Denmark scores highly in the green league

OECD praises policy framework, urges more action on agriculture, carbon emissions

Danish environmental decision-making is among the most advanced among the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to a review of national environmental performance published yesterday. In a generally glowing analysis, however, the OECD concludes that more needs to be done to reduce nutrient discharges from agriculture and to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport if Denmark is to meet its international obligations.

Denmark is praised for its swiftness in revising environmental laws and its extensive use of taxes to achieve policy aims. Such measures have clearly not impeded economic growth or international competitiveness: on the contrary, environmental protection has become an important selling point for Danish industry, according to the report, the latest in the Paris-based organisation's series of peer studies of member states.

Danish efforts to apply strategic environmental assessments to government bills and to the national budget are "innovative and exemplary," the report adds, but a "significant strengthening" is needed of the integration of environmental concerns into economic and sectoral decision making. It advises that the green tax reform should be extended, with taxes calibrated to ensure their full environmental and economic efficiency.

Overall, Denmark has made particularly good progress in improving air quality and in identifying and starting to clean up contaminated sites, the report finds. Surface water quality is "well above" what it was in the 1970s, but the pollution of ground water poses a threat to the current drinking water supply system and eutrophification is a problem in coastal waters. High use of pesticides – which the 1986 pesticides action plan and more recent legislation have made a good start in tackling – as well as the increasing amounts of manure from ever more intensive livestock rearing are the main causes. A goal of halving nitrogen discharges by 1997 was not achieved, and the deadline has been postponed to 2003.

On emissions, Denmark is commended for having reduced its output of sulphur dioxide by 67% and nitrogen dioxide by 11% between 1980 and 1995, a period during which GDP grew by 36%. However, further reductions are essential, the report says; Denmark has not succeeded in limiting CO2 emissions, which are currently well above 1990 levels. The OECD recommends that the government review the carbon tax with a view to simplifying and strengthening it and that it consider higher fuel tax and road pricing systems.

Another problem area is waste generation, which has been buoyed by strong private consumption in the 1990s. Recycling and reuse of waste have more than doubled in ten years, to 60% of waste in 1996, but the focus should now shift to a product policy that reduces waste generated at source, the report says.

Finally, the report notes that while Denmark plays a significant role in international efforts to preserve biodiversity, its own landscape has been considerably affected by intensive agriculture. It recommends that a national action plan be drawn up for nature protection, including quantitative targets and deadlines.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. References: "OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Denmark".

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