Can Copenhagen be the world's greenest city?

  • Environment
  • Wednesday, 12 Oct 2016

(left) Lykke Leonardsen, head of programme for resilient and sustainable city solutions, and Christina Anderskov, international strategist and sustainability coordinator, both with Copenhagen City’s Environmental Department.Photo: ONG SOON HIN/The Star

It ranked as the fourth most liveable city in the world this year according to Monocle, a London-based magazine that reports on global affairs, business, culture and lifestyle issues. In 2014, it was elected the official European Green Capital by the European Commission, an honour and great achievement indeed for the city.

Now, Copenhagen aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, an ambitious but not unachievable goal, judging by current and future plans and policies that are in place. A quick example: from 2005 to 2011, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by more than 20% in the city.

Last month, two representatives from Copenhagen Municipality were in Kuala Lumpur as part of the Copenhagen Solutions for Sustainable Cities Seminar Series to share more about this goal.

Organised by the Denmark Trade Council – which comes under the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the seminars involved local municipalities from Malacca, Penang and Selangor as well as the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.

Like most cities, Copenhagen faces urban challenges such as carbon emissions, traffic congestion and waste accumulation.

Those challenges are being addressed via its Climate Action Plan and Climate Adaptation Plan, which tackle the challenges associated with climate change, within the overall objectives of making Copenhagen a zero waste city and the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

The Cykelslangen (soo-cool-klag-en), or Cycle Snake, is the city’s latest elevated bicycle bridge that stretches over the harbour.
The Cycle Snake is Copenhagen's latest elevated bicycle bridge.

“We have four pillars under our Climate Action Plan. One is energy production where we aim to be 100% carbon-neutral by using wind turbines and sustainable biomass in our energy production,” shares Lykke Leonardsen, head of programme for resilient and sustainable city solutions with Copenhagen City’s Environmental Department.

“Second is mobility, where we are not only further promoting the use of bicycles in the city but also having more car share systems and more sustainable public transport by having buses driven by biogas or electricity. We are also expanding the public transportation system by having better connectivity with the bicycle system,” she says.

Leonardsen adds that the biggest bus line in Copenhagen will soon change to using biogas, reducing the carbon emission by buses in Copenhagen by 20%.

“Our Lord Mayor (Frank Jensen) has also promised that he will make sure that more bus lines will follow in the next few years. We also have bus lines which have started experimenting with electrical vehicles. It’s a slow process but it’s coming along now.

“Lastly, we have to be a role model for the people. One of the things the municipality is practising is buying only either electric or biogas-driven vehicles,” Leonardsen says.

The city’s Climate Action Plan also involves reducing energy consumption in housing via better insulation of houses and maintenance of heating systems.

Amager Beach Park in central Copenhagen overlooks off shore wind turbines that provide renewable energy to the city. — URSULA BACH/City of Copenhagen
Amager Beach Park in central Copenhagen overlooks offshore wind turbines that provide renewable energy to help the city become carbon-neutral.

Copenhagen practises waste incineration but it aims to reduce incinerated waste by 20% in 2018 and by 2050, become a zero waste city.

“Up to now, we have been burning almost all our waste, so we basically have zero landfill and we are famous for that. (By 2018), we want 45% of our household waste to be recycled instead, because we realise there is value in (waste),” says Christina Anderskov, international strategist and sustainability coordinator with Copenhagen City’s Environmental Department.

“We also aim that at least 60% of the waste collection vehicles in the city will be fuelled by alternative fuels in the future,” Anderskov adds.

Copenhagen adopts a district heating system to which 98% of all houses in the city are connected. The system distributes heat efficiently around the city. Electricity generated from the waste incineration is fed back into this system, contributing 20%-30% of the energy needed for heating.

“That makes the transition towards becoming carbon-neutral easier because it’s easier to move from coal to sustainable biomass. In the future, we are also looking at using renewable energy such as geothermal energy for the heating system,” says Leonardsen.

As part of the plan towards becoming carbon-neutral, the city is also erecting 100 new wind turbines – within Copenhagen city and offshore – by 2025 to push towards carbon-neutral electricity for its citizens. At the moment, 52% of Denmark’s energy usage comes from renewable energy, with 43% from wind turbines.

A city that cycles

In 2011, the International Cycling Union named Copenhagen as the first official “Bike City” for its active cycling culture and bicycle-friendly environment.

Rain or snow, 63% of all Copenhagen folks bike to school or work every day all year round.
Rain or snow, 63% of Copenhagen folks bike to school or work every day, all year round.

Currently, 63% of Copenhagen folks commute by cycling to work or school every day.

In 2013, a bike sharing system was implemented in the city whereby train passengers can rent a bicycle at the arrival station to get to their final destination.

Statistics show that currently, 40%-45% of all trips in Copenhagen are done by bicycle, which includes people who cross into the city from another municipality.

“We want 50% of all trips in Copenhagen, and also from other municipalities, to be done by bicycle. We are nearly there,” says Leonardsen.

The city is also working on expanding the bicycle lanes in Copenhagen to ease congestion problems. One of the main bridges coming in from a small island and going into the centre of Copenhagen records 45,000 bicycles using it every day.

All main roads in the city are designed with bicycle lanes and plans are underway to expand existing bike lanes, taking away room for cars and giving them to bicycles.

Most Copenhageners do not own a car, with the bike to car ratio at 5:1.

The Circle Bridge bicycle lane connects two parts of Copenhagen.

Another interesting development in the city is the establishment of a new city district called the North Harbour, the largest urban development area in Northern Europe.

Copenhagen’s population is expected to go up by another 100,000 in 10 years and the North Harbour, built on reclaimed land, will serve as a new city for 30,000 to 40,000 people. Featuring a sustainable energy supply, low-energy buildings and some of the best conditions for cyclists in the world, it will be Copenhagen’s sustainable city district and showcase for Smart City technology.

“The North Harbour has been a real positive development for the city. It’s right in the city centre and from a city that once turned its back to the harbour, we are now facing the harbour,” says Leonardsen.

The city has also successfully cleaned up an old industrial harbour and turned it into the Copenhagen Harbour Bath, a popular spot for swimming and other recreational activities. Waste water used to flow into the waters but after modernising the sewage system and cleaning up work, they are now safe to swim in.

Besides being one of the trendiest urban spaces in the city, real estate value and business opportunities have also gone up in the area, along with quality of life.

Smart city

Currently, the Danish city is also exploring innovative technological solutions via a project called the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, which will lead the implementation of innovation and smart city development in collaboration with knowledge institutions and companies as well as citizens.

(left) Lykke Leonardsen, head of programme for resilient and sustainable city solutions, and Christina Anderskov, international strategist and sustainability coordinator, both with Copenhagen City’s Environmental Department.Photo: ONG SOON HIN/The Star
Lykke Leonardsen (left) and Christina Anderskov, both with Copenhagen City’s Environmental Department. Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

The project will incorporate new intelligent transport solutions, reduced carbon emissions, implementation of sensors that create real time data and information on current situations in the city and the build up and architecture of a new “Big Data Digital Infrastructure Platform” that shares data across public and private sectors.

One of the experiments is Street Lab, a smart city solution system which incorporates intelligent traffic systems that direct people to places with less traffic and more parking, to avoid congestion.

The city has integrated the Street Lab project into an actual busy street in the city.

“The reason we are doing that is we want to know if the system is good enough for the whole city and we want to make sure we invest in the right smart technology in the future,” explains Anderskov, adding that the project started in June this year.

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