Mogens Lykketoft on why Denmark and the world can only afford to do the right thing on climate change



Mogens Lykketoft (third from left) taking part in the opening panel debate at the Web Summit on the 7th of November. Photo credit: Web Summit via Flickr.


Editor’s note: This interview was given before Donald Trump was elected to be the next President of the US.

Interview by Anders Lorenzen

A few years ago the name of Mogens Lykketoft would not have been that familiar on the scene of global politics. But in Denmark, he is a household name as the former Finance Minister of the Scandinavian country, and at the ripe age of 70, he is still very active on the political scene.

I queued up behind the Danish national broadcaster DR (Danmarks Radio) outside the MEO Arena in Lisbon, Portugal at the Web Summit, held from the 7th – 10th of November. Mr Lykketoft was due to take part in a panel discussion at the opening ceremony of the world’s largest technology gathering. His wife Mette Holm explained to me that many people have not realised his passion for the environment due to his international commitments, but it is an area he has been engaged in for at least the past 15 years (interview in video format below).

For the last year, Mr. Lykketoft has held the most high profile position of his career, that of President of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly. “In that capacity, I have been working very much with the follow up on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the Paris Agreement. The technology aspect of designing a better future is crucially important”, Mr Lykketoft stated as we sat down on a bench outside the event venue.

I asked if he agreed that climate change had taken centre stage at the UN?

“Yes, and for very good reasons”, the former UN  General Assembly President told me. “What Ban Ki-moon already saw ten years ago when he was appointed General-Secretary was that this is maybe the most urgent of all existential problems for the current generation. If we are not able to cap global warming at less than 2 degrees celsius, we know from a fairly unified scientific community that it would accelerate global warming. This will cause new conflicts, new costs and make it even more unthinkable that we would be able to mobilise all the goodwill needed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and so on”, he continued.

Mr Lykketoft still serves as an MP in the Danish parliament. He was keen to focus on the global security impact if we don’t take action on climate change: “It is a problem for social, economic and environmental stability, and a very serious one. The best way to illustrate this is to look at the world today. We have an increasing number of deadly conflicts that are associated with humanitarian catastrophe. We also have a number of humanitarian catastrophes linked to climate change. There is hunger in eastern and southern Africa for many people right now. So it is the beginning of a much stronger change in climate which will affect many more people. If we are not able, in a humane way, to take care of these people who are affected by climate change right now, how should we be able to take care of hundreds and millions of people. They will be in the same situation in the coming decades. That is the most important reason why we have to act now. “

The Paris Agreement is very topical at the moment as it has just been ratified. But some people worry about how ambitious it is. This was a concern Mr Lykketoft appreciated: “The Paris Agreement was a great achievement, the most important one we have ever had, and it was created through national commitments to act. But what we know is that even if every government on this globe lives up to its self-imposed obligations it is not enough. What we have to find out after COP22 and four or five years from now is how do we mix the increased political ambition with the increased technological capabilities and tools. We think the technological developments in these areas are moving so quickly that, with increased political determination, we can actually have the necessary amount of action, the necessary number of tools to stabilise the climate to limit increases to 2 degrees from the pre-industrial age. But we are in a hurry, and we have to take actions very very quickly. We have to be sure the right innovation is supported and that there are incentives to do it.”

Moving closer to home, the former Danish government minister expressed concerns that the current Danish government did not work for green growth or appreciated the crucial need for climate action: “I’m very sad to note that the present Danish government has a totally wrong understanding of the interlinkages. We will not be able to have a stable economy in the future if we don’t give high priority to the changes needed to support climate stabilisation and more sustainable development.”

He was very adamant, that for Denmark to continue to have a strong economy, it was crucial that green growth should be at the heart of it: “we have to be at the forefront of those new technologies that the world will increasingly demand. It is not that we can’t afford to do the right things, we cannot afford not to be doing the right things. There is a good stable Danish experience from the last couple of decades that if we have high ambitions for ourselves, we will also create those niches in the world market where we can earn money and get jobs.“

Mr Lykketoft said part of this transition involves a technological revolution, which he was confident could deliver what is needed. But moving forward it was crucial that an alliance was built between the private and the public sectors, in order to move to an economic model where renewables become dominant in the energy sector and where we move to a less materially demanding consumer society., he explained.

Mr Lykketoft’s last remarks are unlikely to fill our readers with hope. But in the event of the election of Donald Trump it is nevertheless important to include it: “I don’t even try to comprehend what would happen if Donald Trump was elected, because the whole house of cards we have built in the climate agreements will fall apart if there is a climate denier as president in the biggest economy of this globe. We only got the Paris Agreement because of the two major economies, China and United States, worked together, pushed and insisted that their friends and allies joined this agreement. We need the continued pressure from Washington and Beijing to make this happen.“

Mogens Lykketoft was speaking to A greener life, a greener world’s editor Anders Lorenzen at the opening of the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

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