In Kuala Lumpur, we keep building highways to accommodate our ever-growing fleet of cars. In Copenhagen, they keep building bicycle lanes – including an elevated one that crosses the harbour – to make commuting by two-wheelers more convenient and comfortable for city dwellers. Indeed, while KL-ites shirk their responsibility in combating climate change, Copenhageners embrace their role with gusto.

The Danish capital has long been known as a cyclist’s haven, but getting more people to hop on their bikes took on more momentum after the city municipality embarked on an ambitious plan in August 2012 – to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. This zero-carbon mode of mobility is one of the ways for the city to meet its climate goal, along with replacing coal with biomass, adding more wind and solar electricity to the grid, and upgrading energy-guzzling buildings.

To achieve carbon neutrality in 2025, Copenhagen must use less energy than it does today and also switch to green energy production. To counteract continuing emissions, such as from transport, it must produce a surplus of green energy corresponding to these emissions.

Hence, the Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan has initiatives in four areas: cut down energy consumption, switch to renewable energy production, promote green mobility, and green the city administration.

The climate plan will not rely on carbon offsets, such as by countering emissions through tree-planting or funding emission reduction efforts in another country.

“It is a political wish to not use offsets. We want to do it by ourselves and show that it’s possible. This way, we can focus on technology and processes that are close to our citizens,” explains Jorgen Abildgaard, executive climate project director in the Copenhagen municipal council.

He says the past 15 years has seen a trend of people choosing to stay in the city instead of suburbs as the urban environment has improved, with more schools and parks. “We have young families, ageing citizens … they have needs, so it’s important to develop the city in their perspectives. So all development plans are carried out based on three pillars: quality of life, growth and sustainability. It is important that the plans look at how to create a better city, create more innovations and jobs, and growth in the city.”

Saving energy in Copenhagen

With the city welcoming 1,000 new citizens each month, and a projected 20% increase to 670,000 people by 2025, the need for energy comes into focus.

In 2010, use of heating and electricity caused 75% of the city’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emisions. The climate plan wants a 10% to 20% drop in energy consumption from 2009 levels. To do this, new buildings must abide by energy-efficient standards, and existing ones will be retrofitted to conserve energy.

The city will also promote the use of “smart meters” that automatically adjust ventilation, heating and cooling to create optimal indoor climate, as this will conserve energy.

Solar power will make up 1% of the total energy consumption by 2025. Abildgaard says the modest level is because currently, financing support favours big solar installations and wind projects, and in the old city, it is difficult to put solar panels on roofs.

By 2025, Copenhagen aims to be powered by only renewable energy. It is well on the way towards this goal, with such sources currently providing 60% of its energy needs.

Wind power now make up 40% of its energy supply but the 100 wind turbines to be installed by 2025 will provide the city with all its energy needs. The city relies almost totally on district heating, which is more energy-efficient than individual heating systems.

However, the heating plants are powered by coal and wood pellets. Abildgaard says a new plant that runs on the more sustainable wood chips is in the works.

The city aims to recycle 45% of household waste by 2018 and be zero-waste by 2050. It has always incinerated its waste (which produces heat and electricity) but it now wants to recover more value from discards. So it will step up waste separation to retrieve more plastics for recycling and to prevent carbon emissions (from incineration of black plastics such as meat trays).

It is also looking at the ground-breaking REnescience technology, that uses enzymes to liquefy the organic fraction in waste, thereby separating the biodegradable materials from the solid, recyclable portions such as metals and plastics. The liquid is suitable for biogas production. Abildgaard says a pilot plant is running and will be scaled up this year.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen aims to go 100 renewable energy by relying on wind turbines such as these ones at Amager beach. Photo: copenhagenmediacenter.com

Green mobility in the city

The growing city population calls for more sustainable ways to move city folks around. Transport is a large source of carbon emissions – it emitted 22% of the total CO2 in 2010. So the 2025 climate plan targets 75% of all trips to be done by foot, bike or public transport. “We’re now at 64%, so we’re on the way,” shares Abildgaard, an architect and city planner.

Over 40% of Copenhageners already get around by bicycles but the city needs more of them in order to meet its climate neutrality goal. To lure people out of their cars and onto a bike, the city is making cycling conditions better. This includes filling gaps in the network of bike lanes as well as extra bike lanes to overcome congestion and link suburbs to the city.

Last June, the city made history when the Bicycle Snake opened. A 230m-long elevated road solely for bikes, it enables cyclists to cross the harbour to reach the neighbourhood of Vesterbro in much shorter time.

Some 750,000 people now commute by bus, train and Metro daily and the 2025 goal is to raise this by 20%. A new Metro line, accurate traffic information, better links, shorter travel time and single ticket for all three modes are some of the ways to improve the quality of public transport to increase passenger numbers.

For those still driving, their vehicles should run on new fuels such as electric and hydrogen, and biogas for heavy vehicles. In preparation for that, Abilgaard says the infrastructure – such as electric charging points and hydrogen filling stations – will be put in place.

Tax on electric cars has also been waived until year-end. Computerised traffic planning and management will be used to improve traffic flow, which will ultimately curtail carbon emissions.