On December 15, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the World Resources Institute, in cooperation with the Royal Danish Embassy to the United States, hosted a roundtable discussion at GMF on how U.S. and Danish governments are preparing for a low-carbon future, while aiming to enhance their respective energy security, environmental, and economic goals. The event highlighted the recent report by the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy detailing a roadmap towards the elimination of fossil fuel use in Denmark by 2050.
Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen highlighted Denmark’s continued investment to push its low carbon agenda forward and emphasized two distinct tracks Denmark will be pursuing — a continued push for consensus in global climate negotiations and a stronger bottom up approach. Denmark hopes that practical national progress will provide an incentive and a model for other countries like China and the United States.
James Bradbury, Senior Associate at the World Resources Institute, noted that numerous roadmap studies that have been published in the past few years serve a very important purpose — they bring to light some of the harder policy choices that will need to be made in the future to make sure the energy investments being made today are aided in the long term. Studies like the one produced by the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy force people to address politically inconvenient questions.
Katherine Richardson, Professor and Vice Dean, University of Copenhagen, and Chairman, Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy, presented key findings from the green energy report of the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy, detailing a roadmap toward the elimination of fossil fuel use in Denmark by 2050. She stated that national plans are of great importance to global mitigation efforts due to the fact that in international negotiations, a country will not promise anything more than what they know is possible to do on the home front. If a country has a plan, it can always deviate; without a plan there can be no movement forward. The commission concluded that very costly upfront investments will be required to make this transition, but, even using conservative estimates that ignore the social and environmental costs of fossil fuels, these costs will be about the same as investments that will in any case be necessary in a fossil fuel–dependent scenario. To spur this investment, the commission recommends a tax on fossil fuel use, rather than subsidies for low-carbon investments.
Scott Sklar, President at The Stella Group, Ltd., agreed that the push for clean energy will come from the local or national level and that strong movement on this front will either drag the federal level along or make action at the federal and international levels irrelevant to producing results. Mr. Sklar also commented that risks are constantly undervalued in energy planning, highlighting risks of prices; supply and demand of resources; the logistics of transmission and transportation; weather-induced accidents; terrorism; and aging infrastructure. Taking these risks into account, the benefits of investing in clean energy only increase. Mr. Sklar stated that taxing fossil fuels would not be feasible for countries like the United States that have large domestic supplies. For most of the industrialized world, the key will be to pursue a mixed portfolio of energy sources and to make sure that faster, smarter technologies navigate their complex economic systems and reach the consumer. Expanding consumer choice is the key to growth.