Denmark To Have The World’s First Carbon Neutral Capital

The battle to slow climate change will be won or lost in cities, which are responsible for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions and two-thirds of worldwide energy consumption. Copenhagen has set itself the ambitious target of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025. The city does also not plan to cut growth, but rather add up reductions. Although much needs to be changed, Copenhagen has already made major progress, reducing its emissions by 21 percent between 2005 and 2011. The city currently emits about 2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and earlier initiatives were on target to reduce emissions to 1.16 million tons by 2025. A plan approved in 2013 will slash CO2 emissions even further, to about 400,000 tons by 2025.

Sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and green building design are all factors that are helping Copenhagen reach this goal. In Copenhagen Harbor, a wind farm, known as Middlegrunden, was funded by individual Copenhagen shareholders. The city hopes to expand this development. Nearly three-quarters of the emissions reductions identified in the 2025 plan will come by transitioning to less carbon-intensive ways of producing heat and electricity. The goal is to implement a combination of biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar. Wind turbines, such as those in Middlegrunden, now supply over 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity, and that share is set to rise to 50 percent by 2020.

In 2103, a clean-burning waste-to-energy plant was built that provides electricity to 150,000 households. Half of Copenhagen’s indoor heat comes from combustion of waste. Copenhagen currently has two heat and power stations that burn coal. Though these run at about 90% efficiency, compared to around 40% for conventional coal-fired power plants, the city hopes to eventually be completely dependent on biomass, just like Burlington! They will replace coal entirely with wood chips and straw.

Building and home design is also key in reaching the city’s goal. New buildings in Copenhagen must be constructed to Denmark’s Low Energy Class ratings; calling for net-zero energy buildings. It is hard to achieve energy savings in old buildings, though, and over 70% of the city’s buildings were constructed before the energy efficiency standards were set in place. As for homes and stores, most tenants rent from landlords. As the tenants pay for their utilities, the city is finding trouble in convincing building owners to make upgrades as they wont see the financial benefits. One easy opportunity for owners is to implement green roofs. It is now mandatory that all new flat roofs at or under a 30 degree-pitch, both private and public, have to be vegetated. As they are fairly inexpensive and can provide food, the city hopes old buildings start using them as well.

Lastly, clean transportation is one of the biggest initiatives the city is taking. As written about for another blog post on January 20th, I will direct you to read that post! In short, Copenhagen is already dominated by cyclists; 36 percent of trips to work or school in the Danish capital are made by bike, and more than 20,000 cyclists enter the city center at peak hours, filling Copenhagen’s 249 miles of cycle tracks. They have bike lanes that are safe and protected, with their own stop-lights. Recently an 11 mile cycling “highway” was built. Secondly, public transportation is key. Most people do not own cars, but rather commute and travel by trains, buses, etc. The city hopes all cars and buses, public and private, will run on biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

Personally, I am studying abroad in Copenhagen for the fall semester of 2015. As I am studying ‘Urban Ecological Design,’ within environmental science, Copenhagen’s progress is so enticing. They’re plan is very progressive and although it is costing the city a fair amount of money, it is necessary to combat climate change and ensure coastal cities like Copenhagen can even survive. They are taking the necessary steps to ensure our future. As cities are responsible for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions and more than half of the world population lives in urban areas, everyone needs to take note of Copenhagen’s progress.

Yale Environment 360, 2013


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