Feature Report: Cities of the Future

4 items of content in this feature report



Copenhagen Aims for Carbon Neutrality

For decades Copenhagen has been pursuing several core initiatives to improve the city's environment and reduce its carbon footprint. In 2009, the year Copenhagen hosted the world climate conference, the city devised a Climate Adaptation Plan with the ambition of becoming the first carbon-neutral city by 2025. 

Copenhagen intends to become carbon neutral. Here we see the Middelgrunden wind farm, just off the coast of Copenhagen. ©Thinkstock

The objective of carbon neutrality is to reduce as much as possible the CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions of a given activity and to compensate for the remaining carbon dioxide by investing in projects designed to curb greenhouse gasGas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... (GHG) emissions, either at the same location or elsewhere in the world. Examples of projects include the development of renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale..., the promotion of energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... and the reforestation of land to enhance natural carbon sinks.

To reach its carbon-neutral goal,1 Copenhagen is planning to implement a wide array of emission-reducing measures. In particular, it intends to improve the district heating system, insulate buildings, build new powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... plants, reduce car traffic and increase civic participation. To neutralize its remaining emissions, it has pledged to invest in external projects such as the creation of new wind turbine farms that will benefit the entire country. The city’s complex math for achieving its goal has been criticized by several environmental groups2.

District Heating and Cooling

Housing is responsible for a large share of energy consumption. Copenhagen's district heating system is one of the most efficient in the world, providing 98% of the city's heating needs. To be sure, Copenhagen's small size (population: 500,000) is an advantage in terms of energy management. But to its credit, the city began building an underground pipingAn instability phenomenon that occurs when seepage through a dam is not properly filtered and soil particles continue to progress... network in 1979, under a governmental initiative to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. The system recovers heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... from power stations and municipal waste incinerationTechnique used to convert waste into energy. The waste is burned, producing heat, power or both. plants. Rather than being released into the surrounding environment, the heat is distributed to homes.

The city has also been a pioneer in district cooling. The system it has developed pumps cold water from the Copenhagen Harbor. Like all modern cities, the Danish capital must make sure that computer servers and other equipment do not overheat. It employs a cooling system that cuts carbon emissions by 70% compared to conventional methods. Combining the heating and cooling networks also generates additional efficiencies3

98%: the percentage of Copenhagen's population supplied by the district heating system

Electricity Generation

Nearly three-quarters of Copenhagen's electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... is generated by fossil fuels, particularly coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... and natural gas. One of the main focuses of the 2009 Climate Adaptation Plan is to convert existing power plants to run on renewable energy sources, such as biogasA product of the methanation (anaerobic digestion) of organic waste..., biomassIn the energy sector, biomass is defined as all organic matter of plant or animal origin... (mainly wood) and even straw.

The plan also calls for the installation of about 100 wind turbines in and around the city. The turbines will provide power to the city, but electricity will be fed to the national grid when the wind is strong. Denmark has the highest installed wind capacity on a per-capita basis. The Middelgrunden wind farm is a symbol of Danish wind power: its 20 turbines are arranged in an arc two kilometers off the coast of Copehnagen and are visible from many places in the capital. Middelgrunden serves 3% of the city's electricity needs4.

Residents will be able to invest in green energyPrimary energy is described as "green" or "clean" when only small amounts of pollutants are generated during its conversion... projects on an equal footing with the City of Copenhagen, in line with other initiatives implemented by the city to foster community engagement.

Public Transportation and Cycle Super Highways

Copenhagen has gone to great lengths to limit car use. The Finger Plan is an urban development plan for the metropolitan area that is structured around public transportation lines. The network has been regularly enhanced since 2000, and three subway lines are currently under construction.

Over the years, more and more bike lanes have been added to encourage biking. All together, Copenhagen has more than 400 kilometers of bike lanes, including cycle super highways (cykelsuperstier) that enable residents who live in outlying areas to reach the downtown in a short time. At present, despite the cold winter temperatures, cyclists account for 40% of all trips in Copenhagen, and 60% of the residents own a bicycle.

60% of Copenhagen's inhabitants own a bicycle. 

Governance and the Circular Economy

Like many cities that wish to ensure a smooth transition to the city of the future, Copenhagen has made a special effort to involve a large number of stakeholders – associations, businesses and citizens in general – in the governance process. To ensure a maximum number of initiatives, financing mechanisms have been diversified via the combination of public and private funds.

Strong emphasis has been placed on the circular economy.  Owing to its numerous waste collection centers, Copenhagen recycles 90% of its waste. The city has set ambitious targets for converting household organic waste and establishing a system for collecting used electric and electronic equipment.


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