How governments can drive the green revolution

Governments can drive the transition to a greener economy by providing a conducive economic and regulatory environment for businesses to innovate sustainable practices and technologies, says the prime minister of Denmark.

denmark windmills
Boats sail past marine windmills near Copenhagen, Denmark. The country aims to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Image: Alfonso de Tomas /

As prime minister of a country that for decades has worked towards a green society, I am fully aware that the green transition is not an easy task. In order to succeed, governments, the business community and citizens need to join hands. To educate and innovate together.

The global financial crisis, the mounting pressure on the world’s resources and the immense climate and environmental challenges have placed sustainability on top of the international agenda. Sustainability as a mean to meet these challenges, but increasingly also as a viable business model for governments and businesses alike.

Sustainability is an investment in future economic growth, new market opportunities and job creation. And it is an important social parameter to secure a more harmonious society in which economic growth is not causing polluted air, water and soil. The people of China as well as Denmark are affected by the environment where they live, and we, as politicians, need to address their concerns in a way that benefits the entire society and creates a strong foundation for a prosperous future.

Governments can act as a driver for the green transition. Through our regulatory instruments, we can set up conducive legal and political frameworks and introduce economic incentives and standards that promote innovation, develop new markets and build global champion industries.

Allow me to use my own country as a case in point.

The Danish experience

Engaging the business community is a top priority for the Danish government. By applying comprehensive policy frameworks, the Danish government has nudged Danish companies out of their comfort zones – into a greener and more innovative direction.

The Danish government has for decades strived for a greener society. We have largely succeeded in decoupling economic growth and energy consumption. And we have consistently sought to reconcile our economic growth with ambitious green policies.

In doing so, we have encouraged education and innovation among producers and consumers.

And we have worked steadily through a number of reforms and initiatives.

Firstly, we have adopted a long-term political vision. We aim to have our entire energy supply covered by renewable energy in 2050. To achieve this, we have launched an ambitious energy plan towards 2020. And numerous actions such as price regulations and standardization measures have been introduced to limit waste and to reduce energy and water consumption.

Secondly, we have succeeded in creating broad alliances and political support which have led to long-term predictability for a green transition. Our green policies have been part of a whole-of-government approach for decades.

Furthermore, we have sought to reconcile economic growth and sustainable development in an inclusive manner. We have established so-called growth teams to strengthen the competitiveness of Danish enterprises. Representatives of business, research, public sector and other stakeholders join hands to discuss and recommend concrete initiatives to improve the conditions for green growth.

Engaging the business community and the citizen

Engaging the business community is a top priority for the Danish government. By applying comprehensive policy frameworks, the Danish government has nudged Danish companies out of their comfort zones – into a greener and more innovative direction. Several Danish companies are today among the frontrunners in the development, testing and promotion of green technologies and sustainable solutions.

Governments can set up framework conditions. The private sector can come up with concrete solutions, innovation and deliver results. That is why the Danish government initiative, the Global Green Growth Forum, where China is one of our partner countries, engages leaders from governments, businesses and civil society in green growth partnerships.

Indeed, it is crucial to engage the citizens – the consumers. Promoting a green society requires sustainable consumption. Also here a joint effort from government and businesses is important. Through information and education, governments can foster a green-growth mindset. Through innovative business models, companies can promote consumer demand for sustainability. And through new valuation methodology, investors can encourage a more sustainable economy.

In Denmark we have come a long way in terms of engaging the citizens. We have seen broad public support and engagement throughout generations and across political beliefs. And we continue to see new citizen-led initiatives to reduce and reuse waste.

I am confident that investing in quality education for all is key to engaging our citizens. I am very pleased that Denmark and China are both Champions of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. Our joint effort to ensure that quality education, including vocational training, is put at the heart of social and political agendas is an important step towards engaging all citizens. Also in relation to the green agenda.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the Prime Minister of Denmark. This post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum blog.

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