Denmark country briefing - The European environment — state and outlook 2015

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 23 Nov 2020
7 min read
Photo: © Stig Nygaard

Main themes and sectors addressed in the national State of Environment report

The Danish SOER[1] provides an overview of the current state and describes trends and indicators. This helps to provide clarity and perspective for politicians, interest groups and citizens. The SOER is an independent analysis prepared by a third party.

The main themes of the 2014 report are covered within 10 thematic chapters:

  • Land use,
  • Air,
  • Water,
  • Sea,
  • Climate change,
  • Nature and Biodiversity,
  • Natural Resources,
  • Environment and Health,
  • Production, Consumption and Waste,
  • Environmental policy.

Key findings of the State of Environment report 

The 2014 SOER concludes that in some areas the environmental status has considerably improved over recent years and decades. Nevertheless significant challenges remain.

The content of pesticides in ground water has been reduced; the air has become significantly cleaner and the state of Danish lakes and streams has improved. However, these improvements are not sufficient to meet the objectives for water bodies, biodiversity is under pressure, a great part of Danish nature is still in an unfavorable condition, and resource consumption is among the highest in the world.

Land use
Agriculture occupies more than 60% of Denmark's area. Forest area is increasing and approximately 14.1% of Denmark's total area is covered by forest. The nitrogen load is decreasing, but the use of pesticides still exceeds national targets. Over the past 18 years the area of organic farming has increased approximately by a factor of 4½.

Air quality is overall improving, but remains a challenge in densely populated areas. Emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals are decreasing. Fine particles, especially from wood stoves and diesel driven means of transport, continue to pose a challenge. In Copenhagen NO2 levels remain above the EU limit values (see Fig. 1).  

Figure 1: NO2 levels in Copenhagen, 2001-2012

Fig1 Dk rev

Source: Natur og Miljø 2014

Danish water consumption has decreased by 25-30% over the last 20 years. The environmental state in Danish lakes and streams has improved over the last 20 years. The condition in lakes and coast waters is still affected by excessive inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances and streams by poor physical conditions and inputs of organic matter. Groundwater condition has generally improved. Residues of pesticides and excess nitrate, however, still cause problems in parts of the groundwater resource.

The land based discharge of nitrogen to the inner Danish waters has been reduced by approximately 50% since 1990. Despite this effort many areas still suffer from an oxygen deficit. Overall, fishing has become more sustainable, however a number of stocks including the cod still remains under pressure. Contamination with pollutants such as TBT (tributyltin) and PAH (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) in blue mussels is declining, but the concentration of mercury is still above the environmental quality standards.

Climate change
Changes in the global climate have been particularly pronounced in recent years. Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have started to decline. Total emissions have decreased in the period 1990 to 2012, while the global concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continuously sets new records. Temperature, annual precipitation and the number of storms have increased and the sea levels have risen.

Nature and Biodiversity
Open natural habitats are threatened by the impacts from nutrients which lead to overgrowth and a few dominant nutrient-requiring species of vegetation. Biodiversity continues to decline in many spheres but there are also some areas in which the speed of decline has slowed. Nutrient discharge into watercourses, lakes and seas has been significantly reduced since 1990, and there are signs of positive development in the biodiversity of aquatic environments.

Natural resources
Material consumption per capita has declined since 2006 and is on par with the levels of the late 1990s. Denmark's global ecological footprint has also decreased slightly, but remains one of the world's largest. Total energy consumption has decreased by 7% from 1990 to 2012. Denmark's share of renewable energy was 23% of total energy consumption in 2012 (not including incineration of waste). 

Environment and health
In 2011 air pollution caused an estimated 3 200 premature deaths. There is still a need to reduce the risk of using chemicals. Unwanted chemicals can be measured in blood, urine and hair and they are, inter alia, under suspicion for being related to certain forms of hormone-related cancer diseases. 

Production, Consumption and Waste
In 2013 production of green products generated a turnover of DKK 164 billion of which almost half is from renewable energy[3].

Denmark is one of the countries in Europe producing most municipal waste per inhabitant. The amount of total waste produced per capita per year is approximately 1.8 tonnes. A total of 63 % of this was recycled, 29 % was incinerated and 6 % ended up in landfills[12].

Transverse environmental themes
Public expenditure on environmental protection has decreased by approximately 20% over the past decade. The ratio of green taxes in relation to GDP has declined steadily from 2000 to 2012, but is still among the highest in the EU. Denmark is placed 13th in the Environmental Performance Index, above the European average.

Main policy responses to key environmental challenges and concerns


Afforestation: during the period 2010 to 2013 approximately 6 900 ha of forest (state and private) have been established. There is an emphasis on forests located close to cities.

Commission on Nature and Agriculture 2013: the Commission developed 144 recommendations on how to create development and growth in the agricultural industry and simultaneously boosting nature, the environment and climate action.

National Pesticide Action Plan 2013-2015: works towards a 40% reduction in pesticide load from 2011 to 2015, inter alia, by introducing a tax on pesticides.

Nature Fund: a National Nature Fund is under establishment with the purpose improving the state of nature and the aquatic environment in Denmark.

Nature Plan[4]: In 2014 the government launched Nature Plan Denmark, a new, long-term and comprehensive plan for how Denmarks nature becomes more rich and coherent. Among the initiatives is the development of a new Green Denmark map that will show where our existing and potential valuable natural and endangered animals and plants can be found, the establishment of approximately 25,000 hectares of new nature and a ban on spreading manure and use insecticides around 35,000 hectares of protected nature areas.


Initiatives on Climate: the government has drawn up a Climate Plan aiming to reduce GHG emissions by 40% in 2020 (compared to 1990-levels); a Climate Law that secures drive and transparency in reaching the 40%-goal; and a Climate Council to provide expert counselling on the path towards a low emission society.

The Energy Agreement 2012-2020: the initiatives follow the Government's long term commitment to ensure that energy supply in 2050 will be 100% based on renewable energy.

Municipality Agreement 2013 and Action plan for a climate-proof Denmark 2012: involves 63 national initiatives on climate change adaptation including law changes to assist the implementation of local adaptation action plans made by all Danish municipalities.


Chemicals initiative 2014-2017[5]: a total of DKK 185 million has been allocated to enhanced implementation and better regulation of SVHC in REACH, the establishment of a chemical-forum and other initiatives.


Resource strategy 2013[6]The strategy is expected to result in 50% recycling of certain fractions of household waste.

Air quality  

Tax on NOx emissions: a tax on NOx emissions was introduced in 2010. In 2012 the fee was increased from 5 DKK/kg NOx to 25 DKK/kg NOx.

Train Fund: 28.5 billion DKK has been set aside to improve the Danish railway system.

Clean air action plan: 149 million DKK have been allocated to, inter alia, cleaner buses in Copenhagen and targeted action to reduce particle pollution from stoves and ships.

Country specific issues

As the EU administrator of the China Europe Water Platform[7], Denmark prioritizes activities in order to improve cooperation on the management of water in order to secure water supply, food security and ecological security. The Danish government, together with the governments of Korea and Mexico, launched the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF)[8]. 3GF convenes governments, businesses, investors and international organizations to act together for inclusive green growth. Furthermore, Denmark has a leading position in arctic research, and works to ensure a sustainable future for the Arctic region in corporation with Greenland and the Faroe Islands[9].

Nationally a Green Transition Fund has been established to support the development of new business models, product innovation, re-designs of existing products and promoting sustainable materials in product designs. Also a fund for Green Pioneers, engaging civil society and organizations has been established.

The national research and innovation policy has a special focus on green innovation in the areas of energy, transport, agriculture and environment. In 2014, grant schemes are expected to provide DKK 1.5 billion in grants to development and demonstration of green technology.

A Forum for Sustainable Procurement[10] has been established to promote responsible and environmentally conscious procurement by professional purchasers. A Partnership on Green Public Procurement[11] has been launched as a cooperative measure between public institutions at municipal, regional and national level.


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


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage


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