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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - March 2019

We are three planets short

Letter to the editor printed in Danish newspaper Politiken Fabruary 20th signed former Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers Dagfinn Høybråten

Denmark is a leading country when it comes to sustainability, with a tradition of recycling few countries in the world can match, wind power of world class, and a fantastic welfare system. After six years in Copenhagen, I have experienced this at first hand. I am impressed.

Accepting the problem

But in other ways we must get our house in order. Denmark’s material footprint and emission of climate gases per inhabitant are among the highest in the world. If everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average Dane, we would need 4.24 Earths. For the other Nordic countries, the figure is between 3 and 4 Earths, while the global average is 1.69.

People are becoming more and more aware of this. Forty-six percent of all Danes now regard the climate issue as a “very serious problem”. This is a good start. If we are going to solve a problem, first we must accept it as a problem.

In February I was as Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers invited to the Danish Parliament to speak at an official hearing on the UN’s global goals for sustainable development. How is the Nordic Council of Ministers working with the global goals, and how can Denmark benefit from our experiences?


All the Nordic countries are among the top ten countries in the world in terms of how far we have come with the global goals. The world is looking to Denmark and the other Nordic countries for sustainable solutions. This is why the Nordic Prime Ministers have taken the initiative to systematically share good Nordic solutions with other countries.

However, many difficult challenges remain before we can attain the global goals. The biggest challenges relate to the transition to sustainable consumption and production – global goal number 12.

The Nordic countries have already been co-operating in this area for many years. One of the first and most familiar results is the Nordic ecolabel, The Swan, which celebrates its 30th birthday this year. The Nordic Council of Ministers set up The Swan ecolabel to help consumers make sound environmental choices. Today, you find the label on tens of thousands of goods and services.

Complex transformation

In 2017, the Nordic Ministers for Co-operation agreed on stepping up the work on the global goals for sustainable development. The ‘Generation 2030’ programme was born. The main focus is on sustainable consumption and production. The programme will inspire action, and promote an honest and constructive dialogue on how we can transform the entire consumption and production chain to make it economically, socially and ecologically sustainable.

This transformation is very complex, and requires the involvement of all sectors. The work of the Nordic Council of Ministers on the global goals is therefore largely characterised by cross-sectoral engagement involving all the Councils of Ministers in the organisation – everything from trade and business to culture. I believe that co-operation is the key on many levels. The Danes are facing the same challenges as their Nordic neighbours, and the Nordic region can come a long way if we focus on solving problems together and sharing experiences and solutions in different sectors.

Role models

The Nordic region is a forerunner when it comes to sustainable development, but powerful measures and action are needed if we are to attain all 17 global goals. I believe we have every opportunity to lead the way and be a good role model, to ensure a sustainable future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

Because if we in the Nordic region cannot lead the way, who can?

Photo credit: Johannes Jansson/