The European cities moving faster on clean energy than their governments

Terry Slavin
The Guardian
July 6, 2015

More than 6,000 cities have signed up to go further than EU climate targets. Copenhagen, Bristol and Växjö are leading the way.
Copenhagen, Denmark, is on target to fulfil its ambition to be the world’s first CO2-neutral capital in 2025. Photograph: Alamy

hen heads of state go to Paris at the end of the year to negotiate a deal to tackle climate change, global city mayors will also be there, arguing that since cities are responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions, the battle should be waged, street by street, at a city level.

More than 6,000 European cities have signed up to the Covenant of Mayors, a voluntary commitment to go faster and further than EU climate targets. Their climate action plans call for, on average, a 28% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020, 8% more than the EU’s 2020 target.

Even Kiev, which came last of 30 cities in Siemen’s 2009 European Green City Index, is a signatory. Vitali Klitschko, elected mayor last May, said he wanted to end the Ukrainian capital’s dependency on oil and gas – though Kiev’s membership has been suspended until it files a sustainable energy action plan.

Last year the Economist listed the Covenant of Mayors as one of most effective global initiatives to help mitigate climate change. Alix Bolle of the European association Energy Cities says many Scandinavian and German cities do well on energy not only because they have highly efficient district heating and cooling systems, but because powers to harness and manage energy are decentralised. “They are capable of making decisions at the right scale and the right speed, and can be quicker than national governments in taking the next steps in the energy transition,” he says.

Here we look at how three leading European cities are taking action to cut CO2 emissions into their own hands:

Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish capital and widely acknowledged clean energy leader in Europe has per capita CO2 emissions of 2.8 tonnes a year, compared with the EU average of7.3 tonnes. The city of 570,000 people is on target to fulfil its ambition to be the world’s first CO2-neutral capital in 2025 – 25 years earlier than the Danish government’s target.

Copenhagen already gets 4% of its electricity needs from a large wind park in its harbour, a cooperative half-owned by the city and half by 9,000 small investors. But Kabell says the city wants half of its electricity to come from wind power by 2020, and has set aside £700m to build 100 onshore and offshore wind turbines.

Mark Watts, executive director of C40 cities climate leadership group, says Copenhagen’s approach to urban wind energy is being watched closely by other major cities. “Copenhagen has been very clever in the way it’s made a significant investment in wind over the last decade,” he says. “Like everywhere else in the world there’s been opposition to it from an aesthetic point of view, but they’ve overcome it by giving local people in the sightlines [of the turbines] shares in the company.”

But cities cannot act on their own; they need supportive national policies. Kabell says the city would like to bring more solar and geothermal energy onto the grid, but it has been stymied by the Danish government.

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