Hamburg and Copenhagen driving ecological growth

24 August 2021
Jens-Peter Saul, HamburgAmbassador, talks to Hamburg News about German-Danish cooperation, hydrogen and opportunities

The Hamburg Copenhagen Business Forum (HCBF) gets underway on Wednesday (August 25, 2021) under the motto “Joining Forces for Green Growth” in Copenhagen. The agenda of the largest German-Danish business conference focuses on the challenges of the energy transition, environment-friendly transport, ecological buildings and e-health. Jens-Peter Saul, CEO of Rambøll, Scandinavia's leading engineering, architecture and consulting company, will open the conference with a keynote on "Sustainability - the driver for future growth in the region". Saul is among 39 voluntary HamburgAmbassadors in 29 countries, who work on behalf of the Hanseatic city to enhance its image abroad. Prior to HCBF, Hamburg News spoke to Saul about German-Danish relations, the potential of a hydrogen sector and what both cities can learn from each other.

Hamburg News: During HCBF 2018, you put your finger on the sore points and called for joint efforts by Hamburg and Copenhagen. What has happened in the last three years? Are we on the right track?

Jens-Peter Saul: Yes and no. Yes, because the relations are very good and there is also goodwill to cooperate. This is reflected by the “Letter of Intent” signed in 2018 between the Hamburg Metropolitan Region and the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö. And yes, because there is an exchange of knowledge and experience between the cities, companies and universities. The large number of delegates expected at this year's Hamburg Copenhagen Business Forum indicate the good relations and the keen interest.

But also no, because in my opinion, it could be even faster as there is a lack of concrete and structured execution. Personally, I would like to see more concrete plans on co-operation resulting in joint projects or initiatives. Although the good relations and intentions are there, we tend to fall back into the daily grind too swiftly and push ahead with our own plans as exemplified by the energy transition. Both sides are highly ambitious and are driving them forward. Yet, I am convinced that things would happen even faster, if collaboration became even more intense. I would welcome more promotional efforts as a joint, common region. Studies show that when an economic region doubles in size, productivity grows by 5 to 6 per cent. If we become visible as a large region and a leader of sustainability, we could attract more companies and talent and compete even better on the global stage.


Der Bau des Fehrmanbelt-Tunnels geht nun endlich voran. Bald wachsen wir dadurch räumlich näher und formen dann eine rund 10 Millionen Einwohner starke Wirtschaftsregion. Um das wirklich schnell zu erreichen, müssen wir die Zeit nutzen, um Netzwerke zu stärken, die Menschen zusammenführen. Letzteres auch durch einen Kulturaustausch, der eine Wegbereiter-Funktion übernehmen kann. Solch ein Kulturaustausch bedarf aber auch eine verlässliche, an langfristigen Zielen ausgerichtete, Förderung.

Hamburg News: Was kann Hamburg von Kopenhagen lernen?

Jens-Peter Saul: Die Dänen sind pragmatisch und sehr offen für Innovationen. Dieses nutzt die Stadt Kopenhagen geschickt, um neue Technologien schnell umzusetzen. Dadurch können innovative Technologien und Lösungen schnell in Projekten realisiert werden. Gerade beim Thema Nachhaltigkeit zeigt sich das in einer beindruckenden Weise. Kopenhagen hat solche Lösungen in ein Gesamtsystem integriert und ist dadurch führend in der Umsetzung der Energiewende. Zugleich hat dies die Stadt lebenswerter gemacht und Wohlstand geschaffen. Dabei versteht es Kopenhagen, die Einwohner frühzeitig in die Planung zu einzubinden, wodurch Projekte auch von der großen Breite der Bevölkerung getragen werden. Dänemark, besonders Kopenhagen, ist also ein ideales ‚Labor‘ für neue Technologien und Innovationen.

HamburgAmbassador Jens-Peter Saul

Hamburg News: What can Copenhagen learn most from Hamburg?

Jens-Peter Saul: Hamburg is the gateway to the world. The Hanseatic city has strong economic ties all over the world and is a champion of logistics. As an open city, Hamburg attracts many global companies. The ideal route for Danish companies to Germany - but also to the world - is thus via Hamburg. Northern Germany is Denmark’s largest trading partner and for good reason. And when it comes to sustainability and innovation, Hamburg is a heavyweight and an ideal partner for Danish companies.

Hamburg News: The motto of this year's HCBF is “Joining Forces for Green Growth”.  What do you consider the most important topic for co-operation between the two cities in the coming years?

Jens-Peter Saul: Denmark and northern Germany pioneered wind energy giving them an early lead in sustainability when other regions of the world had not even thought about climate change. As a result, global champions, who make a significant contribution to the local economy, have emerged in the region.

However, the recent climate disasters and the latest UN Climate Change 2021 report show clearly that that is insufficient. Things must happen much faster. Very great efforts must be made to prevent a climate disaster. That poses both a huge challenge and an opportunity to both cities. The expansion of wind and solar energy and the electrification of transport and the economy must be driven forward worldwide. Copenhagen’s exemplary transport system makes it very easy to do without a car. Of the 1,400 employees at our group headquarters, almost half come by bike. And I have an electric company car, yet I cycled to work for most of last year. That benefits all our businesses in this area naturally.

However, to achieve our climate goals, we also need a huge, integrated hydrogen sector to fully replace oil and gas. Hamburg in particular faces a major task here in converting its port and industries to hydrogen. Although Hamburg is planning its own large generation capacities, it will have to rely on imports of hydrogen (H2) due to the expected increase in demand for green hydrogen. Denmark’s execution of the energy transition is very advanced and the country is now planning more ambitious projects. A good example of this is the energy island for offshore wind energy, which is currently being planned and on completion will probably have more capacity than needed. Hamburg could accelerate the conversion through a joint or linked hydrogen sector and better use made of Danish wind and hydrogen plants. That would improve economic viablilty and hasten its execution.

Similar to the early days of the wind industry, we again have an opportunity to lead the way and create global champions by using the technology early and on a large-scale. But now we have far less time to meet our own CO2 targets. And less time because other cities or regions and countries will recognise the huge potential of hydrogen and enter the field. So we would also become faster by co-operating. Apart from that, due to both cities’ leading roles in sustainability, I believe we have a role model function. If Hamburg and Copenhagen manage to achieve the climate goals and maintain prosperity at the same time, others will follow their lead.

Hamburg News: Thank you for the interview Mr. Saul.


Sources and further information

HamburgAmbassador Jens-Peter Saul

Jens-Peter Saul was appointed honorary Hamburg Ambassador to Copenhagen in 2015 by Olaf Scholz, the then Mayor of Hamburg. Saul has been CEO of Rambøll, Scandinavia's leading engineering, architecture and consulting group, which employs around 16,000 experts worldwide since 2012. Previously, he held various positions at Siemens AG. Saul was President of the German-Danish Chamber of Commerce until mid-2018 and was named "CEO of the Year" in Europe by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) in 2017. The energy transition, the expansion of innovative mobility solutions and the Fehmarn Belt crossing are among the Hamburg-born engineer's work issues. Saul has an extensive international network, which he uses constantly to benefit Hamburg.

HamburgAmbassador Scheme

The 33 honorary Hamburg Ambassadors in 28 countries are appointed by the Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. The HamburgAmbassadors are networkers and initiators of politics and commerce, science and culture abroad, and aim to position Hamburg internationally and enhance its image. The HamburgAmbassador Scheme, the structure of which is unique in Germany, was initiated by the Senate Chancellery, the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg and institutions involved in Hamburg Marketing. It is co-ordinated by Hamburg Marketing GmbH.

Hamburg Copenhagen Business Forum

This year's Hamburg Copenhagen Business Forum (HCBF) gets underway on August 25, 2021 in Copenhagen and features the Move the North event on August 24 as well as a visitors' schedule on August 26. The conference alternates between Copenhagen and Hamburg, and was initiated in 2014 by the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg and the German-Danish Chamber of Commerce to boost bilateral relations. Hamburg Invest is partner to HCBF and has organised a start-up session, among other events.

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