As the world’s population becomes increasingly more urbanised, with the share of people living in cities amounting to 55% today and expected to increase to 68% by 2050 (source), decarbonising the cities of the world will be instrumental in fighting climate change.

Residents of just 100 cities account for 20% of humanity’s overall carbon footprint, and roughly one third of an urban city-dwellers’ carbon footprint is determined by that city’s public transportation options and building infrastructure (source).

Decarbonisation depends on transforming our cities’ key GHG-emitting systems and markets for transportation, energy supply, buildings, solid waste, and food, which have, until now, been wedded to the fossil fuel economy. This will not be an easy task, and there is no simple recipe for all cities to follow to achieve this. The broad strokes of what needs to be done are, however, identifiable.

The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) is a collaboration of leading global cities working to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-100% by 2050 or sooner. According to a recent report published by the alliance, we need to phase out fossil fuel energy production and ramp up renewable energy supply. We must increase energy efficiency substantially, while expanding the use of public transportation, bicycling, and walking, and increasing the use of non-fossil-fueled vehicles. Additionally, we must reduce the disposal of waste that generates GHG emissions. In this article series, we take a closer look at how the Nordic capital cities are tackling this task head on.

Nordic capitals are leading the pack – Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen all strive to become carbon neutral by 2040

Helsinki strives to become carbon neutral by 2035. In practice, Helsinki strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced within the city borders by 80% and to offset the remaining 20% by reducing emissions elsewhere. The City of Helsinki will focus on reducing emissions from transport, emissions reduction in construction and the use of buildings, reducing emissions in the City’s procurement, reducing emissions in energy production and by increasing carbon sinks and use carbon offsets.

Stockholm is to be fossil-fuel free by 2040. This is to be achieved through sustainable energy use, renewables-powered transport and resource-efficient natural cycles. Coal will be phased out as an energy source in the CHP plants supplying heating energy. The city will also investigate the potential for increasing the amount of renewable electricity production and produce 10% of the municipal organisation’s electricity with solar power. In the transport sector, Stockholm will set out a plan for a totally fossil-free road transport sector including looking into the feasibility of prohibiting the sale of fossil fuels by 2040 and looking into introducing local Environmental Zones from which vehicles running on fossil fuels will be banned. By 2020 at the latest the city aims to collect at least 70% of Stockholm’s food waste for conversion into biogas.

The most ambitious targets for carbon reduction are found in Oslo and Copenhagen

The most ambitious targets for carbon reduction are found in Oslo and Copenhagen The target is to reduce the Oslo's CO2 emissions by 50% by 2020 and by 95% by 2030, compared to the 1990 level. Oslo’s Climate and Energy Strategy is made up of 16 initiatives, covering both traffic, energy production and efficiency, a climate budget for the city as well as waste management and recycling. Since 61% of the emissions in Oslo derive from traffic, Oslo has an ambitious plan to reduce all car traffic by one third by 2030, to increase the amount of daily travels by bike by 25% by 2025 and make its public transportation fleet run entirely on renewables by 2020.

Copenhagen wants to be the world’s first carbon neutral capital in 2025. To fulfil the CPH 2025 Climate plan, the city will need to construct wind turbines and convert the energy supply; all Copenhageners must use their bikes more; public transport will operate on electricity and biogas; buildings in Copenhagen must be energy retrofitted; and Copenhagen will invest in solar energy. And many more smaller pieces of the puzzle must fall into place.

Carbon neutrality will change the cityscape of the Nordic capitals

The Nordic capitals have all set ambitious targets to reduce their carbon footprint and decouple their growth from the use of fossil fuels, increase the use of public and light traffic and become more energy efficient. If followed through entirely, the Nordic capitals will change tangibly in the coming decades, with more bicycles and modes of public transport in the streets and less private cars in the city centres. Solar panels will also become a ubiquitous sight on roofs all over Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and Copenhagen.

Achieving these long-term goals will, however, require the support from both citizens and businesses as the changes will require not only technological solutions, but ultimately changes in the behaviour of the residents in the Nordic capitals. In the next four articles we will look closer at how carbon neutrality will be achieved in each of the Nordic capitals.