Malmö, Sweden: A testing ground for integrated sustainable solutions

The former industrial shipyard Western Harbour boasts a heavy concentration of green roofs and a heat pump plant that provides residents with heating and cooling. The neighbourhood of Augustenborg is known for its focus on climate adaptation and social and green regeneration initiatives. Hyllie for its smart energy solutions, Sege Park for its sharing economy, and Sofielund for localizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) at the neighbourhood level.

In their own unique way, each of these communities has achieved excellence in sustainable development, and they are all neighbourhoods of Malmö, Sweden. Malmö is also the host city of the ICLEI World Congress 2021-2022, the virtual launch of which takes place next week, from April 13-15.

Reflecting its eclectic mix of places to live, Malmö Mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh describes her city as “a testing site for sustainable solutions,” which she says has been fueled by such overarching goals as “breaking down physical barriers that are segregating our city. And making sure that the planning is inclusive and human-centric.” All this, while at the same time, striving to meet more rigorous environmental standards.

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh (S). Photo credit: Elisabeth Sandberg (SkD)

With Malmö’s comprehensive approach to becoming more sustainable… a process that began more than 20 years ago, it’s no wonder that in 2015 it became Sweden’s first city to commit to the UN’s SDGs. In the wake of that commitment Stjernfeldt Jammeh proudly observes that “today our city’s annual budget is in line with all of the SDGs and we’re working hard to achieve the (SDG) objectives by 2030.”

Sharing what they’ve learned thus far from their diverse and varied neighbourhood transformations, Stjernfeldt Jammeh will be one of the presenters at the opening session of the initial virtual portion of the World Congress entitled “Shaping Our Sustainable Future for All.” The session takes place on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 at 9 a.m. CEST.

“I plan on talking about cities as the vanguard of tackling global issues on a local, national, and global level,” Stjernfeldt Jammeh says. “I’m also looking forward to learning about how other cities work with sustainable urban housing, both socially, economically, and environmentally. With a focus on both already existing neighbourhoods and new city districts.”

Malmö’s approach also reflects ICLEI’s five pathways towards low emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular development to catalyze systemic change. Those pathways and the importance of a systems approach to sustainable urban development will be a recurring theme during the three days of this month’s congress.

Joining Stjernfeldt Jammeh in the opening session will be an international line-up of speakers hailing from multiple continents, including: Mayor Minna Arve, of Turku, Finland talking about Circular Development; Mayor Manuel de Araujo of Quelimane, Mozambique with a focus on Resilient Development; and Atishi Marlena, Member of the Legislative Assembly, National Capital Territory of Delhi, India who will speak about Equitable and People-Centered Development.

Over the course of the virtual congress, Stjernfeldt Jammeh says she plans to share with session participants the multi-faceted challenges a rapidly growing city like Malmö has faced as it has evolved from an industrial city to a modern, climate-smart university city within a relatively short 20 year timeframe. A period that interestingly enough, goes back to when the magnificent Øresund Bridge was built, connecting Malmö with Copenhagen and the rest of Europe. One could argue that marked the beginning of the city’s efforts to become better connected with other subnational governments on multiple levels.

Fast-forward to today and Stjernfeldt Jammeh says Malmö has become “a young and global city, with more than 180 nationalities represented in the population, located in the biggest labour market region of the north.” But she frankly admits that with rapid change “has come certain abrasions… and challenges… which I believe are relatable to many cities around the world.” Among these she says, “is how to build dense and vibrant cities without pushing people away from their residential area or threaten the natural areas.”

Looking back on all of the changes that have taken place at the local level, Stjernfeldt Jammeh observes that each community “investment” has taught them something new and illustrated the strength of an integrated approach to sustainable urban development. For instance, “Augustenborg has taught us to adapt to the climate. And the lessons from building Western Harbour have been incorporated in the general idea of how we can build a whole and sustainable city – socially, economically and environmentally.”

Western Harbour’s remarkable post-industrial transition to a vibrant community has garnished worldwide attention, including an article earlier this year in the Guardian with the headline “Swede Dreams, can Malmö’s Green Points System Help Rewild London?” which touches on everything from the city’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral to major efforts within the Western Harbour to promote biodiversity.

Despite such success stories, a recurring theme for Stjernfeldt Jammeh (and of ICLEI’s Daring Cities conference last year), is the conviction of “leaving no one behind” and ensuring environmental success stories go hand in hand with the need to build a more inclusive society. As such, she says the city needs to “grow both fast, and at the same time, socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable. These three areas of sustainability need to work in mutual symbiosis and cooperation. It is vital for the development of Malmö to create a socially balanced city with good living conditions for all its citizens.”


This month, during the virtual portion of the congress, session participants have the chance to hear more about both Malmö’s challenges and opportunities as well as those of several other ICLEI Member cities from around the world. The event will also serve as a unique lead in to the in-person Malmö Summit on May 11-13 in 2022, where participants will be able to not only hear but witness first-hand the city’s wealth of sustainability initiatives.

Notwithstanding the great content line up for this month’s virtual conference, Malmö’s live event is something Stjernfeldt Jammeh looks forward to as well… an opportunity to showcase “not only how new climate-smart areas are emerging, but also how older areas are being redeveloped through new technology.”

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