Pedestrians sit on the side of the harbour canal opposite residential buildings in the Christians Havn district of Copenhagen. In the 1970s, the Scandinavian country's rivers were so polluted that they teemed with dead fish. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
DENMARK, which has a population roughly the size of Singapore's, was in the spotlight at yesterday's World Cities Summit and CleanEnviro Summit Singapore for its green-growth successes.
The Scandinavian nation has ambitious renewable-energy targets and the world's happiest city dwellers.
So it was no wonder that Ms Kirsten Brosbol, the country's 37-year-old Environment Minister, fielded several questions on how it got to where it is today.
Denmark's rivers in the early 1970s, however, were so polluted that they teemed with dead fish, said Ms Brosbol at the World Cities Summit's opening plenary session yesterday. Faced with that and a serious oil shortage, Danish mayors finally bit the bullet and found ways to, among other things, use less fuel and improve air quality by switching from driving cars to cycling.
Ms Brosbol said three other things helped Denmark sustain its efforts to live better: First, it showed how easy it could be to live responsibly, by installing water-saving taps in supermarket toilets for instance.
Then, it let people get as close to nature as possible so they would learn to love their surroundings. It also tried to solve as many problems as it could at once, such as by managing heavier and more frequent rainfall by building reservoirs that doubled up as water parks that everyone could enjoy.
At the CleanEnviro Summit's leaders' plenary in the afternoon, Ms Brosbol explained that Danish businesses are now able to sell their environmental solutions.
"Ten per cent of total exports from Denmark are green exports; 20 per cent of our companies provide green solutions," she said. "We have made the business case that business is growing within the green industry."
The Danish government's clear policies, such as strong environmental regulations, pricing water and resources correctly, and green public procurement, have also reassured firms of its stance.
Denmark now aims to go entirely fossil-fuel free by 2050, by switching to a diverse cocktail of clean energy sources like wind, solar and biomass.
It is also tackling food waste, by working with supermarkets to sell smaller portions to match changing household sizes, and by working with a Danish civil society movement called Stop Wasting Food, said Ms Brosbol.
To change everyone's behaviour for the better, however, the stick worked better than the carrot, she said. "Strong regulation is the key, otherwise we would not have made any progress."