Can Copenhagen Become the World's First Carbon Neutral City?

"We believe that carbon neutrality not only benefits the climate, the Copenhageners will gain a lot in terms of increased growth and life quality as well. Cleaner air, less noise and a greener city will give Copenhageners better daily lives and create more jobs."
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In mid January, Beijing became the world's dirtiest big city. Bleak, polluted, shrouded in smog with particulates seemingly the size of sand dust blotted out the Beijing skyline.

The smog of Beijing has become a health hazard to its citizens and those living on the Korean peninsula. The blight has pushed the Communist Party's central planners into central focus with the grim scene they created by not enacting environmental policies to curb runaway pollution. At risk is more than air.

By ignoring the accumulative effect of pollution, Chinese politicians have set Beijing on a road to decline. The diminished resources of clean water, safe food, and fresh air to breathe, will impact citizens of China and threaten the livestock and arable land.

Collaboration on Green

During the same week of the Beijing smog, Lord Mayor Frank Jensen of Copenhagen spoke at a green solutions presentation at the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Key talking points covered the gamut from smarter cities and sustainable design, to energy efficiency and a bold plan for the city of 1.2 million people to become the world's first carbon neutral city by 2025.

Such a lofty, ambitious, yet do-able, goal draws sharp contrast to the polar opposite agenda of China's relentless drive to grow its economy at any cost.

The Lord Mayor's green roadshow took him to San Francisco and then to a one-on-one session with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The two mayors shared ideas on how to achieve sustainability and adapt urban centers for the rising tide, warmer weather, and heavier rainfall coastal cities will experience as a result of climate change. They agree that bicycle-power is one cog in achieving cleaner mass transit. As both cities go through an energy renaissance, retrofitting existing buildings to consume less energy and creating clean energy that gives its surplus back to the grid, each one can become a template for other cities to use.

"I had a very fruitful meeting with Mayor Bloomberg. We shared a lot of ideas and through the C40 Network on Climate Change, Mayor Bloomberg has made great efforts to strengthen the voice of cities in the area of climate change," the Lord Mayor Jensen said.

"I'm very happy that the mayor of New York has set a clear, green agenda to inspire other great cities around the world," he continued.

We discussed initiatives in Copenhagen and New York regarding Climate adaptation: preparing for climate change and how to attract and create private sector jobs in New York and Copenhagen including green growth jobs. Copenhagen is chairing a network within the C40, investigating how cities can work with business to attract investment and create jobs in meeting our environmental targets.

One irony: Beijing is one of the C40 Cities, whose mission is "Global Leadership on Climate Change." Exposure to other cities with green initiatives, however, could be good for the leaders of China.

What is Carbon Neutral?

Carbon neutrality covers two elements: physical building footprints and emissions. In the former, to achieve a "net zero" carbon footprint requires a project that consumes energy to produce an equal amount. In the latter, cities or regions that generate carbon emissions can swap, sequester or offset them with carbon credits.

Interview with the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen

James Grundvig (JG) interviewed Lord Mayor Frank Jensen (FJ) via email.

JG: When did Copenhagen decide to become the world's first Carbon Neutral City?

FJ: "In order to keep sustainability on the top of the agenda, the Copenhagen municipality decided to set an ambitious goal in 2008. A sustainable world starts with sustainable cities.

"In Copenhagen, we have kept that thinking in mind as we approach our own challenges. More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and the number is only increasing. And while most of the world's wealth is created by urban residents, they are also responsible for about 75 percent of CO2 emissions.

"We believe that carbon neutrality not only benefits the climate, the Copenhageners will gain a lot in terms of increased growth and life quality as well. Cleaner air, less noise and a greener city will give Copenhageners better daily lives and create more jobs."

JG: What challenges will it take from a design-engineer vista to achieve that goal?

FJ: "In the plan on how to transform Copenhagen into the first carbon neutral capital in the world, we propose solutions that will be initiated in close partnership between public and private sector players. Wind turbines will be installed and investments made in solar cells, and power stations will be converted from fossil fuels to biomass.

"In the future, Copenhageners will cycle even more, and we will invest in hybrid buses for public transport. Buildings in Copenhagen will be energy-renovated, and new buildings will be energy efficient. We have already reduced CO2-emissions by 40 percent from 1995 until 2012, and in the budget for 2013 we have allocated nearly 100 million US $ to climate initiatives."

JG: What other Copenhagen projects will help lead to the carbon neutral goal?

FJ: "Our ambitions to create sustainable growth will indeed require:

• New green mobility initiatives,

• More energy-efficient buildings and

• More renewable energy production.

"We have a strong focus on energy efficiency in new buildings, but retrofitting our existing buildings is even more important. In both cases, we have an eye on ventilation, heating and cooling, insulation, windows and on how to sample and reuse rainwater.

"A good example is The Royal Danish Playhouse, who is living up to the highest standards of energy efficiency, and one of the first buildings in Copenhagen to implement district cooling, using seawater to cool the building. This improves the indoor climate, and gives up to 80% reduction on the electricity bill."

JG: What was the feedback on your presentation at the NYC AIA?

FJ: "It was very inspiring to meet city planners, high-level policymakers and architects in a debate on how to make our cities greener. I am impressed and proud to experience how well people in New York know Copenhagen and our initiatives within sustainability, growth and quality of life, and our efforts to make the city even smarter."

JG What's your view on climate change?

FJ: "I consider climate change a fact we need to react upon by reducing our emissions and by preparing ourselves for a climate change with warmer temperatures and heavier rain.

"But I believe that we should keep an eye on the return on investments. Not just in terms of a better climate, environment and improvement in the health of Copenhagen's citizens, but also in terms of hard cash.

"It is forecast that more than a half of the investments put into improving the energy efficiency of schools, cultural centres, residential homes and offices will be repaid through operational savings by 2025. Copenhageners can look forward to monthly savings on their electricity and heating bills of the equivalent of USD 50-75. And in a time of economic crisis, it should be mentioned that the investments are creating jobs -- and that the new solutions will create the foundation for a strong green sector.

"I believe that we have a shared responsibility to ensure a global green transition. Political leaders, municipalities and corporations share the task of creating the new smart growth strategy which will ensure that jobs and growth can go hand in hand with green development."

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