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Local authorities, Local Agenda 21 and climate activities


Some Danish municipalities began developing environmental and sustainable energy policies of their own as far back as the 1980. Following the report of the Brundtland Commission in 1987, the Government took some initiatives to promote this by way of fostering good examples, including the "Brundtland Town" project in Toftlund (South Jutland) and the "Green Communities" program which ran from 1989-1992 and involved nine municipalities. Storstrøm County was also a frontrunner, and one of 12 regions and municipalities worldwide to receive an award from UNEP on the occasion of the Rio Conference in 1992.

However, it was only two years after Rio that a national initiative was taken to promote Local Agenda 21 activities as such. This was set firmly on the agenda through the ICLEI European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns in May 1994 in Aalborg, Denmark, at which the Aalborg Charter was agreed and initially signed by some 80 European municipalities. Shortly afterwards, the Minister of Environment and Energy and the chairpeople of the regional and local government associations wrote to all municipalities asking then to start such activities. The first actual Local Agenda 21 document was adopted by Albertslund, a suburb of Copenhagen, in 1995 and included a target of reducing CO2 emissions by 50 % over the 1987-2010 period. Albertslund has remained a frontrunner and received the Nordic Council of Ministers' Environment Prize in 2007 for its efforts.

Rapid take-up
The early story of Local Agenda 21 in Denmark can be seen as one of considerable progress and relatively rapid development. The number of municipalities and counties actually involved in LA21 rose from 50 per cent in 1996 to 69 per cent in 1998.

In 2000, a law was passed requiring all municipalities publish reports on their LA21 work every four years, and the first one before the end of 2003. Denmark is the only Nordic countries to have introduced a statutory requirement explicitlty relating to Local Agenda 21. However, the law does not require municipalities to carry out any specific Local Agenda 21 activities, to involve the wider community in Local Agenda 21 processes or even to draw up a separate Local Agenda 21 document. The requirement i simply that they should report om what targets they have set themselves withing five fields that are judged important for local sustainability, and on what progress they are making towards these goals. The goals may either be set out in a separate Local Agenda 21 strategy, or they may be incorporated into regular municipal plans. By 2005, 253 of the 271 former municipalities had submitted reports to the MoE, some of them twice. No figures are yet available on the 98 new municipalities that were formed in 2007.

Although this legal obligation has probably contributed to keeping Local Agenda 21 more alive as a concept than in some other Nordic countries, it is less often used to headline local environmental efforts even i Denmark than five or ten years ago. Also, central government efforts in support of LA 21 as such, in which the Spatial Planning Department of the MoE played the most important part, have tailed off. For instance, the Department's quarterly newsletter on LA 21 has not appeared since 2005 and its database offering good examples of LA 21 activities in Denmark has not been updated since 2006. Here as in many other countries, the thrust of central as well as local government efforts to mobilise people for the sake of sustainable development has tended towards an explicit focus on climate and energy issues, rather than the broad approach embodied in LA 21.

A network of frontrunner municipalities - Dogme 2000 (website in Danish only) - which was founded during the most intensive phase of LA 21 activity and is concerned with a broader range of environmental issues, nevertheless remains very active. It now comprises seven Danish cities as well as Malmö in Sweden, just across the Sound from Copenhagen. which is also a member of the network.


A survey (story in Danish only) conducted by the local government association in 2008 showed that two-thirds of the 98 new municipalities had launched activities to combat climate change, while most of the rest had plans to do so. Only 9 % reported neither ongoing activities nor plans. Many municipalities are in a strong position to influence GHG emissions from stationary energy use in particular, through municipal utilities supplying district heat and in some cases electricity as well.

The current frontrunner may well be the small island municipality of Samsø, which was 90 % dependent on fossil energy in 1998 and decided to reduce that to 0 within 10 years. The goal is close to being achieved in the stationary energy sector, as a result of close co-operation between the local government, farmers' and business associations and a local NGO, and a remarkable willingness on the part of citizens to raise capital for the projects. Although most cars on Samsø still run on oil, the island now exports more than enough wind power to the rest of Denmark to compensate for their emissions. In 2007, the Danish Society for Nature Conservation launched a network of "Climate communities". Municipalities who wish to join the network must undertake to reduce GHG emissions from their own activities by at least 2 % per year, and in the longer term to significantly reduce emissions from the whole local community. By August 2008, 12 out of 98 municipalites had joined this network (story in Danish only), and at least two of them - the towns of Frederikshavn and Sønderborg - had adopted targets similar to that achieved by Samsø, viz. to become carbon neutral within 15-20 years.

Several cities, including the two largest, Copenhagen and Århus - have recently delevoped overarching climate strategies. Some can build on efforts that have been pursued with some success for up to two decades to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewables, both in municipal buildings and - via planning instruments, municipal utilities and/or cooperation with other actors - in the building stock in general. An national competition in which the municiaplity that saves the most energy year-on-year, as well as the one that uses the least energy per unit of building space, receive prizes, has been running since 1994. Before the reform of 2007, 70 % of the old Danish municipalities took part, and the publicity as well as the benchmarks the competition generates have probably had some effect in raising awareness of this issue.

Most of the larger cities at least also have established policies to promote more environmentally friendly transport, which in Denmark as elsewhere tends to be notably more difficult than improving efficiency in buildings. Copenhagen has nevertheless had notable success with its biking strategy, which - despite an already exceptionally high baseline by international standards - has succeeded in raising the number of cyclists by 50 since 1995, or four times more than the frequency of car trips.

In July 2008, the Ministry of Climate and Energy has announced that three municipalities will shortly be selected as "Energy Towns" (story in Danish only) to showcase local efforts at sustainable climate and energy policies. Candidates must have a record of past achievements as well as ambitious plans for the future, and alså fulfil a number of more spescific criteria, including membership of the "Climate Communities" network started by the Society for Nature Conservation. The selection will be done by an independent jury.



[Last updated: 09.08.2008]