Frontrunners on climate: just doing it

Copenhagen, Denmark, set to become carbon neutral by 2025

With climate policy goals often too distant, the example of frontrunners close to success - like the city of Copenhagen that aims for carbon neutrality by 2025 - are critical to showcase feasibility at scale, timeliness of action and the many co-benefits for citizens. In all sectors, positive experiences exist but few are as effective and strategic as cities and small towns, according to C40, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change . While the stakes have never been so high for the planet, they invent the way forward, bringing along a whole ecosystem of companies, universities, hospitals and community organizations that are active on their territory.

Why it’s important: to achieve the Paris agreement, climate policies have until now mainly concentrated on national regulation, finance and the supply side with energy and food systems. But the acceleration needed in the next decade requires a whole-of-society approach by which every institution, company and community organization plays a direct role in setting their own science-based target and carbon emission reduction pathway. Frontrunners play an essential role in terms of leadership by example and inspiration, and evidence-based guidelines can be disseminated with the help of organized support networks. If they can do it, why can’t we?

Carbon neutrality by 2025? This way please. The City of Copenhagen is a laboratory for decarbonization: while it initially aimed for a 20% reduction of carbon emissions for 2015 from 2005 levels, it actually reached -42% by 2017 and considers itself on track to become the first carbon neutral capital by 2025. That means that its territory will not emit any carbon that is not absorbed bt its sinks, without having to resort to carbon offsets elsewhere. Its Climate Plan combines growth with development and aims to increase the quality of life for citizens while simultaneously reducing GHG emissions.

Carbon Neutral Copenhagen – 'European Green Capital 2014' – EBX NEWS

What are the four key pillars ?

  • Energy consumption will only account for 7% of the total CO2 reduction, but from an overall economic perspective, energy savings are the cheapest way to cut emissions.

  • The production of electricity and heat, currently the biggest source of CO2 emissions. Coal, oil and natural gas are to be replaced by renewable energy and efforts in this pillar will account for 80% of the total reduction in 2025. A new biomass fueled combined heat and power plant opened in 2019 and more wind turbines are planned.

  • Transport, with a restructuring of road traffic as a necessary component to cut emissions. In 2025 at least 75% of all trips will have to be done by foot, by bike or by public transport, with a shift to vehicles driven by electricity, hydrogen and biogas.

  • The city administration may only represent 5% of the total CO2 reduction but it has had huge significance as a source of inspiration for others. Leading the way in cutting energy use and running vehicles powered by alternative fuels enhances the City of Copenhagen’s credibility. Meanwhile, the University of Copenhagen reached in 2020 a 65% reduction of emissions per student and a 50% decrease in energy consumption.

During this transformation period, the city enjoyed a growth of 25% with jobs creation, better anticipation of the green economy and increased standards of life for citizens.

Copenhagen – CNCA

The next challenge: consumption and supply chains. The achievement of Copenhagen, like other similar cities, is impressive but it does not yet encompass the carbon footprint of products and services purchased from outside its territory. Like many European countries, manufacturing industries are largely delocalized elsewhere and the estimated consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions of residents remain very high at almost 15 tons per year. Decarbonizing supply chains requires dedicated policies at national and European levels, and more autonomy on food products.

The bottomline: it’s all about hope. Hope is an essential motivator for action and is all the more important because of a well-known scissors’ effect at play: the global warming situation will significantly worsen despite an acceleration of the deployment of solutions. Even in the best of scenarios - fast-tracking carbon emission reductions to limit global warming well below +2°C - the accumulated stock of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to rise until mid-century and the thermal inertia of oceans delays impact on temperature. And while the daily news will inevitably continue to describe how temperature records are being broken, extreme weather events get more intense, fires unprecedented, ice shelves disappearing and oceans warming, cities like Copenhagen, Glasgow or Stockholm can demonstrate that solutions have the potential to fully change the picture in less than 20 years.