Friis: ‘Climate depression’ is over, full speed to Cancún


Countries negotiating to deliver an international climate deal are back in business and both Denmark and Mexico, the outgoing and incoming chairs of the UN-led talks, are developing a "GPS system" to successfully reach their destination on time by December, Danish Energy and Climate Change Minister Lykke Friis told EURACTIV in an interview.

"A lot of negotiators and ministers were suffering from climate depression after Copenhagen […] But now, I think we have moved ahead," Friis said, explaining that a number of steps in the right direction had been taken.

EU's 30% target must remain bargaining chip

Commenting on Europe's overall strategy to retain leadership in international negotiations, she supported EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a Dane herself, by saying that the EU should retain the option of reducing its CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020 as a bargaining chip.

"Europe's overall strategy should be to get others to step up their game as well. We should not play that card now. We should use it when we get to the end game in Cancún," insisted the minister, despite conceding that the plan did not work in Copenhagen.

The minister expressed her conviction that should the EU manage to speak with one voice, it will be able to persuade other countries to step up their ambitions. But "we need to live up to our various promises, especially on 'fast start' finance. This will play a major role in confidence building," she said.

'Difficult' to deliver legally-binding agreement in Cancún

Friis believes that "it will be difficult" to secure agreement on a fully-fledged legally-binding deal. "But if it is not possible to agree on the best-case scenario, we should make sure that in Cancún we agree on a number of important deliverables that we can then use as important steps towards South Africa [in 2011]," she insisted, mentioning deforestation, adaptation and possibly technology transfer.

Asked whether the EU should link short-term process to a long-term debate on the transformation of Europe's economy, the minister preferred to keep the two debates separate.

"At the moment, we are 'in the air' on the way to Cancún and we are in the cockpit together with the Mexicans. And while you are in the air, that is not the time to look into the engine," she said.

Towards a common European energy policy

Commenting on the EU's drive to develop an energy action plan for 2011-2020, she argued that the strategy should be seen as a way of emerging from the economic crisis.

"I am convinced […] that we have come full circle: the EU started out with energy, as a coal and steel union, and now we are back to basics: it is once again energy policy," the minister said.

Friis sees the development of a super-grid system as a precondition of the EU's transformation into a more low-carbon economy and possibly the establishment a common European energy policy.

"When you travel through Europe, the roads do not stop at national borders, nor do telecommunication systems, but our energy system usually stops at borders," she complained, calling for Europe's energy mix to be diversified by focusing on wind in the north and solar in the south.

According to Friis, debates on whether the crisis is hampering the transformation towards a sustainable energy system are ill-fated.

"There is a lesson to be learned from the Danish case. That is if you transform yourself early on, then you can also get a competitive edge," she said, stressing that 11% of Danish exports were now in 'green' technologies.

The Nordic country has also set up a climate commission, which in September will publish a report on how Denmark can become independent from fossil fuels.

Asked to outline Denmark and the EU's vision for 2020, Friis replied: "I see an energy system that does not stop at national borders, one that puts us in a situation [where] we have cheaper energy and […] where we can maintain our position in the green race and be less dependent on countries that do not necessarily share all our values."

Lykke Friis was speaking to EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.

To read the interview in full, please click here


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