An aerial view of the Royal Palace in Stockholm

Stockholm pursues climate holy grail: a fossil fuel-free future — Part 4: Transforming transportation

By John J. Berger, PhD, an energy and environmental policy specialist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

To achieve its paramount goal of being fossil-fuel free in 2050, Stockholm will need to eliminate about two million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by then—a drop of over 80 percent. Fortunately, Stockholm’s efforts are occurring in a nation whose national energy policy and goals are aimed at achieving major early emissions reductions. By 2020, for example, Sweden intends to get half of its electricity from renewable sources and to have lowered its GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Major Challenges

The largest contributor to Stockholm’s current greenhouse gas emissions of 2.4 million tonnes is transportation, which accounts for 40 percent of the total (more than a million tonnes).

Stockholm will need to accomplish the remarkable feat of ratcheting those emissions down by about 80 percent by 2050, even as its population and overall energy use are expected to surge 40 percent. Yet that is precisely what the city intends.

The city also plans that emissions from energy use in buildings—a third of the city’s total emissions and its next largest source—will fall as the fuel mix for the city’s district heating system approaches 100 percent renewable fuels, plus incinerated waste and heat recovered from municipal wastewater. In addition, the city expects to lower emissions from the production of electricity and the use of natural gas.

Reducing its electricity and gas emissions, however, may turn out to be the least of Stockholm’s challenge. The city’s electric power system is part of the Nordic and Northern European power grid. Nordic electricity—heavily reliant on wind, hydro, biomass, and some nuclear in Finland, likely will use only 1-2 percent fossil fuel by 2040 and will probably use none at all by 2050.

The Transportation Conundrum

Emissions from Stockholm’s transport sector have been relatively stable during the past 20 years, although the city has grown. This achievement is due to more fuel efficient engines, an increase in biofuel use and, in the past few years, electric vehicles. But since the city’s transportation emissions haven’t been reduced as fast as other emissions, they now are Stockholm biggest challenge on the way to a fossil fuel-free.

About 80 percent of the city’s transport emissions currently comes from road traffic, with the remainder emanating from shipping, aviation, and machinery. Freight traffic accounts for a significant proportion of the city’s road emissions. Heavy vehicles—just four percent of all traffic—cough up a fifth of all the road emissions.

Heavy construction and loading machinery, such as diesel-fueled bulldozers, tractors, and power shovels—often overlooked by climate planners—account for 5 percent of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Stockholm by night with the Nordic Museum, lower left, and the Royal Palace, center. Photographer: Ola Ericsson.

Expanding Transit

Almost four-fifths of all motorized daytime trips in the city are by public transit. One in every seven Stockholmers walks to school or work. Less than one in five Stockholmers take their car to work.

Because of the population growth expected by 2050 and the need to shift more people to public transit, the city’s public transit system will need to double in capacity so as to accommodate a minimum of 350,000 additional daily trips. That means the city will be reserving more traffic lanes exclusively for buses and trams and will be giving them signal priority.

This may well make the lanes for private cars more congested and make driving less attractive. However, a voter-approved congestion tax for the city center has reduced downtown traffic by 15-20 percent (some 100,000 trips) since 2006 and has reduced travel time there by 30 to 50 percent, much to commuters’ satisfaction.

Boosting Green Transit, Reducing Traffic

Stockholm simultaneously tries to site new development within 500 meters of bus-rail interconnections and to combine shops and office spaces near homes. These modern developments are typically laced with bicycle and foot paths connecting to other neighborhoods.

The city’s public transit is generally much cleaner than the city’s private vehicle fleet. Stockholm Transport is the city’s public transit company. Close to 75 percent of its total mileage is powered by renewable energy. Ninety percent of its vehicles are to be renewably fueled by 2020.

Stockholm Royal Seaport New hybrid-electric city bus at a Stockholm charging station. Buses charge within 6 minutes and can travel up to 7 kilometers on a charge.

Rail traffic is powered by electricity from wind and hy­dropower, and all buses in the inner city of Stockholm are powered by renewable fuels. All trolleys and metro/regional trains run on 100 percent renewable electricity.

Stockholm thus is now focusing intensively on reducing car and truck traffic. Because cars typically are used for 20 years, vehicles sold from 2020 on must be clean vehicles, primarily electric and plug-in hybrids, if the vehicle fleet is to be fossil fuel-free by 2040.

The city is also working to make freight deliveries in the city more efficient, reducing delivery miles traveled by better route design and minimizing congestion by coordinating deliveries and scheduling them when traffic is relatively light.

The city has, for example, introduced freight consolidation centers where goods, including restaurant food supplies and construction materials are reloaded and delivered in fuller trucks running on renewable fuels. Delivery companies can save time by delivering their goods directly to freight transfer points instead of direct to their customer.

The city also promotes the use of electric-hybrid and renewably fueled trucks via a clean-truck project that has led trucking firms to procure some 50 cleaner trucks. The key issue was to persuade the trucking companies’ customers to start demanding clean trucks.

The city currently controls the numbers of cars by restricting the number of parking spaces that are allowed with new buildings. The current limit is 0.5 parking spaces per apartment, and the city is considering reducing that to 0.3 spaces. These restrictions are likely to become more acceptable as public transit improves.

Fulfillment of the city’s climate plans from 2015-2020 is predicated on the elimination of on-street parking on most inner city streets and in some suburbs. It also will depend on the expansion of telecommuting and high-density development. On the plus side, reductions in private auto use may save car owners money on vehicle ownership, fuel and maintenance. Those who also cycle instead of driving or riding often enjoy significant health benefits.

New hybrid-electric city bus at a Stockholm charging station. Buses charge within 6 minutes and can travel up to 7 kilometers on a charge.
Credit: Stockholm Royal Seaport

Increasing Transit Use

Stockholm is currently trying to increase travel by public transport, bicycle, and foot to reduce traffic and carbon emissions. The city will be spending one billion Swedish krona ($111 million) in the next four years to extend and improve the bike lane system, according to Thomas Gustafsson, senior sustainability strategist and advisor to the city.

Courtesy of Thomas Gustaffson The City of Stockholm’s senior sustainability strategist, Thomas Gustaffson

The city will not only upgrade bike lanes and paths but will also invest in more bike parking, traffic signal controls, better routes, and improved signage along with improved public transit access for cyclists.

The city constantly conducts educational efforts to promote the use of carpools, telecommuting, carpools, eco-driving, along with energy-efficient and clean vehicles. The city also actively encourages walking, cycling, and public transit use and has made some headway with these efforts.

In the inner city, cars are often used infrequently, and owning a car can be a very expensive option given the costs for parking. Thus more and more Stockholmer’s are now joining car-pools or other systems that provide them mobility as a service. The number of car-sharing vehicles in Stockholm increased 33 percent just from 2015 to 2016.


Clean Vehicles

A quarter of all cars sold in Stockholm today are considered clean vehicles, according to Gustaf Landahl, the Environment and Health Administration chief who has been deeply involved in the city’s climate planning and policy.

The City of Stockholm’s senior sustainability strategist, Thomas Gustaffson

Cars that run on ethanol, biogas, and electricity, as well as low-emission gasoline and diesel cars, are classified as clean vehicles. For a typical gasoline, diesel, or hybrid-electric vehicle weighing 1,372 kg to be designated as clean, it can emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometer. Heavier vehicles can emit more, but lighter ones must emit less to qualify. The 95 gram standard will shrink to 70 grams CO2 per kilometer by 2025.

Landahl sees the city’s efforts to encourage the purchase of “green cars” as successful; some 50 percent of new cars sold in the city meet that criterion. Conventional vehicles are considered low-emission in Stockholm if they emit less than 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer .

Through municipal fuel efficiency standards, the city hopes to cut fossil fuel use in the transport sector 80 percent by 2030 compared to current levels. Currently 97% of all vehicles in Stockholm are in compliance with the city’s clean car standards. (The three percent that don’t comply are special use vehicles for which no clean models are available).

The city is also trying to increase the percentage of biofuel used in the city. Practically all gasoline and diesel sold in Stockholm today has some biofuel blended into it—typically around 5 percent.

To reduce waste and simultaneously increase the supply of biofuel, Stockholm’s goal is to collect at least 70 percent of the city’s food waste for biogas production by 2020. The waste comes from households, shops, restaurants, school cafeterias, and child care centers run by the city. A new facility for sorting food waste for biogas production is planned for 2019 in the district known as Högdalen

All this is consistent with the city’s latest climate and energy strategy which states that the city’s production and consumption of goods must increasingly “be based on the principle of [a] circular economy.” In a circular economy, waste is minimized by using the byproducts of one process as the inputs for another, instead of constantly having to utilize virgin raw materials.

More Efficient Buildings and Green Communications

Energy use in buildings is to be halved by 2050 relative to 1996 levels, despite increases in population. The city not only provides information on energy efficiency and clean energy to the public but provides counseling to building owners and puts them in touch with “knowledge networks” to help them make informed energy choices.

In general, the city believes it should inspire and give advice as well as support to Stockholmers on how they can reduce their own energy use and environmental impact while increasing their renewable energy use. It’s all explicitly done in the service of making Stockholm a global showcase of energy efficiency and clean energy.

The municipality believes that part of inspiring its citizens is setting a good example. Hence the city has green procurement policies for goods and services, including electricity. The city’s own companies and committees are directed to adopt and test innovative new technology compatible with its energy and climate plans, and the city employs “ecolabeling” in its electricity procurements.

A Work in Progress

As Stockholm proceeds with its plans to implement its ambitious energy transition, its timeline indicates that much work still remains to be done, with many measures slated for implementation in or close to 2020 and beyond.

Cooperation from the federal government and Parliament will be needed on some of these measures, including the creation of fossil fuel-free environmental zones and the creation of carbon offsets. In addition, accurate cost estimates will be needed for future projects.

The next and final article in this series on Stockholm’s energy transition reveals the way in which most of the energy and environmental policies described in the first four articles are expressed in Hammarby Sjöstad, the city’s first ecodistrict, and in its latest sustainable development project in the Royal Port of Stockholm, where tens of thousands of the city’s residents are finding new homes and work spaces.

Fourth of a five-part series on Stockholm’s energy transition.

John J. Berger, Ph.D. ( is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to the Climate Crisis and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science. Dr. Berger is currently at work on a new book about climate solutions.

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