hedegaard challenged the new U.S. president to strengthen the American targets for carbon emissions. Barack Obama’s stated goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse pollution by 80% by 2050 is “a start. ... But short- and medium-term steps are needed as well,” she said. Hedegaard, who will play a key role in the December climate talks here, appeared to back away from a recent call on Obama to pass legislation designed to reduce U.S. carbon emissions before those talks. On that score, she called for developed nations to set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 15% to 30% “below business as usual” emissions by 2030. That’s an incredibly aggressive goal but one some scientists say is the only way that the world can avert global warming of more than 2°C—the European Union has determined that’s a prudent limit to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic warming,” in the United Nations parlance.
Hedegaard didn’t address Denmark’s challenges limiting its own emissions (which have caused a minor stir here at home for her), but she did say that Denmark’s move to green energy has allowed the nation to keep unemployment low—2.3% right now, she said—by employing millions in “green growth“ jobs. The Danish economy has grown by 80% in the last 25 years, her ministry says, but energy consumption has stayed nearly flat. It’s easy to believe—buildings around here use lights that turn on when someone enters and off when they leave, mass transit systems are heavily used, and escalators stop moving when passengers get off. Yet Kirsten Halsnæs, head of the Climate Centre at the Technical University of Denmark, says even more is needed in the area of energy efficiency.