greener future

Green Growth Initiative moves economies toward a greener future

In 2011, the Nordic Prime Ministers launched The Nordic Region – leading in green growth, an initiative aimed at enhancing green growth by building on the region’s positions of strength and innovation capacity. Twenty-six projects in eight strategic priority areas have produced a wealth of knowledge and recommendations on ways to stimulate the green economy in the region and encourage the global community to implement more ambitious green strategies.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Environmentally responsible economic growth
Nordic countries have constantly demonstrated an ability to improve economic performance while maintaining a strong commitment to the environment. This remains a prominent feature of the Nordic environmental collaboration, which dates back to the 1970s. The overarching aim of the PMs’ Green Growth Initiative was to increase green growth in the region, improve coordination between the countries, and take the lead in relation to developments in the EU.

The Nordic Region – leading in green growth identified a range of cross-
sectoral areas in which the Nordic countries could exploit their environmental lead in order to realise the growth potential of the green transition,” says Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers. “The progress made has allowed us to strengthen our market position in these areas and influence international environmental and climate policy.”

Based on recommendations made by a Nordic specialist task force, the following priorities were identified: developing Nordic test centres for green solutions; collaboration on education, training and research; flexible consumption of electricity; common green technical norms and standards; green public procurement; new methods and technologies for waste treatment; integration of environmental and climate in development aid; and funding of green investments and companies. The combined budget for the eight areas in the period 2012-2015 was DKK 66 million.

Broad approach to green growth
The projects have addressed a broad variety of topics relating to improving resource efficiency, tackling the major environmental and climate challenges, and creating green jobs in the region.

“We’ve taken a broad approach to green growth, requiring involvement from many different sectors, Nordic working groups, and committees of senior officials,” says Øyvind Lone, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment and member of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Environment and Economy Group. “This approach was one of the risk factors but, by the end of the initiative, we can say that it’s been a success, as it’s drawn more attention to the individual projects, both in the region and internationally.”

Lone mentions new methods and technologies for processing waste as an example of a sector with great potential for growing the economy and improving the environment. As part of the PMs’ initiative, Nordic experts developed policy recommendations, industry guidelines and a Nordic strategy for improved collection, sorting, reuse and recycling of plastic and textile waste.

“The growth potential is considerable,” Lone says. “As an example, the experts predict that more efficient collection and sorting of textiles could create more than 4000 new jobs in the region.”

Sustainable Nordic building standards influence Europe
One of the goals was to develop common green standards in the building sector in order to remove trade barriers between the countries and create a strong platform for export of sustainable building solutions to the European markets. The Nordic region as a standard maker project brought together the Nordic standardisation organisations and the construction industry to develop common standards for sustainable building renovation and indoor climate. The European Committee for Standardization, CEN, is currently looking at adopting these standards at European level.

Nordsyn has strengthened Nordic collaboration on market control of ecodesign and energy labelling. The project has contributed to more efficient market control by developing knowledge and encouraging increased sharing of market control plans, results and best practices between the Nordic countries and EU member countries.

“The standardisation projects and Nordsyn have demonstrated very clearly that when the Nordic countries speak with one voice, we can influence policy development in the EU,” says Høybråten. “Working together increases our influence and credibility in international policy development.”

Valuable input into climate negotiations
Results from the Green Growth Initiative provided valuable input to the international climate negotiations ahead of the Paris Agreement of December 2015. One key contribution came from a study on the impact of removing fossil fuel subsidies. Commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative developed a tool to calculate the economic and environmental effect of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. A modelling of the impact in 20 countries showed that they could reduce emissions by a national average of 11% if they phased out subsidies by 2020. The study showed that, by re-investing 30% of the subsidy savings in renewable energy or energy efficiency, the countries could reduce emissions by 18%.

“This project resulted in new and unique research on the removal of fossil fuel subsidies that was well received at numerous events leading up to COP21 and during the final negotiations,” says Høybråten. “It will be part of our plan for an ambitious Nordic implementation of the Paris Agreement, focusing on Nordic solutions for carbon-neutral development.”

The future role of biorefineries in the Nordic bioeconomy
Another important result was the publication of a comprehensive report on the development of the Nordic bioeconomy, Test centers for green energy solutions – Biorefineries and business needs. Biorefineries are identified as a cornerstone of the new bioeconomy, upgrading organic waste and residual products from primary industries to products of higher value, i.e. food and biochemicals, as well as biofuels and energy. The report refers to opportunities in establishing more biorefineries based on existing technologies, and development of new processes and high-value products, thereby helping the Nordic countries lead the way in biorefining technology.

“The Nordic countries have a lot to offer when it comes to increasing resource efficiency and developing the bioeconomy,” says Lone. “Denmark has a large and dynamic agricultural sector, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and the Faroe Islands are rich in fisheries resources, and the technologically advanced forestry industry of Finland, Sweden and Norway could play an important role in replacing fossil fuels with sustainable biofuels.”

New PMs’ initiative in the pipeline
In conjunction with the COP22 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh in November 2016, the Nordic Prime Ministers will be launching a new initiative.

Focus areas will be climate and energy, sustainable urban development, food and nutrition issues, welfare solutions, and gender equality. The initiative will run for three years, between 2017-2019, in collaboration with a number of Nordic institutions and other partners.

The Nordic Region – leading in green growth identified a range of cross-sectoral areas in which the Nordic countries could exploit their environmental lead in order to realise the growth potential of the green transition”

Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers

“The growth potential is considerable”

Øyvind Lone, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment

“The Nordic countries have a lot to offer when it comes to increasing resource efficiency and developing the bioeconomy”

Øyvind Lone, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment