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Strategy plans for sustainable development

The aim of this paper is to describe national plans for sustainable development and assess whether they include the necessary goals and instruments. The plans from Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Estonia and Lithuania have been chosen as examples.


Energy and climate figures for the countries involved



RE part of el. cons. 2003, %

RE part of el. cons. 2010 (goal)

Reduction goal, %, CHG 2008-12

t CO2 per capita




+ 4





- 21





- 6





- 8





- 8





- 8


EU average



- 8


RE= renewable energy

El.cons.= electricity consumption

CHG=green house gasses


In 2007 Eurostat has issued a report written by two universities in Vienna – Improvement of the quality of the structural and sustainable development indicators. The report evaluates and compares the SD-plans (and National Reform Plans in the Lisbon strategy) between the member states.




I. Historic background

From 1993 to November 2001 Denmark had a government lead by the socialists (in Denmark called social democrats) together with a centre party – called the SR-government (first letter from each of the parties in government). From November 2001 the government has been liberal-conservative – called the VK-government.


During the SR-government, in 1997, the parliament adopted a proposal that the state budget as well as all other proposed laws should go through a process of environmental impact assessment, EIA. After that, each year the government issued a report including such an EIA of the proposed state budget. This included for instance evaluations of

  • The impact of the state budget on emission of green house gasses, air pollution like SO2 and nitrogen oxides ( NOx), and nutrients from agriculture

  • Results of the attempts of the so-called decoupling of energy consumption and green gas emissions from the economic growth, measured as GDP

  • Results of the regulatory demand of a green public procurement policy.


The EIAs of other proposed laws were implemented very differently – for some laws it was done rather precise, for others only something like “no significant impacts expected” was expressed. And there are, of course, many laws that do not have significant impacts. But it is difficult to define a type of laws that could be exempted from the demand of an EIA.


The SR-government adopted a strategy plan for sustainable development in the summer 2001. The plan had to some extent goals that were quantified, and it was followed by a set of indicators. Ideas were presented, that the fulfilment of the goals should be evaluated through these indicators.


Examples of indicators:

  • Emission of CO2 and other green house gasses

  • Emission of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphates from agriculture, industry and households/municipal sewage plants

  • The average living age

  • Number of classified chemical substances

  • Green public procurement policy


An indicator like the average living age is difficult, because very many factors interfere, and according to analyses, the individual life style like food and physical exercise is more important than external environmental factors like chemicals or air pollution.


II. The strategy plan from 2002

When the new VK government took over in November 2001 it decided to stop the process making EIAs of the state budget. The EIAs of other proposed laws was not stopped, but it was given a lower priority during the new government. In the summer of 2002 the VK government replaced the 2001 strategy plan by their own plan. Most of the goals that could be quantified, were deleted, while the rest of the text was to a great extent kept unchanged. But because of the lack of quantified goals the indicators – although reports were issued for some years - were out of focus now. The indicator concerning Green public procurement policy was deleted, as the government claimed that it could not provide the data to describe this indicator. A number of the other indicators are so aggregated that they do not describe the environmental development, for instance the average living age.


A few of the quantified goals were kept, but it was stressed that it was not binding targets, but milestones, or indicative goals. Such milestones were

  • To reduce the total Danish CO2-emission by 50% in 2030 compared to 1990

  • To reduce the CO2-emission from transport by 25% in 2030 compared to 1988

The principle of “factor four” was also included – meaning that the use of resources on the long term should be reduced to 25% of the present level.


III. Have the previous goals been fulfilled?

Denmark has an obligation of a 21% reduction of greenhouse gasses in the period 2008-12 compared to 1990, according to the Kyoto-agreement and the mutual division of the reduction targets between the EU-countries. The government is of course working on the fulfilment of this obligation. But a hard job is still left. In the 80’s and the 90’s Denmark succeeded in the so-called decoupling – having economic (GDP) growth without growth in the use of fossil fuels. In the period 1997-2003 Denmark succeeded in even reducing the gross energy consumption, but since 2003 it has grown again, see figure 1.


Figure 1. The gross energy consumption in Denmark 1990-2005


The same development has been seen for the CO2-emissions, see figure 2. Denmark has a large exchange of electricity with neighbouring countries, especially Norway and Sweden. During years with much water in the rivers in Norway and Sweden, Denmark imports electricity, and during years with little water Denmark exports. Therefore Denmark normally assesses the CO2-emission, adjusted for import and export, but according to the Kyoto- and EU-agreements it is the real emission that counts


Figure 2: The Danish CO2-emissions 1990-2006.

Red line: adjusted for import and export. Blue line: real emission



Concerning the special goal on transport, until now no measures have been taken to fulfil this goal – and the CO2-emission from transport in stead has increased. The CO2-emission follows the energy consumption for transport, see figure 3.


Figure 3: Energy consumption for road and air transport 1988-2005

Blue line: road transport, red line: air transport



IV. The democratic process

In 2007 the government have started a process of a new strategy plan that must substitute the 2002 plan. In June a draft – called ”Green responsibility” - was issued for at public hearing with the deadline 14 September. In order to involve the public in this hearing 12 dialogue meetings have been organised. 6 of them were at grammar schools (gymnasium) in different parts of the country and 6 meetings with stakeholders – the finance sector, a couple of industry branches, NGOs and municipalities. The draft is on the website of the ministry of environment, and the minister invited the public to write comments on the website. Twice the minister has opened for chat about the draft, so that people could write to her, and she would answer directly on the web – one hour on June 29 and an hour and a half on September 21. But not very many participated.


The Danish Environmental and development NGOs chose to submit a common response to the hearing – and a number of them also added their own response.


The final strategy plan has still not been published. It should have been published in 2007, but it has been postponed, partly because a general election was called in October/November


V. The new government strategy plan

In the preface to the draft new plan the minister expresses that in a globalised world we have a responsibility to reduce our “global footprint”, meaning the global environmental impacts of our consumption and life style. This has been a request for many years from the NGOs. But we see few concrete goals in this direction in the draft strategy plan. For Denmark it could for instance be an assessment of whether the very large Danish production of pigs is sustainable. Around 25 million pigs are slaughtered each year – meaning that there are 12-13 million pigs in Denmark at a given time - in a country with 5.3 million inhabitants. This has large environmental impacts, not only in Denmark – concerning emission of nutrients to the aquatic environment – but also globally, as Denmark imports large amounts of feedstuff like soya beans, and part of this can be grown on former rain forest areas.


The issues of the new draft strategy are:

Climate change


Sustainable cities

A healthy and safe environment (chemicals, air pollution etc.)


Waste and resource efficiency

International co-operation and aid for developing countries


  • Environment friendly technology and decoupling

  • Partnership and dialogue

  • Research and development

  • Better decisions though economic analyses

  • Strengthening of the environmental administration

  • Follow-up and supervision


  1. Goals

The long term goal of “factor four” is not included, as it was in the 2002 strategy, see above.

The indicative goal of 50% reduction of CO2-emissions before 2030, which was part of the 2002 plan, is not included in the new draft. In stead the climate goals are:

  • at least 30% renewable energy before 2025

  • at least 1,25 reduction of the energy consumption per year

Opposite to the factor four and climate goals the indicative goal of 25% reduction of CO2-emissions from the transport sector is repeated in the new draft.


  1. Measures

In general the draft does not include any measures that can show how the goals should be fulfilled. It outlines measures that already have been taken by the government – and directives and other measures at EU-level, which have been proposed by the Commission and are supported by the Danish Government, for example the goals of 130 and 120 g CO2 per kilometre for cars.


  1. Indicators and evaluation

After the indicators had been defined in 2001 and revised in 2002, reports of the actual indicators for 2002, 2003 and 2004 have been issued, the 2004 report was issued in 2005. In 2006 an indicator report covering 2005, concerning nature and environment, was issued, but without the more broad sustainability indicators.

The reports for instance show that there has been a decoupling between economic growth (GDP) and a number of environmental parameters like emission of green house gasses and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from agriculture.

The Ministry is now working on a new indicator report that is planned to be issued in spring 2008. Also this will only cover nature and environment – not the special sustainability indicators.


VI. What should a strategy plan be like – NGO-comments and proposals

The Danish NGOs have criticized the draft strategy for not realising that Denmark today is not sustainable and for not consequently using the global approach of ecological space, meaning that each country should only use a proportional part of the global resources and emit a proportional part of the global emissions that the global ecosystem can manage – the so-called carrying capacity. The global footprint approach should be used through the entire strategy, while in the present draft it is presented in the preface, but used very little in the rest of the strategy. The goals of environmental sustainability and the fight against global poverty should be much more integrated, and the Danish aid for developing countries should be increased to 1% of GDP (as it was before 2001), while it is 0,8% today. Furthermore, financial support for climate and other environmental actions in developing countries should be additional and not taken from the money already allocated to aid.


The goal of decoupling should be defined as absolute decoupling, meaning that the use of non-renewable resources and the emissions of green house gasses and other pollution factors should be reduced in absolute terms. Relative decoupling – meaning that the use of resources and the pollution is growing at a slower speed than the economic growth (GDP) – is not enough. The goal of factor four within two to three decades should be included, and the goal of factor ten on a longer term perspective.


Concrete goals for the different sectors and environmental issues should be defined. The indicative goals from the 2002 plan mentioned above should be changed to binding goals. Effective measures should defined that could help achieving the goals, including a green tax reform with higher tax on the use of fossil fuels and on pollution, and lower tax on labour. A new set of indicators should be established in order to make it possible to evaluate whether the goals are fulfilled.




The Netherlands


I. Historic background

In 2001 the “Fourth National Environmental Policy Plan” (NEPP4) was issued. The priority areas were: Population, knowledge, climate, water, and biodiversity.

35 indicators were presented.


After the Johannesbourg-summit in 2002 “Sustainable action” was issued in 2003, which consisted of a national and an international part, see below. In a more short form the plan referred to the NEPP4. In 2004 a “Progress report” was issued, which referred to “Sustainable Action” and evaluated how far the Netherlands had come towards achieving the ambitions and implementing the actions. Neither of these reports contained indicators, and the status report does not show to which extent concrete goals have been achieved.


Also in 2004 the report “Quality and the future - Sustainability outlook” was presented, including a list of 32 indicators. These were different from the indicators in the 2001-plan. The Netherlands preferred to use an open set of indicator that could be changed.


There is a rather high activity in the Netherlands on the sustainable development. The government has asked for a yearly publication about the "state of the nation" with respect to sustainability. The project is very ambitious in the sense that 4 planning institutes (environmental, social, economic and spatial planning institutes) will work with Statistics Netherlands to produce a set of indicators for which historical analysis, projections and policy statements will be incorporated. The plan is to present the results at the end of 2008.


In 2006 the 'Toekomstagenda milieu' (Future agenda Environment) was presented, which is in fact the successor of the NEPP4


In 2006-07 a peer review of the Dutch SD-plans was conducted. Netherlands invited Germany, Finland and South Africa to the peer review team. In June 2007 the peer review report was issued with 46 recommendations for a new SD framework – among other things stressing the need of indicators, harmonised with the EU set of SD-indicators.


Figure 4: Emission of green house gasses from the Netherlands 1990-2005 – total and divided into CO2, laughter gas (N2O), methane (CH4), and industrial green house gasses (F-gasses = HFC, PFC, and SF6). CO2 is calculated without Land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF).



In September 2007, the plan called 'Schoon en zuinig' (Clean and efficient) was presented. In this plan the Dutch government presents targets for 2020 on energy and climate.


Now the government is working on a more broad SD strategy, but it is not known when it will be finished - no precise data has been set up yet. But especially the 2007 plan, 'Schoon en zuinig', can be considered as the present sustainability guide of the Dutch government – but only on energy and climate.


The Dutch Kyoto obligation is to reduce by 6% in 2008-12 compared to 1990, and the Netherlands is – according to the government - well underway towards meeting the goal. The emission of CO2 has increased, but emissions of the other green house gasses have decreased, see figure 4. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency – an independent institute –in July 2007 also concluded that the Kyoto targets will probably be met – but partly because Dutch companies will buy more CO2-permits from other countries.


II. The strategy plan from 2003

After the Johannesbourg world-summit on sustainable development in 2002 – also called Rio+10 -

The Netherlands issued the report “Sustainable action” consisting of two parts:

    • International action that Netherlands should take to promote a sustainable development

    • National action to be taken


13 top level goals were presented:

- Poverty reduction

- Effective global governance

- Good global financing structures and trade

- Good water management and access to clean drinking water

- Sustainable energy management

- Health and safety

- Sustainable agriculture

- Biodiversity

- Population – ageing and migration

- Sustainable mobility

- Sustainable production and consumption

- Knowledge

-In the international strategy were also: Trade, corporate social responsibility and investment.


The report states that fundamental social changes are needed in order to obtain a sustainable development – it talks about “transition”.

The government has issued a selection of programmes – in which the state plays a clear role - for a number of sectors, in order to let these serve as models for other sectors of how sustainable development can be pursued.

A number of measures are mentioned that must be used to achieve the goals. One of these is “increasing taxes on non-environmentally friendly sources of energy” – within the framework of “internalising external costs” and the use of economic instruments, which was also recommended by the Johannesburg summit. But it also says that the main focus in the next years will be on emission trading.

The government will work on incentives to improve the environment. In this connection it has asked an institute (RIVM) to develop a method to screen subsidies for their effect on sustainable development – in order to adjust or abolish subsidies that are unfriendly to the environment.


Among the international measures is mentioned opening up western markets to agricultural goods from developing countries.


From 2003 each ministry must include a section in their budget reflecting the links sustainable development and its own policy areas.


The government provided 30 million Euro per year for the international actions, while no surplus money were provided for the national actions – these should be financed out of the ordinary budgets of the ministries.


III. The energy and climate strategy plan from 2007

In September 2007, the plan called 'Schoon en zuinig' (Clean and efficient) was presented – only with focus on climate and energy. The Dutch government realises that the present Kyoto obligations are not at all strong enough compared to the challenge of climate change. Therefore it has adopted more strict demands – in order to become one of the cleanest and most energy efficient countries of the world. In 'Schoon en zuinig' the government presents targets for 2020, like

  • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to 1990

  • annual 2% energy efficiency improvement – compared to 1% in previous years

  • 20% renewable energy in 2020.



IV. The democratic process

After the sustainable action plan was issued, each year a public debate has been initiated, and a status report been issued – starting from 2005. The debate is organised by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Development Co-operation. They invited key actors from the Dutch society. The main partners are defined as:

  • Government authorities

  • The private sector

  • Civil society organisations

  • Front runners (innovation and SD)

  • The general public


V. What should a strategy plan be – NGO-comments and proposals

Stichtung Natuur en Miljeu – the largest environmental NGO in the Netherlands have not translated their comments to the strategy plans into English.

But the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency – an independent institute – has issued the report: Realisation of environmental targets – Progress report 2007 (12 July). The conclusion is that the Kyoto targets will probably be met – partly because Dutch companies will buy more CO2-permits from other countries. But a number of other environmental targets will probably not be met.



Landgreven 7, DK 1301 Copenhagen K, Denmark.

Phone: 33 15 09 77. e-mail:

Christian Ege Jørgensen,, Director, direct phone.: 33 181933, e-mail:

The Ecological Council is a Danish NGO which promotes sustainable development in Denmark and globally


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