“I would like to see a Europe that is the most climate-friendly region in the world”
— Connie Hedegaard, 2010
The Danes have been ahead of the rest of the world in tackling climate change issues. Since the 1970s, Denmark’s energy consumption has been sustained, despite economic growth of 50%. So it’s only natural that the European Union should appoint Connie Hedegaard, a Dane, as the Commissioner for Climate Action of the European Union.
At 50 years old and going strong as ever, Hedegaard has taken the EU by storm since her appointment in February 2010. Upon assuming office, Hedegaard briskly outlined the immediate priorities for the EU. This included helping the region meet its emission targets for 2020, implementing the EU Emissions Trading System, developing and promoting low carbon technologies, and working with peers for better policymaking.
“There’s no doubt the Commission is getting a woman who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to raise her voice if she doesn’t get what she wants,” observes Christian Huettemeier, a journalist with Politiken, a Danish newspaper. The observation stemmed from Hedegaard’s previous exploits, which established her tough, no-nonsense personality. Possibly, this quality is what secured her place in the Danish Parliament, back in 1984, when she was elected as its youngest member. Six years later, Hedegaard left politics to pursue journalism and even anchored a news program on television. But politics beckoned and 14 years after leaving the political battleground, she returned as the Minister for Environment in 2004.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that Hedegaard came into her own, as Minister for Climate and Energy. Hedegaard’s policies have been widely acknowledged as the driver of Denmark’s global lead in sustainable energy. The introduction of Denmark’s Energy Policy 2008-2011, in which Hedegaard played a major role, established the country as the first in the world to commit to slashing overall energy consumption. A target of 2% reduction by 2011 compared to 2006 was set, along with an aim to meet 20% of the country’s energy needs through renewable sources. What’s more, fat annual subsidies were provided to promote solar and wave energy, and funding for energy technology research and development was doubled. While higher taxes were imposed on carbon emissions, the tax exemption for electric vehicles was extended to 2012. Also, hydrogen vehicles were made newly eligible for these taxes. A lofty goal to use 10% biofuels in local transportation by 2020 was also established.
In 2009, Hedegaard was selected by TIME magazine as one of the most influential people to affect the world.
Hedegaard’s impressive performance did not go unnoticed. Last year, she became host of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Copenhagen known as the COP15. Her task was to get all the 192 participants to agree to begin serious cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions. But Hedgaard’s past laurels did not guarantee success at COP15.
The COP15 was universally acknowledged as a disappointment, with a failure to reach an agreement. Adding to the drama, Hedegaard made an untimely exit, shocking the world by resigning from her post on December 16, just two days shy of the conference end. Hedegaard, who is known to love the spotlight, got her fair share of attention of a different kind. She was replaced by Lars Lokke Rasmussen the Danish prime minister. Although Hedegaard said that, “With so many heads of state and government having arrived, it’s appropriate that the prime minister of Denmark presides,” an underlying sense of unrest did not go unnoticed. But the reasons remain obscure. Some surmise that Hedegaard resigned because she saw the talks hurtling towards failure. Another theory is that she stepped down due to intense criticism from African nations, who accused Hedegaard of favoring rich countries in the negotiations.
In her current capacity, Hedegaard is trying to veer away from criticism by stressing the importance of global climate change solutions. She has already begun outlining her priorities for the next edition of the UNFCCC conference, which is slated to be held in Mexico this year between November 29 and December 10. Hedegaard’s wish list for the meeting includes a worldwide commitment to restrict the rise in global temperature to no more than the prescribed two degrees centigrade, as well as a unified agreement to protect the world’s forests. Encouraged by Hedegaard, the European Commission has begun work on climate targets that go beyond 2020.
But Hedegaard is not satisfied. “I rather set the stakes higher than lower,” remarks Hedegaard. She is now drawing a 2050 roadmap to establish Europe as a low-carbon economy. With that, Hedegaard brings a breath of fresh air. In more ways than one.
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© Thomas White International, Ltd. 2019