The city of Copenhagen in Denmark has won the European Green Capital Award for 2014, fending off strong competition from two other finalists, Bristol in England and Frankfurt in Germany. Fourteen cities entered the competition, of which three finalist cities presented their vision, action plans and communication strategies to the jury earlier this month.
The jury assessed three different areas. They considered cities’ overall environmental commitment, vision and enthusiasm. Cities also had to demonstrate that they had communicated these issues to their citizens and with other local groups. Lastly, the jury also considered how each city could act as a role model for other cities with similar conditions.
The jury noted that Copenhagen is an excellent role model for its approach to urban planning. In 2010, 35 % of citizens were already cycling to their place of work or education, which the municipality hopes to increase to 50% in 2015, contributing towards the ambitious goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2025. Other plans to reduce emissions include using more sources of renewable energy for the city’s existing district heating system.
Environmentally-conscious planning has been demonstrated to have many health benefits. Copenhagen now has an official municipal policy stipulating that by 2015 all citizens should be able to reach a park or beach on foot in less than 15 minutes. In line with this policy, several new parks are under development in areas lacking green spaces.
The Danish capital has worked with green companies, universities and organisations in order to boost eco-innovation and sustainable employment. Successful communication efforts mean the environment is not just seen as a municipal concern, according to the jury, Copenhageners feel they are part of the solution.
Frankfurt, as one of the runners-up, has also achieved a great deal, according to the jury. Total volumes of waste have been decreasing for years. Environmental campaigns in areas like water and electricity have also led to reductions in water and electricity consumption beyond the national average.
The Jury was impressed by Frankfurt's commitment to improve energy efficiency with a range of policies. All new buildings in Frankfurt must be ‘passive’, i.e. meet strict standards for energy use. The city is bringing in an ambitious Green Public Procurement policy, especially in the building sector. Frankfurt banned the use of tropical timber in 1999 and the use of PVC is also forbidden.
Bristol has ambitious targets to cut CO2, which go further than those of the EU and UK. The city aims to reduce emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 from a 2005 baseline. Another commendable example was Bristol's policy on clean air and noise: the city has one of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring networks in the UK and has plans to manage transport to further improve the situation.
The jury noted that the city has mobilised many thousands of people through volunteering schemes, e-petitions, online discussions and collaborations with many different community organisations.
Cities and the environment
Approximately three quarters of Europeans live in cities. The high concentration of people in urban areas can put intense pressures on the local environment. Cities also affect the environment much further afield – the average urban lifestyle in Europe directly and indirectly uses water, energy, resources and land. One study of Greater London estimated London’s environmental footprint to be 300 times its geographical area — corresponding to nearly twice the size of the entire UK.
However, the three Green Capital Award finalists all demonstrate that cities are also places where it is possible to make big environmental gains. For example, the high concentration of people and services means that public transport often works very efficiently, while people are more likely to cycle or walk to their local shops instead of driving. Per capita energy use is usually lower in city apartment blocks compared to dispersed rural dwellings.
Cities are also engines of cultural, financial and intellectual activity, driving new innovations which are essential for responding to Europe’s environmental challenges.
But Europe’s cities are also vulnerable to environmental shocks. A recent European Environment Agency report explored the risks from climate change, finding city dwellers were particularly vulnerable to some risks such as heatwaves and urban flooding.
03 July, 2012.