Denmark's policy frameworks for sustainable development are characterized by a dual focus that encompasses both national and global dimensions. This approach underscores Denmark's commitment to addressing the interconnected nature of sustainability challenges while recognizing the unique contexts in which they manifest. By formulating initiatives that target both developed and developing countries, Denmark demonstrates its proactive approach to fostering sustainability on a global scale. Through these frameworks, Denmark aims to effectively tackle issues in its own territory while simultaneously contributing to the broader global pursuit of sustainable development. This article focuses on the intricate dynamics of Denmark's policy frameworks, examining their national dimension in detail, which will consequently provide a basis for the ensuing evaluation of their global dimension.
In accordance with the 2030 Agenda, the Danish government has devised a national action plan for the SDGs that tailors objectives to domestic circumstances. The action plan revolves around the five fundamental dimensions of prosperity, people, planet, peace, and partnerships. With the exception of partnerships, which cut across all areas, the government has established several targets (a total of 37) for each dimension. These targets embody the government's inclination to prioritize leveraging existing advantageous positions while addressing areas that require enhancement (HLPF, 2017:36).1 Notably, each target is accompanied by one or two national indicators, the majority of which are amenable to measurement and quantification, as demonstrated in the accompanying table.
Table 1. Examples of national targets and indicators.
The targets set by Denmark within each dimension of the Action Plan are significant in addressing the specific aspects of "prosperity," "people," "planet," and "peace." Under the dimension of "prosperity," Denmark aims to strengthen research and ensure marketable solutions. This target acknowledges the importance of robust research activities and their practical applications for economic growth. The progress towards achieving this target is measured using the indicator of setting public funding at a level equivalent to 1% of GDP. By allocating a substantial portion of the national budget to research and development,
Denmark aims to foster innovation and promote economic prosperity. In the dimension of "people," Denmark's target is to strengthen gender equality in education by reducing gender differences in well-being and academic performance. To assess progress, Denmark utilizes two indicators: the grade point average in public schools and the results of the National Survey on Well-Being. Within the dimension of the "planet," Denmark focuses on achieving sustainable food production.
Denmark measures progress towards this target through two indicators: household food waste and resource productivity in the food sector. By reducing food waste and enhancing resource efficiency, Denmark aims to contribute to sustainable food systems that minimize environmental impact. Lastly, under the dimension of "peace," Denmark aims to position itself among the least corrupt countries in the world. This target reflects the nation's commitment to good governance, transparency, and anti-corruption measures.
Denmark utilizes the Transparency International ranking as a measure to assess progress towards this target. The ranking provides an internationally recognized benchmark to evaluate the country's efforts in combating corruption and promoting accountability. By setting these specific targets within each dimension, Denmark demonstrates a comprehensive approach to addressing diverse aspects of societal development, encompassing economic prosperity, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and good governance. The corresponding indicators provide quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate progress and guide policy decisions.
In June 2021, the Danish Government introduced new policy initiatives to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into its activities, aiming to strengthen sustainable development in Denmark. While the action plan does not encompass all government contributions to the 2030 Agenda and SDGs, it emphasizes recent significant endeavors. The government actively seeks to realize its ambitions, having made substantial progress across various SDGs. However, it acknowledges the need for additional efforts to achieve a more sustainable and equitable trajectory. The government is firmly committed to the principle of leaving no one behind, reinforcing SDG integration into the legislative process and fostering closer collaboration with key organizations. This involves strengthening the 2030 Panel and prioritizing the SDGs within the legislative agenda.
Denmark faces challenges in SDGs 13 (climate action) and 12 (consumption and production patterns). The Danish Climate Act serves as an inspiration for other nations, and further initiatives will be launched to support sustainable business models. Addressing SDG 4 (quality education), the government guarantees equal opportunities for all students and has established expert groups to identify skill disparities between genders and propose measures for primary and secondary education (The Ministry of Finance, 2021:79).2
The government, ministries, and public agencies have a vital role in leading the sustainable transition towards achieving the SDGs by integrating them comprehensively into policymaking, administration, and procurement practices. This integration of SDGs exemplifies sustainable development principles, inspiring citizens and the global community to adopt sustainable decision-making. To further promote the sustainable agenda, the Danish Government aims to enhance collaboration with the Danish Council on Corporate Social Responsibility and SDGs, forging partnerships with businesses.
To translate these aspirations into concrete actions, the Danish Government has introduced the following initiatives (The Ministry of Finance, 2021:80):3
- SDGs integration in policy development: the Danish government expands impact assessments for proposed legislation to include the SDGs, ensuring their consideration. Bills with significant SDG impacts will include dedicated sections outlining the implications for specific targets. A transparent guide outlines the assessment procedures.
- Sustainability goals for agencies and institutions: State agencies and institutions establish and document sustainable development goals annually, publicly sharing them through reports, strategies, or goal plans. The implementation process is clarified, and informational materials support compliance.
- Emphasis on sustainable public procurement: Enhancements to the "Responsible Purchaser" digital tool focus on human rights, social dumping, and an inclusive labor market. The requirements for socially responsible procurement are updated, and guidance materials facilitate sustainable procurement practices.
- Strengthening the secretariat for the 2030 Panel: Increased funding strengthens the 2030 Panel's secretariat, supporting political efforts through analysis, knowledge sharing, and engagement. Resources aid monitoring and implementation of the SDGs, including an annual review of the government's progress report and prioritizing the “Leave No One Behind” agenda.
Denmark prioritizes addressing climate change through significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions and climate neutrality. The Danish Climate Act drives progress, while initiatives ensure its achievement. The transition to sustainable production aims to preserve employment, welfare, and social balance, creating climate-oriented business opportunities globally. Import-related emissions are a crucial concern due to Danish businesses' substantial influence beyond national borders. To fulfill Denmark's commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a focus on value and supply chains, as well as the importation of goods, is necessary.
Public-private initiatives promote sustainable value chains, providing guidance and knowledge-sharing for environmental and social responsibility. Moreover, advisory initiatives support businesses in implementing due diligence processes and complying with international guidelines, particularly regarding labor conditions in specific markets. Furthermore, enhanced guidance fosters cooperation and standardized reporting for ambitious climate goals within global value chains. In addition, a new climate model assesses the climate impact of products consumed in Denmark but manufactured abroad, informing future actions and decision-making regarding the global climate footprint of Danish consumption (The Ministry of Finance, 2021:81).4
Businesses play a crucial role in achieving the SDGs and offer opportunities for Danish enterprises. To support this, the public sector must create favorable conditions for SDG-aligned entrepreneurship, promoting innovative solutions to societal challenges while ensuring environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Simplifying carbon footprint measurement for all businesses is important, as it reduces emissions and enhances the competitiveness of environmentally friendly small businesses. Additionally, exporting sustainable solutions from Danish businesses can contribute to other nations' green transitions, further advancing global sustainability goals.
In light of these goals, several new initiatives are being introduced (The Ministry of Finance, 2021:82):
- Export Promotion and Accelerator Scheme: The government aims to stimulate sustainable exports through an SDG promotion initiative. A sector-specific accelerator scheme will support Danish SMEs in internationalizing their business models, offering tailored activities such as workshops and mentorship programs aligned with the SDGs.
- The Climate Compass: The government will enhance the Climate Compass tool, providing businesses with updated emissions calculations and improved guidance. This user-friendly tool enables businesses to estimate their climate footprint across the value chain and implement measures to reduce carbon emissions.
- Micro-Grants for Student Entrepreneurship: Funding will be allocated to micro-grants specifically targeting SDG-oriented entrepreneurship among students, acknowledging their potential in generating viable business ideas addressing societal challenges.
The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals necessitates collaborative efforts among various stakeholders. In Denmark, there exists a notable level of interest in the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda among both businesses and civil society. This heightened involvement is encouraging, and it is imperative to continue supporting the establishment of a broad-based support system for the SDGs. Furthermore, it is essential to ensure that more Danish individuals have the necessary means to lead sustainable lifestyles and contribute to sustainability efforts.
In response to these requirements, the following initiatives are envisaged (The Ministry of Finance, 2021:83):
- Libraries supporting the SDGs: The government will enhance library activities to promote and disseminate information about the SDGs. This includes organizing SDG events, implementing an SDG certification scheme for libraries, and providing training programs for librarians.
- Learning site for SDG knowledge: A dedicated section will be developed on emu.dk, the learning portal, to guide schools and educational institutions in incorporating the SDGs into their teaching practices. It will cover various SDG topics such as climate impact, sustainable lifestyles, human rights, and gender equality.
- Expansion of SDG schools: Increased funding will be allocated to the Danish UNESCO SDG school network. This will allow more schools to join, support additional activities, and contribute to the development of teaching materials, fostering the practical implementation of the SDGs.
It is therefore evident that the Danish government has made noteworthy strides in aligning its policies with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Through the National Action Plan for the SDGs, it has established targets and indicators in key domains such as prosperity, people, the planet, peace, and partnerships. To enhance SDG integration, the government has implemented initiatives encompassing impact assessments for legislation, sustainability goals for agencies, sustainable public procurement, and a reinforced secretariat for the 2030 Panel. The government exhibits a commitment to emission reduction, transitioning value chains towards sustainability, promoting entrepreneurship, and facilitating the exportation of sustainable solutions. Stakeholder collaboration is fostered with ongoing efforts to establish support systems and expand the network of SDG schools. While acknowledging progress, the government recognizes the need for further endeavors to ensure sustainability and equity for all, adhering to the "Leave No One Behind" agenda. In this regard, Denmark endeavors to inspire sustainable decision-making and contribute to SDG attainment.
1 The HLPF (2017), 2017 National Voluntary Reviews, UNGA, NYC, USA, page 36.
2 The Ministry of Finance (2021), Voluntary National Review 2021, The Danish Government, Copenhagen, Denmark, page 79.
3 The Ministry of Finance (2021), Voluntary National Review 2021, The Danish Government, Copenhagen, Denmark, page 80.
4 The Ministry of Finance (2021), Voluntary National Review 2021, The Danish Government, Copenhagen, Denmark, page 81.