Nyhavn canal district in Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen in race to become first carbon-neutral capital

Image credit: Pixabay

With more than 70 major cities pledging to end their reliance on fossil fuels and stop pumping out climate-changing emissions by 2050, the capital of Denmark intends to accomplish this shift in just seven years.

Copenhagen – a city of wind turbines, bicycles and reliable public transportation – is currently running its own renewable energy systems, one of the reasons the city is on track to being carbon neutral by 2025.

However, officials have admitted it will require a complete re-imagining of how the Danish capital is powered and designed, which will include a lot of cyclists.

“Why are we going for that? People might say what we do in Copenhagen doesn't really matter on the global stage at all. We are tiny,” said Jørgen Abildgaard, director of the city’s climate programme.

But with cities and countries around the world still searching for ways to turn the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change into a reality, “it’s important to show that it’s possible to make this transition”, he added.

While other cities have parking garages for cars, Copenhagen has them for bicycles, with virtually all of its 600,000 residents owning a bicycle, and the city has 375km of dedicated cycle lanes.

The city’s concerted efforts to go green put it ahead of the schedule set by almost 200 nations in Paris to effectively phase out greenhouse gases between 2050 and 2100.

According to a draft United Nations (UN) report, leading climate scientists will warn next week that global carbon emissions from energy use will have to plunge by up to 7 per cent a year to meet Paris’ toughest goals, unless technologies to suck carbon from the air and store it are developed.

Copenhagens officials are confident the city can largely achieve its ambitious goals.

“We want to be 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2025. But if we are 95 per cent or around that, it’s still a big success,” said Abildgaard, who has overseen the city’s efforts toward carbon neutrality ever since it made its pledge in 2009, when it hosted UN climate talks.

City figures found that last year Copenhagen produced about 1.37 million tonnes of climate-changing gases, down 40 per cent from 2005, one of the lowest rates for a European city with 2.2 tonnes (2,200kg) of emissions per capita.

The city said the reduction in emissions was largely due to a switch to wind energy under HOFOR, Copenhagen’s own utility company.

“We are some of the muscle that the city has to be able to [use to] reach its goals,” said Jörgen Edström, head of strategy and business development at HOFOR, one of many energy companies in the capital.

“The city wanted to build windmills to compensate for its electricity consumption – so we built windmills. They have a company to do the things they want to do,” he said.

HOFOR has invested billions of euros to build 360 wind turbines by 2025 to power most of the city and will soon replace its coal-fired power plants with biomass-powered units that burn sustainable wood pellets, the company said.

Around the world, cities consume more than two-thirds of the worlds energy and account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations, meaning that finding ways for cities to become carbon neutral will be key to meeting the Paris commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Cities are where the emissions are the largest. So, if cities can solve the problems, then that’s part of the way to a more carbon-neutral world,” Edström said.

The ‘cycling city’ is not the only city with intentions of becoming carbon free. In September, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, signed a bill committing the wealthiest and most populous US state to phase out fossil fuels from its electricity sector by 2045.

Also, in May, Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado announced the government’s aim to abolish fossil fuels for transportation by 2021 to mark 200 years of Costa Rican independence.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles