Danish Parliament discusses sustainability, security during visit to UW–Madison

Danish Parliament members traveled to Wisconsin following visits to the UN General Assembly in New York, and to Washington D.C., where the group participated in meetings to discuss sustainable growth.

Climate change and national defense took center stage as members of the Danish Parliament joined students and the UW–Madison community on September 19 to discuss the future of Danish transatlantic relations. The group discussed connections between Denmark and the United States, the European Union, and the world, with conversation ranging from economics to international politics.

The panel discussion, led by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard, included Danish Parliament Foreign Policy Committee members Karen Ellemann, Bjarne Laustsen, Peter Skaarup, Karsten Hønge, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen and Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam, each representing different parties in the Danish government.

In his opening remarks, Lidegaard noted that over the past 30 years, the world has gained one billion middle class habitants. That growth has come with a cost, he said, in the form of both altered power patterns and climate change, which the panel agreed is this generation’s most pressing issue. The country of just six million leads the charge for clean energy practices, making the committee visit an important opportunity for students to learn more about sustainability.

Students and members of the UW-Madison community posed questions to Danish Parliament members during their visit.

“We need to ensure that our growth will be sustainable in any sense of the word – environmentally, socially, economically,” he said. “And if we attain that, we have the power in our lifetimes to make this a much better, much more peaceful world. But if we are to make this development sustainable, we need to do it together with the United States.”

Parliament members cited Denmark’s dedication to renewable energy and progress the country has made in that realm. After a bipartisan agreement to “turn up” green energy, the country has seen four years of economic growth without any increase in energy consumption, Lidegaard said. The Danish Parliament also recently agreed to a 70 percent reduction in CO2 over the next ten years. The Danish carbon footprint falls around 0.01 percent — partially due to the country’s small population.

“We are a tiny country dealing with the rest of the world,” Ellemann said. “My stance is that we do this on the international scene — we do it within the EU body, and of course internationally. The Paris agreement, these international entities, are the core bodies leading this change.”

But the size of the country should not hold it back from making an ultimate effort, Lidegaard said. Denmark has made a notable impact on the world energy market by investing in clean, renewable energy and driving down costs.

“I don’t think that big international solutions will come and save the world,” he said. “I think we have to take responsibility where we can. Because we come from a country with a tradition of [clean energy], I think we should do even more.”

Members of the delegation also discussed national security and the impact of NATO. Parliament members noted Denmark’s reliance on NATO and the United States in terms of preserving military security for the small country.

The group’s journey to Wisconsin coincided with a visit to Washington D.C., where the group participated in meetings to discuss sustainable growth, and to the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Denmark-UW connection

The partnership between Denmark and the U.S. is mirrored strongly in Wisconsin and UW–Madison through the university’s dedication to continued relations between the two countries via education.

UW–Madison has a long withstanding relationship with Denmark, dating to 1875 when the university founded the first Scandinavian Studies Department in the U.S.

Following the discussion with students, the Danish delegation met with Thomas Petri, Wisconsin Legislative Director for Senator Ron Johnson.

“This visit is a significant entry into a long and interesting history between the university and Denmark,” said Vice Provost and International Division Dean Guido Podestá. “Since [founding the Scandinavian Studies Department in 1875], the university has continued to expand programming, creating numerous opportunities for learning.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, 162 UW–Madison students participated in study abroad or exchange programs in Denmark, making it the fourth most-selected destination for study abroad. The university also hosted almost 30 Danish students on campus that same year. In 2009, UW–Madison established the Scan|Design Foundation Fellowship Program, designed to foster Danish-American relations through financial support to students participating in an approved UW–Madison study abroad program or an internship in Denmark.

The program also invites fellows to participate in hosted activities across Denmark, helping recipients engage with one another and better understand Danish life and culture. Upon returning to Madison, Scan|Design Scholars are expected to interact with the Danish students on campus. The Scan|Design program also supports an intercultural activities program for the Danes in Madison.

For UW–Madison students interested in applying for Scan|Design funding, the deadline for summer or fall 2020 fellowship applications is March 1, 2020. Approved student programs in Denmark can be found at studyabroad.wisc.edu.