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A Green Future? How Copenhagen, Denmark Plans to Become Earth’s Most Sustainable City

With its 233 miles of bike paths, large-scale use of renewable energy sources, and future-focused green initiatives, Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is already one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the world. What’s more, Copenhagen’s 2025 Climate Plan (CPH 2025) has the city on track to be carbon neutral by 2025 and entirely fossil fuel free by 2050. 

Although enacted in 2012, three years before international lawmakers signed the Paris Climate Accords, CPH 2025 is compliant with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5℃ global warming limit. The operation was separated into three phases, the first from 2012 to 2016, the second from 2017 to 2020 and the last from 2021 to 2025, in order to periodically reassess its impacts. The plan hinges on four pillars, each broken into distinct action areas that outline the means of achieving each goal. These pillars – energy consumption, energy production, mobility, and city administrative initiatives – aim to curb the city’s carbon emissions through carbon neutral heating and cooling systems, increased production of renewable energy, and reduced building emissions. 

The plan’s initial phase aimed to achieve a 20% CO2 reduction from 2005 levels by 2015. At present, Copenhagen has cut emissions by approximately 42%. Moreover, the city has experienced economic growth of 24% since 2005, creating what Copenhagen’s Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs, Morten Kabell, referred to in 2016 as a “win-win situation for all parties involved.” Thus far, Kabell’s promise of “innovation and new climate solutions [that] create business models and solutions adapted to [the] city’s needs” holds true. 

Energy consumption, the first pillar of the Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan, accounts for only 7% of the city’s total carbon dioxide reduction, yet provides one of the most cost-effective ways to cut emissions. The CPH 2025 Climate Plan Roadmap for 2021-2025 anticipates a reduction of 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions due to ten initiatives intended to lessen energy consumption. The initiatives are broken up into four main action areas: energy-efficient operations, refurbishment and new build, conversion, and photovoltaic modules. Energy-efficient operations include the reduction of heat and electricity consumption, with an intended 20% decline in energy usage for commercial buildings, 10% for households and 40% for public buildings. Additionally, the efficiency category proposes the Energy Leap project, which incentivizes owners of large buildings to make energy improvements to their properties. Refurbishment and new build calls for advancements in the construction sector, such as energy retrofitting urban buildings. Lastly, the energy consumption pillar requires the conversion of oil-heated buildings and implements a Photovoltaic Action Plan, which increases solar power to supply 1% of total energy consumption.

The Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan’s second pillar, energy production, constitutes the biggest change to city-wide emissions, with an anticipated 80% decline in carbon output. Focused on carbon neutral district heating, carbon neutral utilities, wind and sun, and resources and waste, the energy production pillar will decrease carbon emissions by 130,000 tonnes between 2021 and 2025. To do so, Copenhagen plans to utilize biomass fuel technologies, develop carbon neutral water supplies and sewerage, construct new onshore and offshore wind turbines, and alter waste sorting processes for households and industries. The pillar’s flagship project, BIO4, will replace a coal fired power plant with a new power and heat unit run entirely on biomass. 

Already a city of bikers and walkers, the third aspect of Copenhagen’s plan centers on increased carbon-free mobility. This pillar considers public transport, maritime traffic, and construction machinery in order to cut 58,000 tonnes in carbon emissions. Currently, the majority of Copenhagen’s mobility emissions stem from road traffic. To combat this, the policy calls for at least 75% of all trips by 2025 to be taken by foot, bicycle or public transport. In addition to improving public transport and cycle infrastructure, CPH 2025 mobility invests in the development of new vehicle fuels, such as hydrogen and biofuels, intelligent traffic management, and shore power for cruise ships. Furthermore, educational based approaches aim to influence residents’ transportation patterns through attitude training. This mobility program aims to reduce transport emissions naturally, by encouraging citizens to reconsider their behavioral patterns and choose more environmentally-friendly options when travelling around Copenhagen.  

City administration initiatives represent the fourth and final pillar of CPH 2025, with an estimated cut of 8,000 tonnes in emissions. This component further develops many of the policies illustrated in the previous pillars, centering on the city’s “energy consumption, transport, company, procurement, woodlands, and training and information. These outlined procedures entail a streamlining of day-to-day operations, changes to street lighting, tracking of efficiencies in Copenhagen based companies, improved eco-labelling on products, planting 100,000 trees  and enacting new climate action training programs. 

From its clean air, to its vibrant pedestrian-friendly streets, Copenhagen has consistently topped Monocle’s Quality of Life Rating, and has been named the world’s most liveable city four times since 2007, including in 2021. As the effects of human caused climate change grow increasingly apparent each day, Denmark’s capital city has set itself on course to be part of the solution, while simultaneously maintaining a thriving population and economy. Copenhagen’s 2025 Climate Plan is ambitious and progressive, and might just provide a prime example for cities around the world.

 

Sources

“27 Cities Have Reached Peak Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” C40, Sept. 2018, https://www.c40.org/press_releases/27-cities-have-reached-peak-greenhouse-gas-emissions-whilst-populations-increase-and-economies-grow?source=post_page.

Adams, Cathy. “These Are the Best Cities to Live In.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 24 June 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/copenhagen-monocle-best-city-ranking-liveable-b1871922.html.

Braff, Dan. “Copenhagen to Be Carbon Neutral- by 2025.” Green City Times, 13 Oct. 2021, https://www.greencitytimes.com/copenhagen/.

“Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan: Roadmap 2017 – 2020.” C40 Knowledge Community, Jan. 2017, https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/Copenhagen-2025-Climate-Plan-Roadmap-2017-2020?language=en_US.

“Copenhagen.” CNCA, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, https://carbonneutralcities.org/cities/copenhagen/.

CPH 2025 Climate Plan, Roadmap 2021-2025 ed., Københavns Kommune, 2020, pp. 64–65.

Hockenos, Paul. “How the Nordic Countries Outsmarted Us Again.” CNN, CNN Opinion, 5 June 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/05/opinions/nordic-renewable-energy-model-hockenos/index.html. 

Technical and Environmental Administration. CPH 2025 Climate Plan: A Green, Smart and Carbon Neutral City, City of Copenhagen, The Technical and Environmental Administration, 2012, p. 48. 

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