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Denmark: a shared framework is unlocking action at scale 

The DK2020 program was set up by Realdania in 2019 to assist municipalities in preparing ambitious, local climate action plans that lead the way to climate neutrality by no later than 2050. 

Today, four years later, no less than 97 (of the 98) Danish municipalities have joined the initiative, making Denmark the first country in the world where virtually all municipalities are committed to drawing up climate actions plans to meet the 1.5° target set with the Paris Agreement. Not because they are in any way obliged to do so by legislation or regulation (they are not) – but in a truly inspiring show of local climate accountability, commitment, and activism. 

By joining DK2020, municipalities are offered support and a coherent framework to develop or upgrade their existing climate action plans to international best practice; specifically the Climate Action Planning Framework (CAPF) developed by international cities’ network C40.  DK2020 marks the first time this ambitious international standard is adapted and applied for use in smaller cities and municipalities.  

The CAPF and C40 Cities were – like Race to Zero – initiated in the urban context of some of the world’s most climate ambitious megacities. And naturally, the task of reducing emissions will look very different from the perspective of a mayors’ chair in Melbourne or Mexico City than it will in a Danish municipal landscape covering a diverse mosaic of urban and rural districts, smaller in scale, lower in population density, and spanning multifarious functional requirements and interests from urban development and infrastructure to agriculture and energy production. 

So how does context-sensitive municipal decision-making in Denmark fit within an international standardised framework like CAPF? The approximately 64 different categories of initiatives presented in the first 20 climate action plans alone suggest that standardisation of framework does not necessarily translate into standardisation of content. Rather, it is our experience that working within a shared framework has supported efficiency and enabled an exchange of knowledge, sharing of inspiration and collaboration across municipal boundaries that has widened the scope of local climate action planning, rather than limiting it. 

Another important advantage is that the use of a shared framework across municipalities has enabled us to analyse the completed plans’ combined emission reduction contribution – basically answering the perhaps most critical question of all: Are we, in fact, on track?   

A few weeks ago, we got a preliminary answer, as we set out to analyse and measure the 59 municipal climate action plans that has been completed and certified up to this point. In doing so we assessed whether the targets, actions and trajectories can be said to be compatible with the Paris agreement. The IPCC, in their recent synthesis report, have estimated that limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, will require a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 43% in 2030 compared to 2019. Looking at the 59 Danish municipalities, they have a combined targeted reduction of 62 % compared to their base year emissions (ranging from 2016-2020), and in their action-based trajectories they expect a combined emission reduction of 56%, surpassing the targeted reduction of 43 %. We find that this is in line with the ‘fair share’ carbon budgeting approach of C40’s Deadline 2020 report, as Danish municipalities have the capacity, and as such the responsibility, to reduce emissions beyond the global average. 

This level of transparency would be difficult to achieve – if not impossible – without a shared framework and the consistent and comparable data it produces. And I do believe that this will play a vital role in building and maintaining public trust moving forward towards the transition so urgently needed.   

I believe that DK2020 and Race to Zero Cymru serve as examples of exactly the global-to-local ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’ approach to climate action called for by the latest IPCC report as it was presented by UN Secretary-General António Guterres this March. It is a great privilege to follow your ambitious work and I look forward to sharing more learnings from Denmark on our shared race towards zero.