Federation for
Housing and

Outcome: half day conference at Folketinget about Denmark's commitment to the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) going “glocal” in Denmark: Implementing global agendas on a local scale.
On Thursday, March 30, the IFHP together with the Danish Architecture Center (DAC) organized a conference where stakeholders in Danish urban development; politicians, municipalities and business leaders, got together to discuss what Denmark should do with the global ‘urban agendas’. The IFHP has been directly involved with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on an international level through the drafting of one of these agendas, namely the New Urban Agenda. We are now taking the issue further to the national level, discussing how these goals can be implemented in Denmark.

Urgency: “There is no other way”

The first speaker of the conference, former President of the United Nations General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, addressed the urgency of cities acting on the SDGs and the 2016 Paris Agreement.  He reminded us that large cities today make up half of the urban population, and thereby they stand for the largest use of resources, which is why cities now more than ever before are crucial actors for sustainable development. Henrik Seiding from Rambøll Management Consulting agreed, and claimed that we need think about the opportunities of sustainability. Instead of talking about the loss of jobs and the cost of sustainable industry, we need to turn the debate around and show what the costs will be from badly managed growth. Green growth is the (only) way forward.

Liveability on export 

What is liveability and what is it that makes cities liveable and thereby attractive to people? According to Henrik Seiding, liveable cities have compact growth, well-functioning infrastructure and coordinated governance. Copenhagen possesses all these qualities, which is why the city has become one of the most coveted cities to live in. In the presentations, it was discussed how Danish cities and companies could be involved in shaping the global future for sustainability. Exporting the “Danish model”, something we see happening both in the case of private developments and initiatives (such as Rambøll's project in New York City) and in knowledge exchange between Bornholm and mid-size cities in Asia. What we learned from this exercise, it that there is no “one fits all” solution that can be applied to all cities. Danish cities are, after all, smaller and more comprehensive, with a tradition of more integrated governance and public participation. But being aware of the complexity of each context, and by entering local partnerships, these models should be globally transferrable.

The roles and interdependency of small and middle-size cities 

The debate on the future of cities is centered, most of the time, around large metropolises. Here, the mayor of BornholmWinnie Grosbøll, and mayor of AarhusJacob Bundsgaard, argued for the role of small and mid-size cities in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. For many years, smaller cities have been overlooked, as most of the economic and political activity is taking place in larger cities. The further located from the large cities, the more the small cities need to stand out not to disappear in the “gray mass”. On the other hand, this can also serve as a motivating factor: people feel they can do something when there is a smaller distance between the local decision-makers and the people. People who chose to settle in smaller cities know that they will not have the same access to transport, goods and services as in large cities, and this also impacts the “small-town mentality”, which can be a driving force for innovation.
Concerning the sustainable development goals, you might not be able to do all at once, but you could start with what you are good at. Cities should see each other as complementary instead of as competitors. Winnie Grosbøll pointed at the dependency of large cities on the countryside: “People in Copenhagen might grow tomatoes on their balconies, but they cannot survive on them”. The countryside enables a good life in the large cities, not only because of agriculture, but also for the space it offers for production of sustainable energy (i.e. wind turbines and solar panels). Hence, small and large cities need to stick together, and the smaller city needs to be seen in the larger perspective.

A leadership revolution

Leadership is important. For better or worse, it is the leadership that creates attention and that is the deciding factor when it comes to implementation. According to Steen Hildebrandt, professor at Aarhus University, we need a ‘revolution in leadership’ and ‘an agenda for a responsible global governance’, which should involve empathy, openness, competence, transparency, context and seriousness. As he argued: “10 years ago, speaking about sustainability was naïve. Today, not speaking about sustainability is” (i.e. “business as usual”). But speaking is not enough. We also need to involve the people, through education and new forms of democracy. Civil society has played a major role in the establishment of the SDGs through civic activism. In Denmark, Europe and all over the world today, there are so many initiatives from civil society – a bottom-up mobility – which governments need to recognize and to involve. New legislation is necessary not to inhibit this development as well as new forms of organizing, involving a range of partners from civil society to private companies. As Niels Lund from Novo Nordisk mentioned, businesses have come far in their role in contributing to global sustainable development, although they still have a long way to go in acquiring credibility from society.

“Carrying the torch”

Steen Hildebrandt stressed the meaning of having established the SDGs. The SDGs should serve as the vision for a ‘global welfare society’, and be the leading vision for Municipalities as well as for private businesses, to estimate and to oversee progress, and as a reference in development strategies. Leader of the opposition party Socialistisk Folkeparti, Pia Olsen Dyhr, mentioned the need for political pressure to push the goals on the political agenda, and Niels Lund agreed that there needs to be a continuing debate, someone who knows about and can explain the goals, needs to “carry the torch” between the conferences and encounters.  
We at the IFHP see it as our role to carry this torch. The bar is set very high with the UN 2013 SDGs, and the implementation process will be even harder, so we have to get busy. Nonetheless, we could sense the optimism and engagement in the room. Denmark could be the perfect “lab” for sustainable solutions, showing how global goals can be turned into a local reality, and then global again. 


Mogens Lykketoft - MF (S), fhv. formand for FN’s generalforsamling
Pia Olsen Dyhr - MF, Partiformand (SF)
Henrik Seiding - Executive Director, Rambøll Management Consulting
Winni Grosbøll - Borgmester, Bornholms Regionskommune (S)
Jacob Bundsgaard - Borgmester, Aarhus Kommune (S)
Steen Hildebrandt - Ph.d. og professor emeritus på Aarhus Universitet og adjungeret professor på CBS og Aalborg Universitet
Niels Lund - Vice President, Health Advocacy, Novo Nordisk
Hans Henrik Beck - partner, Qvartz

This event was organised in collaboration with:

This article was written by Anna Jönsson, IFHP. You can contract Anna by sending an email to