Three questions to Ida Auken

Ida Auken, MP, Denmark
“The circular economy ... is not only about materials management.” Ida Auken, MP, Denmark

A member of the Danish Parliament since 2007, Ida Auken was Minister for the Environment in Denmark from 2011 to 2014, where she started the move to treating waste as a resource. She is the environment spokesperson for the Danish Social Liberal Party and founder of the Danish Network for the Circular Economy. The first Danish politician to be named a ‘Young Global Leader’ by the World Economic Forum, she was also named one the ‘40 under 40’ European Young Leaders for 2012.

What does sustainable energy mean to you?

An economic model which relies on the consumption of finite supplies to power its growth cannot seriously have the ambition to work long term. This is a simple and factual way to consider the major choices we are facing today, as a continent as well as a Union.

Of course, other factors such as negative externalities have to be taken into account. Sustainable energy means energy sources which are renewable, and whose consequences can be sustained. Oil might be cheap at the moment, yet we all know that volatility is part and parcel of that market – and whatever the price of the barrel, the negative impacts remain exactly the same.

The circular economy has been adopted as a priority by the European Commission. This strategy is not only about materials management: energy, as well as socio-environmental impacts, should be taken into account.

What are the trends that we should look out for in sustainable energy? And what impacts do they have on what we’re doing now or in the future?

As has been demonstrated in several reports, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s ‘Towards the circular economy’, increasing the rates of re-use, mutualisation and remanufacturing of assets allows substantial savings, both in financial as well as energy-consumption terms.

For instance, a remanufactured car engine requires 80 % less energy to produce than one made from virgin raw materials. This means that if the system needs less, renewable resources become credible and competitive sooner than if we simply try to replace fossil fuels in a business-as-usual scenario.

It’s also important to look at the current digital revolution. This considerably boosts the development of smart grids, decentralised production and distribution, thereby helping to address the inefficiencies and structural waste of the current infrastructure.

Although we understand you cannot attend EUSEW 2016, what would you like to see come out of it?

It’s crucial to spread a positive, well-informed, data-backed message and to encourage innovation in the field.

Good examples and success stories abound – think of the falling price of photovoltaic electricity (solar power), or the fact that in countries such as mine it’s not uncommon to see 100 % of the electricity generated by renewable sources. It’s important to show that we’ve never been closer to the tipping point.

Since Paris and the COP21 agreements, investors seem to be more and more interested in renewables. This movement has to be made visible, so it can grow and take us to an era of positive development and growth.

"Since Paris and the COP21 agreements, investors seem to be more and more interested in renewables. This movement has to be made visible, so it can grow."