Denmark doesn’t do enough

The climate change will have a huge impact on the country – one of the biggest problems is the sea level. And about 80% of the Danish population lives in urban areas near the coast.

By Frauke Konzak

Denmark in slow-motion: although politicians and municipalities are aware of the climate change and its impact on the country, little is happening – for example to protect the cities from the menacing sea level rise. Plus: The international organization Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme recently calculated that the sea level rise will be higher than assumed – approximately 1.6 meters instead of 0.59 meters (maximum).

If the sea level rises for two metres, Denmark coast will be flooded - and look like this. (Pic:

“The awareness is growing, which means that something can be done. But very little has been done so far in terms of actual planning and that is of course a matter of concern – because no planning is a really bad planning,” says research leader Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, from 
the Danish Climate Centre, the research department within the Danish Meteorological Institute. “The biggest challenge is the sea level rise in connection with fast floods that come for example from thunder storms.” And Denmark is not alone: It represents the region around the North Sea, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden and Norway – and they all have similar issues.

“What is lacking is including the climate change in spatial planning. That is one thing that I urge the spatial planner to do, to include the climate change,” adds Per Sørensen, Head of coastal research at the Danish Coastal Authority, the state authority responsible for the construction and maintenance of coastal protection on the west coast. “There are just few examples for adaptation in Denmark: One dike in the south-western part of the country has been reinforced, and they have included the sea level rise. And in Aarhus they are building a sluice in the river to protect the inner city from flooding.” He adds that too many municipalities also allow building summerhouses or hotels near to the beach, because everybody wants to live near to the water – but these are in fact areas with a high risk of flooding or erosion.


Strategy for adaptation to a changing climate

Per Sørensen, Head of coastal research at the Danish Coastal Authority. (Pic: Frauke Konzak)

Nevertheless, the Danish Government has a strategy for adaptation to a changing climate, for example the monitoring of the need for changes to coastal protection and possible autonomous adaptation of coastal protection. This includes dikes, the adaptation of emergency and storm surge measures and incorporating climate change in planning coastal and harbour installations. “It is important that we have more knowledge when it comes to climate change, that is why we invested in research in this area,” says the Minister of Climate and Energy, Lykke Friis. “We have to react faster than expected. There is no doubt that we have to do more in the future, but already now we are developing the tools for climate change adaptation that can be used by the various regions and local communities.”


The Tour of Climate Change Adaptation

Some of the new tools were presented at the seminar “Tour of Climate Change Adaptation” at the end of May, for example a map of Denmark, called coastal planner, which shows risky areas for flooding and which will be made public after the summer holidays. The auditorium of the university of Aarhus was full: approximately 60 staff-members of municipalities, Nature Agency’s local units and regional companies participated. Round tables were set in the room, so that group discussions were possible after the presentations. A busy hum therefore filled the room between the lectures. “It was the first time that we had this campaign, amongst others because the municipalities demanded it – and five other seminars will follow this year,” explains Louise Grøndahl, Head of the Project Department at the Information Center for Climate Change Adaptation, which is run by the Ministry of Energy and Climate.

Especially the website “” was put in the foreground, a portal that presents the newest knowledge on climate change adaptation within a number of areas. It was developed by the Information Centre for Climate Change Adaptation under the Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy in collaboration with an array of other institutions, and launched in January 2009. “The 98 Danish municipalities use it a lot to seek for strategies of neighbour municipalities, therefore the website is important,” says Louise Grøndahl. “The portal has approximately 300 visitors a day.”


One of the few projects in Denmark – Aarhus

Mogens Bjørn Nielsen, Head of Department of Nature and Environment at the City of Aarhus. (Pic: Frauke Konzak)

Another lecture that gained a lot of attention is the Aarhus project against flooding, which starts next year: a sluice in the river of Aarhus. When the City of Aarhus opens the last part of the river it will be in connection with the building of Aarhus’ new Main Library “Mediaspace“. The climate protection of Aarhus River will consist of a lock covered by water and which will prevent the water from the bay from entering the river. The water from the river can also be pumped into the bay instead to make sure that the river does not overflow. “The project will cost 50 to 55 million DKK,” says Mogens Bjørn Nielsen, Head of Department of Nature and Environment at the City of Aarhus. He explains the reasons for this step: “Around four years ago, we already had experienced high water levels in the bay and also in the river – these two events happened within some months, but if we had the water levels high in the river and in the bay at the same moment, we would have severe flooding in the city of Aarhus. And this problem will be increased by the climate change.” To emphasise: Aarhus is a typical Danish city – a lot of other cities will have the same problem.

When asked if Denmark does do enough for adaptation, Mogens Bjørn Nielsen answers with a clear “no”. He explains: “We have just started and now it’s put on the agenda, so we have a lot to do.” For Nielsen, one of the biggest challenges is that Denmark has to have some adjustments in the legislation in the water sector, which is not adapted to the conditions of the climate change. At the moment it is too difficult to make catchment areas such as large reservoirs between different bodies and different landowners.


Many municipalities lack knowledge and tools

A study on climate change adaptation by Danish municipalities (from 2010) indicates that climate change adaptation is high on the municipal agenda. It says that work is in progress to map and establish strategies, as well as to establish measures to manage increased water volumes.

Around half of the municipalities are cooperating with other municipalities about climate change adaptation (52%). A total of 73% have the areas vulnerable to flooding from storm water, groundwater or sewage mapped to a certain extent, and a total of 67% of the coastal municipalities mapped the areas vulnerable to flooding from the sea.

But still, many municipalities lack the necessary knowledge and tools. And only a few can provide precise budgets for climate change adaptation. The reason for this is that the financial situation in Danish municipalities is characterised by short-term decisions. And investments in future climate adaptation are not a vote winner.


The European Level

Minister of Climate and Energy Lykke Friis. (Pic: Frauke Konzak)

In 2009, the European Commission presented a policy paper – the so-called “White Paper” – which presents the framework for adaptation measures. It states: “Failure to adapt could have security implications. The EU is therefore strengthening its analysis and early warning systems and integrating climate change into existing tools such as conflict prevention mechanisms and security sector reform.”

The Minister of Climate and Energy Lykke Friis is therefore not the only one who claims: “We need a global solution when it comes to climate change adaptation.” After a while she adds: “We have a close cooperation in the European Union, we are learning from each other. But there is no doubt that we have to strengthen our policy.”


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Adaptation to climate change not fast enough