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Editor's Picks Smart Cities Public Sector

Copenhagen’s carbon neutral plan

It’s a prodigious goal: a carbon neutral city. The changes required to make it happen extend beyond Copenhagen’s city planners. Residents, businesses and infrastructure will all have to come together to make a carbon neutral Copenhagen by 2025.

It’s an incredibly complex subject, carbon neutrality. It does not mean carbon-zero, or a complete lack of any emissions. The best way to grasp it is to start with the idea of balance. Balance the amount of carbon emissions you put out, with the amount of emissions you can absorb (or negate).

Think of it like hot dogs, because we all like hot dogs. For every hot dog you produce, you have to eat it. Sounds like a great idea! But, after you’ve had 72 or so, you need to figure something else out.

That is what Copenhagen, and its 775,033 residents have resolved to do. In the face of increased rainfall, greater weather shifts, and rising sea levels, the city has begun efforts to adapt itself to a changing climate. That change isn’t just re-active, e.g. creating solutions for flood control. The plan for the city includes actively taking responsibility for climate change.

The city’s recipe for change has four elements:

  • Decrease the amount of energy consumption
  • Increase the production of energy via carbon neutral or low-carbon means
  • Change city mobility to go human and electric powered
  • Build energy efficient structures, and carbon absorbing public projects

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How far they’ve come

Copenhagen’s climate plan was first adopted in 2009, via unanimous vote by the city council. That plan included a 20% reduction in emissions by 2015 (check), and a city-wide carbon neutral profile by 2025.

The city easily reached its first goal. Those first steps included creating electric buses, providing a public bike-sharing system, building bike-only bridges, separating organic waste to become bio-fuel, and renovating buildings to be more heat efficient.

Roughly 45 percent of the population takes their bike to work or school each day. While residents take to pedal-power, the city is backing that effort up with separated cycle lanes, and even one bike path that gives all green lights if you pedal at 20kph. The process of taking a train or an electric bus, then taking a bicycle that last mile has become commonplace.

As is often the case with plans for change, the early stages show great promise, while the later gains become more difficult. The initial reduction of carbon emissions and increases in eco-friendly travel have focused on the biggest targets of emission production. To make the last steps, the city is focused on the harder changes.

Those changes include the production of a ground-breaking new power plant called BIO4, which will replace the last coal-burning power plant in the city. The city has produced 23 dedicated wind turbines and continues to grow that number.

If they’re successful, Copenhagen will be the first world capital to achieve carbon neutrality. City planners have no illusions about the challenges ahead. Some may view the effort with awe and skepticism. But then, they don’t live in Copenhagen.

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