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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Country profile (Denmark)

What distinguishes the country?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Climate, geography and population density

Denmark is a typical low-lying country, with several hundred islands and the highest altitude being 173 m above sea level. The country is characterised by a long coastline of approximately 7 300 km. Except for the southern border to Germany, Denmark is surrounded by sea, i.e. the North Sea, Skagerak, Kattegat and the Baltic Sea. The total area is 43 094 km2 and the population is 5 511 million (2009). Most of the country is cultivated, i.e. approximately 60 % is agricultural farmland, 16 % is forest or heath, 7 % is lakes, rivers and wetland areas, and 11 % is covered by roads and built-up areas.

The Danish climate is temperate with an average yearly temperature of 8.5 °C as measured since 1990. Climate change has already occurred in Denmark and since 1873 the temperature has increased by approximately 1.5 °C. In the same period, the average yearly precipitation has increased by approximately 100 mm, from 650 mm per year before 1950 to approximately 750 mm per year during recent years. The sea-water level is increasing and the Danish littoral region will be affected due to many lowland areas, e.g. 4000 km2 of areas being below three meters above sea level. It is difficult, however, to quantify the impact of climate change, due to other geological factors influencing the changes.

Figure 1 (5.5.1)

Figure 1 (5.5.1). Average temperature in Denmark from 1873-2008

 Figure 2 (5.5.2)

Figure 2 (5.5.2). Average yearly precipitation from 1874 to 2008


Governance and economic structure

Denmark can be characterised as an industrial country, although the service sector is considerable, occupying more than 70 % of the workforce. Measured at a global scale, the standard of living is high and the difference between rich and poor is small. The governance is parliamentary democracy with a prime minister and a royal head of state.

The production system is capitalistic, i.e. economically liberal with privately owned companies and production. However, the state and public authorities play an important role by regulating societal activities and providing services to the citizens.

The Danish Environment Ministry was established in 1971. Today the ministry addresses areas including environmental protection, nature conservation, forestry, physical planning and geographical mapping. These areas are organised into four agencies, i.e. the National Agency of Environmental Protection, the National Forest and Nature Agency, Agency for Environmental and Spatial Planning including seven regional environmental centres, and Agency for Spatial Information. The Environment Ministry furthermore includes two boards of appeal, i.e. The Environmental Board of Appeal and the Nature Protection Board of Appeal. These will, however, be united by 2011.

The Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy was established in 2007. The ministry is responsible for national and international efforts to prevent climate change, as well as energy issues, national geological surveys in Denmark and Greenland, and meteorology.

The Danish Government is party to a range of multilateral environmental agreements and has ratified the UN Convention on Climate Change including the Kyoto Protocol, the Washington Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, The Cartagena Convention, the Stockholm Convention, The Rotterdam Convention, the Basel Convention and the Montreal Convention.

What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Building a welfare society

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Denmark experienced a remarkable economic upturn. Welfare has been more than doubled since the mid-1960s. The upturn ended abruptly with the oil crisis in 1973-74. In the last 25 years, the growth rate in gross national product (GNP) has been moderate with 2.0 - 2.5 % annually. Since 1990, GNP has increased by 39 %.

A large share of the increase in GNP has been used to finance the building of a welfare state. This includes social security benefits, such as free education, health care and retirement pension for everybody. Life expectancy and the general level of education have increased and the causes of death have changed. For example, death by accident and infectious disease has decreased while cancer incidence and respiratory diseases have increased.

The rate of increase in population is decreasing. From 1950 to 1980 the population increased by 20% and from 1980 to 2008 by 7.6%. The fertility rate has decreased from approximately 2.5 children in the 1950s to 1.85 in 2007.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Development in health and education parameters from 1945-2008.


Economic and structural development

The importance of primary and secondary production decreased between the mid-1960s and 2008. The importance of primary production has decreased from 5.4 % to 2.3 % of GNP, and industrial production from 26.8 % to 18.7 %. However, the total value of primary production, mainly agriculture, increased by 100 %, and industrial production by 110 % in this period. In the same period, the importance of the transport and communication sectors increased by nearly 300 % and amounted to 12 % of GNP in 2008.

After the Second World War, the industrialisation and economic upturn within the trade and service industries led to a migration from the countryside to the cities. In 2008, 86 % of the Danish population lived in cities and 31 % lived in cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Production value in primary and secondary economic sectors has increased since 1990.



Denmark is a small and open economy, and international trade has always been important. The main trading partners continue to be countries that are geographically close. The most important are European countries, first of all Germany and Sweden where exports amount to one-third of the total foreign trade. 

Since 1987, the economic value of Danish exports has overtaken imports measured as share of GNP. Today exports are mainly industrial and energy products, while earlier they were primarily agricultural products. Since the early 1960s, exports of agricultural products have decreased by more than a factor of 2 and amounted to approximately 16 % of total exports in 2007.

In 1973, Denmark became a member of the European Union.


What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Agricultural and energy production, transportation and consumption are the main drivers of nature and environmental impacts in Denmark. In the Government Strategy for Sustainable Development from 2002 and 2009 it is described that the environmental impact should be decoupled from the economic growth. The trends of a number of environmental indicators illustrate the development. In the period from 1990 to 2007, waste production increased at similar rates as GNP. Energy consumption also increased but at much lower rates. In the same period, emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxides, water consumption and leaching of nitrogen decreased due to environmental policy initiatives.

 Figure 5

Figure 5. Comparing the trends in selected environmental indicators with economic development. The figures are indexed setting 1990=100 except for waste production where 1994=100 and nitrogen leaching where 1995=100.

Since the 1950s, disposable income has increased and resulted in a significant increase in private consumption. Compared to 1948, public consumption was a factor of 6 higher in 2007. Since 2000 private consumption has increased by 20 %. In 2007, the retail trade was 46 % higher than in 1990.

 Figure 6 (9.1.1)

Figure 6 (9.1.1). Development in detail trade (regulated for increase in prices). Reference: Statistics Denmark.

The increase in consumption of consumer durables has been high. For example, in 2007, 95 % of the population had a mobile phone, compared to 20 % in 1995.

Figure 7 (9.1.3)

Figur 7 (9.1.3). Share of Danish households that owe different consumption goods. In 2007 the retail trade was 46% higher compared to 1990. Private consumption has accelerated since 2002. The main increase in consumption goods is electronic equipment, financial services and communication products.Reference: Statistics Denmark.

The environmental impact from private households has been increasing for waste production with an increase of 29% from 1994 to 2006. Private transportation has increased by 19.6 % from 1990 to 2007. In the same period energy consumption has decreased by 16% from 1990 to 2007 and the water consumption has decreased by 56% from 1990 to 2005.

What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

In recent years a number of new Governmental initiatives have been introduced to strengthen a greener behaviour in Denmark and establish conditions for the development of a green economy in the coming decades. One important initiative is the Government plan “Green Growth” from 2009. The plan includes an environment and nature plan and a strategy for a green agricultural sector and a green food industry. It is a farsighted plan with long term goals, some of which stretch into 2020. Several other green initiatives have been simultaneously launched. These includes a Government binding energy agreement in 2008, a green transport policy in 2009, an industrial climate strategy in 2009, a strategy for reduction of the energy consumption in buildings in 2009 and a green tax reform in 2009. In 2008, the government launched the Danish strategy for adaptation to a changing climate, leading to the establishment of new administrative structures needed to tackle the climate change challenges.

The initiatives includes a series of climate change initiatives including reduction goals for the gross energy consumption summing up to 4% by 2020 relative to 2006, and  a goal of 20% renewable energy of the gross energy consumption. A reduction of the energy consumption in new buildings has been set to 50% by 2015. A new tax policy from 2009 aims to relocate taxes from labour to environmental unfriendly consumption and include an increase of green taxes on heat, electricity, waste water, packaging and pesticides. The new green taxes imply that the amount of green taxes increases to more than 9% of the total revenue. The transport policy measures include a greening of vehicle taxes through a coupling to the use of energy and CO2 emission. The industrial climate strategy focuses on energy effective solutions by the use of new technology, green partnership and more focused research initiatives, among other.

These initiatives are coherent with previous initiatives including the recent version of the Danish strategy for sustainable development from 2009.



The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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