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How Copenhagen plans to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital

Ambitious cities around the world are setting their sights on becoming carbon neutral. This means that, after measuring their carbon emissions, they reduce those emissions as much as is cost effectively possible, and use equivalent offsets to balance the residual emissions and achieve a net zero carbon footprint.

Copenhagen is one of those ambitious cities. The capital city of Denmark aims to be carbon neutral by 2025, which would make it the first carbon neutral capital in the world. They are advancing steadily toward that goal, as can be seen on the carbon Climate Registry on which they report their emissions, using innovative methods to overcome existing obstacles.

Located right by the North Sea, Copenhagen is one of the many coastal cities for which climate change has very direct consequences. In fact, Copenhagen already faces an increased number of storms and heavy rain causing floods in the city. A study from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that, in worse case scenarios, the sea level in Northern Europe may rise by up to about 1½ meters in this century, which would .

In an effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change, Copenhagen adopted its first climate plan in 2012. This plan aimed to slash urban emissions and to set out a pathway towards carbon neutrality by 2025.

The city achieved some early successes, since 2005, total carbon emissions in Copenhagen have dropped by 38 percent, with most progress achieved within the past 5 years. It is now one of the European capitals with the lowest per capita emissions with 2.5 tons per capita.

However, despite these early successes, the city still has a long way to go to achieve its targets. Current projections suggest that Copenhagen will still emit a net amount of 286,000 tons of CO2 by 2025, not yet hitting the carbon neutrality target. Their remaining efforts are also the most difficult to tackle, since many actions involve sectors over which the city does not have direct authority.

This is why, in August 2016, Copenhagen adopted a new climate plan to accelerate its efforts on the road to carbon neutrality, focusing this time on partnerships.

When Copenhagen set out toward carbon neutrality, it had to look for solutions across various sectors. The climate plan focuses on four key areas representing the primary emissions sources in Copenhagen: energy production, energy efficiency, mobility and the municipal emissions. However, the challenge for cities often lies in their ability to influence these sectors when, most of the time, they actually do not have a mandate or any regulatory authority over them.

To overcome these challenges, Copenhagen combines a number of solutions. They rely on close partnerships with the business and research sectors to yield innovations to support the carbon transition while generating green growth. They are making major investments to ensure climate and energy-thinking is incorporating across all sectors. These investments are expected to create many jobs in particular in the construction sector. The city also expects these investments to reduce the need for investments in greater heating capacity in the long term.

At the same time, Copenhagen is lobbying the national government to improve national framework conditions. The city is putting strong emphasis on becoming a role model. Despite the small proportion of emissions from the municipality itself, Copenhagen believes in setting the standard to encourage others to take action.

The city’s success mostly comes from a strong political will, a clear determination to achieve this ambitious target, at the cost of vast investments and risks, an example which should also inspire others to raise ambitions.