Denmark: the pig empire with the ruined sea
- IMAGO / Gonzales Photo
We hear it regularly: the story that Denmark is a frontrunner in the green transition. But many facts tell another story. Looking at the small Scandinavian nation from the agricultural, industrial, fisheries or biomass point of view, the overall picture is not exactly green. Instead, we see a country that has specialised in projecting a green image and talking about its climate-goals and ambitions, while neither meeting those goals, nor living up to those ambitions. Here’s a walk-through.
In April 2023, Danish media revealed that officials from the Ministry of Climate had been forced to make the climate accounts look greener than they really are. The latest accounts had, once again, shown red instead of green figures. While such spreadsheet acrobatics by the civil service may not be shocking in itself, the manipulation nonetheless emphasises that Denmark’s environmental reality may not be as exemplary as the Ministry of Climate, and the politicians who have failed to steer Denmark in a green direction, would have us believe. But the red flags are found in all industries.
Addicted to hydrocarbons
Take Denmark’s energy transition, for example. Denmark is widely renowned for its investment in wind energy, and it is a global leader in wind turbine production. It was the first country in the world to establish a windfarm – the ‘Vindeby’ wind park in 1991 – and Denmark has one of the highest proportions of energy from wind globally. Internationally, Denmark was a founding member of BOGA (the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance) – a coalition of governments, companies and civil society groups launched during the COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 to help facilitate the phase-out of oil and gas production.
Even so, the government has continued to actively promote expanded fossil fuel extraction in Danish territory, going both against global calls to move away from the sector, and a parliamentary agreement, reached in December 2020, that Denmark would end oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, and limit its fossil fuel infrastructure. Denmark is also investing heavily in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to meet its climate ambitions, recently announcing plans to invest more than €3,500 bn in CCS over the next 15 years, and ignoring the advice against CCS issued by the Danish Council on Climate Change.
Use of biomass above sustainable levels
In addition, almost half of Denmark’s “renewable” energy comes from burning biomass, but instead of rapidly moving the energy network to renewables, the government will provide over €420 m in subsidies to biomass facilities before 2026, plus favourable tax exemptions. A total of 43% of the biomass Denmark uses is imported, and Denmark’s largest energy company, Ørsted, is a main buyer of biomass from the world’s largest biomass-producer, Enviva. Enviva is in the midst of a greenwashing-scandal, after revelations that the company does not only use wood waste - like branches, tree-tops and debris - to make pellets, but instead regularly uses whole trees, leading to widespread deforestation.
Despite this, Denmark is doing nothing to reduce its reliance on high-emission biomass, and instead is lobbying the EU to encourage more countries to throw more forests in the oven. Denmark’s total greenhouse gas emissions are actually increasing, not decreasing, and climate forecasting has gone from being a real tool to just political spin. Both Denmark’s Council on Climate Change, and the scientific community more broadly, are advising that the country needs to urgently change course in regards to our use of the wood biomass, as it is not an energy source that can be said to be sustainable.
Biodiversity in decline
Denmark is also in a biodiversity crisis, driven by agriculture, fishery and deliberate neglect. Nature on land is imperiled; seas are being torn apart by destructive fishing practices and choked by agricultural pollution; society is engaging in rampant overconsumption - equivalent to what about four Earths can sustain annually - and the agricultural sector (backed by a powerful agricultural lobby and government inaction) stubbornly insists on producing ever greater volumes of unsustainable products. Denmark now produces the most meat per capita in the world and does so in a highly unsustainable manner.
In 2021, Denmark created a Biodiversity Council, a body of nine experts – selected by government – to help address the crisis by advising Danish politicians on improved biodiversity strategy and guide them towards a greener, more biodiverse Denmark. As of 2025, however, the council’s funding has been cut, and it will no longer operate, and Denmark continues to fail to prioritise the protection of endangered habitats and species. This is despite the fact that the current government has referred to itself as “the greenest government ever.” It is very doubtful that this claim would pass a fact-check.
Indeed, instead of biodiversity protection, we find instances of state-orchestrated regional extermination of critically endangered species. The wild boar is now regionally extinct in Denmark, victim of government and pig industry fears they might transmit African Swine Fever to one of the many pig-factories in Jutland. To enforce this extinction, the government went so far as to build a pig-proof fence along the entire German border (one might have suggested simply fencing the pig-factories instead). Denmark also holds the unfortunate world record of highest disappearance-rate and most illegal killings of wolves.
Unfortunately, the Danish government does not limit its ecocidal attitude towards biodiversity to within its own borders, but also spreads it across Europe, and beyond. In early 2023, for example, Denmark sought to persuade the EU to lower its (already inadequate) target for nature restoration, arguing that prioritising biodiversity concerns would be too “burdensome” for agriculture and fisheries.
Danish agriculture: power and destruction
The influence of the agricultural sector in Denmark is enormous, and while the need for renewable energy might be broadly accepted, proposals to reduce climate emissions and nitrate pollution from agriculture is met with stern resistance. Rather than attempting to push the sector in a more sustainable direction, the government rigorously defends the status quo, echoing the language of the agricultural lobby, demanding to “develop, not terminate” the agricultural sector, a nonsense phrase that has one central meaning: any transition to more sustainable farming practices must not, in any way, impact agricultural short-term profits.
The harmful environmental impact of Denmark’s agricultural sector also has a global face, with no aspect so high profile as its heavy dependence on soy imports for stock feed from Latin America, especially Brazil and Argentina. Denmark uses the second-highest amount of soy per unit of meat produced in Europe, only surpassed by Greece. Not only does Danish agriculture take up almost 60% of Denmark’s landmass, but the approximately 1.6-1.8 million tons of soy Denmark imports from South America annually also lay claim to some 6,000 square kilometres of land in South America, and contribute significantly to illegal deforestation.
As a result, vital change in Danish agriculture is effectively at a standstill. Worse, the sector is slowly “terminating” itself by betting on unsustainable production methods in a world diving headlong into an ecological polycrisis. Denmark’s agricultural sector is weighed down by the largest debt of any industry in Denmark, owing a total of more than 40 billion euros. A transition will always have a price, but without assistance, those who do want to change may not be able to, held back by government inaction and agribusiness greed.
A fishing industry that scrapes the bottom
Denmark’s score card at sea is also damning. A large part of the country’s fishing industry uses bottom trawling - one of the least climate friendly fishing methods imaginable. The emissions caused are so high that Norway lobster caught in this way is as harmful to the climate as beef. Bottom trawling for Norway lobster is also one of the ways of fishing most harmful to the marine environment, and this is problematic, as Norway lobster sales make up most of the earnings of the Danish bottom trawl fleet. The harm to the seafloor is catastrophic, as are the high levels of bycatch, which causes damage to marine biodiversity.
Unsurprisingly, then, fish stocks are collapsing or – like the eel population, and cod in the Baltic Sea and Kattegat – have already collapsed, and almost no country has such a large proportion of its seabed damaged by bottom trawling. Landings of lumpfish – recently declared critically endangered – have been decreasing by 34 tonnes per year since 1990, and have now totally collapsed. Despite this, Denmark refuses to put a quota on the species, to survey the fishing industry, or, indeed, to make an effort to protect it in any other way.
In light of this, there is no way we can call the Danish fisheries “green”, despite the government’s new ‘Ocean Plan’, which proposes a strict ban to protect 10% of Denmark’s marine territory from bottom trawling. A worthy proposal, one might think, but for an important loophole: almost all areas where bottom trawling will be prohibited are areas in which no bottom trawling is taking place. In other words, while the proposal seems on paper to be a major step forward, it is – in reality – a farce: they might as well prohibit oyster collection in the Royal Theatre.
For all Denmark’s “green” reputation internationally – driven largely by its high profile successes in developing wind energy – the country can in no way be seen as a green frontrunner: The agricultural sector works against, not with, the green transition. The fisheries sector is doing substantial harm to the marine environment. The energy sector (even with all those windmills!) is heavily reliant on burning forests while prioritising carbon capture technology over a genuine phase-out of fossil fuels. And Denmark continues to allow for the exploration for more oil and gas in the Danish part of the North Sea, hiding behind excuses that the fossil fuels need to come from somewhere, and they might as well come from us.
Rather than take decisive action to reverse this disastrous trajectory, the Danish government – whether for ideological reasons, or due to the influence of powerful interest groups, or both – appears to operate according to the mantra that protecting biodiversity, the climate, or the environment must in no way cause inconvenience to those same industries causing the damage and harm. Yet, even as it fails to live up to its international obligations and its own climate targets, Denmark has excelled at “greenwashing” its activities – at home and abroad. Indeed, despite all the evidence, many Danes themselves seem to believe it.
For all the spin, however, Denmark is no model, and it would be dangerous for other countries should aspire to emulate what the country is doing. Perhaps some lessons can be learned about building the wind sector, but when the fairy tale ends and the spell wears off, there is little left but a pig empire with a ruined sea and a toxic preference for biomass over renewables, reaping the benefits of a tenacious, but unjustified, myth that the country is a global frontrunner in the green transition. As a Dane, I hope we aspire to do better, because currently we’re mainly being a green frontrunner in the regard that we show other countries how not to treat the climate or the environment.
Alexander Holm, is a Danish biologist, specialised in conservation. He is founder and podcast host of the media 'Den Dyriske Time,' and works as a speaker and consultant.