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Denmark’s Minister of Energy, Climate, and Building visits Lima

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With 40% of their energy supply from renewables, the tiny Kingdom of Denmark is considered a global leader in clean development and green technology. In wind power the Danes have no equal and have done more than any other country to shape and build the industry.

Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Danish Minister for Energy, Climate, and Building, was in Lima for the COP20 climate talks. We met in the tiny Danish offices of the conference venue towards the end of the busy second week of negotiations and couldn’t seem to stop smiling throughout our conversation.

The minister’s boyish face and dimples belie his political experience and 46 years. He is a member of Denmark’s centre-left government led by equally youthful-looking Prime Minister Helle Thorning–Schmidt.

Unlike North America or Australia, however, nearly all sides of Danish politics support the push towards 50% renewables by 2020. By 2050, the Nordic kingdom wants its entire electricity grid and all transport to be powered cleanly.

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_(Photo: Ulrik Jantzen)_

“The Danish direction on energy is the product of forty years of political consensus,” Petersen explains. “Since the seventies, Denmark has sought energy independence and energy efficiency.”

“We now use twice as much clean energy per capita as Germany,” he notes with no shortage of pride.

“My advice to any country is to embrace the transition to more modern energy. The experience we’ve gained, at every level, is that the more you do the easier it gets and the more profitable it gets. It looks difficult at the start and then you realize it makes financial sense to do green solutions rather than follow the old path.”

Petersen explains that through a combination of regulation—including a strict building code—and public investment Danish enterprise has been unleashed and the country’s clean energy market has blossomed.

“There is a bundle of money to be made from less environmentally damaging business but you do have to make a decision up front because the initial costs can be higher, but it pays off in benefits to you and the world.”

In March last year, the European Union signed a trade agreement with Peru, allowing the Europeans preferential access to Peruvian products.

“I find Peruvian products in my groceries at home—avocados and asparagus in particular,” he says, enthusiastically.

“We know the country is growing rapidly, we want to enhance trade with Peru. For us, green energy export is a strategic interest.”

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_(Photo: Ulrik Jantzen)_

To date, Denmark has formalized development relationships with Mexico (where, with the Danes’ help, wind energy is expanding rapidly) and with South Africa, China, and Vietnam.

Petersen laments the fact that, because of its small size, Denmark hasn’t the capacity to engage more strongly with Latin America. He says the bottleneck to Denmark doing more to promote clean energy is its small population: fewer than six million.

“Denmark is becoming more involved in Peru’s work on climate change. We have a great similarity of thinking, there’s no doubt. And we are more than happy to share our hard-won experiences, but we are such a small country and there is a limit to how many people we can work with.”

The minister says he is curious about Peru’s future in renewable energy, the potential for which, he said, seems “enormous”. During his stay, the minister visited Peru’s port city of Callao where he was impressed by wharf authorities’ use of electric rather than the standard diesel cranes to load and offload shipping containers.

“Our economic goals are not just about climate change but modernization and development; a more sustainable and more affluent world, which is far better than the opposite.”

Mid-way through our conversation Petersen leans forward and tells me of his first-hand experience of the impact of global warming on his country.

“The Kingdom of Denmark includes Greenland. When you stand on the glacier you can hear it melting. Water is running off at an astounding rate: a gallon an hour melts.”

For Petersen, economic, social, and environmental goals are intertwined. Denmark was one of the first to give to the Green Climate Fund and, as he proudly points out, the world’s fifth largest donor per capita in foreign development assistance.

“We must tackle climate change by unleashing investment in green growth; we need to make the spoonful of public investment so far become a shovelful of private capital.”

Acknowledging the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen (widely regarded as something of a debacle), Peterson compliments Lima’s hosting efforts with “only tonnes of compliments. The setting here [at the Pentagonito]is wonderful.”

“They have clearly learnt from the Copenhagen experience and there is no need to commit the same mistakes.”

When asked about Peru’s prospects in the clean development stakes, Peterson comments that Denmark and Peru are allied strongly on political and climate issues. He already has a strong relationship with the Peruvian environment minister, and President of COP20, Manuel Pulgar–Vidal, whom he praises for his active organization and chairmanship of the summit.

Fifteen minutes into a ten-minute interview, an aide pokes her head through the doorway to politely, but firmly, suggest we wrap it up. However the minister responds with a bright smile to one more, and very important, question.

“Yes, of course! I love ceviche! And I do believe that a little pisco sour is beneficial to your health, but of course I can’t have too much.”What did the Danish delegate think of Peru’s hosting of COP20?

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