Danish budget ‘a victory for the environment’

The Danish Government has set aside 244 million krone (£20 million) for environmental projects every year for the next four years in what has been described by observers as a ‘victory for the environment’.

The programmes, agreed on 5 November, include potential taxes on toxic chemicals, green construction projects and information campaigns and the development of new energy technologies. Several recent moves by the Danish coalition government have underlined its anxiety to put forward new initiatives on hazardous chemicals. At the international ‘Chemicals under the Spotlight’ conference this October in Copenhagen, the Danish Minister for Environment and Energy, Svend Auken, presented for the first time the Danish Government’s vision for a future European chemicals policy.

The fundamental principle is that industry will be assigned the responsibility for completing testing and evaluation of all marketed chemicals before 2020. By the end of 2005, industry will have to subject the chemicals to basic screening to divide them into high and low hazard substances. Any substances not screened by the deadline would automatically be prohibited. If industry wanted to resume marketing a banned substance, screening would have to be completed first.

Chemicals found to posing a considerable hazard to human health or the environment would be banned or severely restricted, except in very special cases, such as where no substitute exists. This category would include all chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or harmful to reproduction, endocrine disruptors, asthma-inducing substances and persistent and bioaccumulating substances.

In presenting the Government’s vision, Mr Auken stressed the need for reliable data on the chemicals to be obtained without greatly increasing animal testing, for example, by making more use of computer models.

The government has confirmed in the budget that it will look at the possibility of imposing taxes on the most hazardous substances in the list. Work will be expedited to enable a decision to be made by the beginning of March on the viability of legislation. Surfactants, printing inks and fillers are all said to be among the first substances that might be affected.

The budget also proposed an allowance against household electricity and water taxes, interpreted by Politiken, a Danish newspaper, as ensuring that families are not penalised for their “daily shower and washload of underwear”. This follows EC ratification this September of the reform of the Danish electricity sector under the EC Treaty regulations on state aid.

The reform entered into force on 1 January 2000, with the intention of creating heightened competition on the electricity market while ensuring Denmark can meet its emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

Denmark has adopted an ambitious target for the promotion of renewable energy (see related story), and a significant element in the reform is to ensure that expansion of renewable energy takes place as cost-effectively as possible.

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