Climate change is a problem that can no longer be ignored or pushed back. It is an urgent, pressing demand in the present to find and implement sustainable solutions to protect our future. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals lay down 17 goals to provide countries with a blueprint to bring them together on a global scale, working with each other to tackle climate change. Cities also account for 71-76 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and a large fraction of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Hence it is important to look at the existing cities and understand their successes and problems. Here are the 10 of the most sustainable cities in Europe.

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25 Greenest City Capitals_©www.traveldailymedia.com/green-cities-in-europe

1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, can easily be considered one of the most sustainable and energy-efficient buildings in the world, aiming to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2050. Environmental friendly transportation, eco-friendly energy practices, urban redevelopment with a view to sustainability, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle of the people are the ways it aims to do so. 

Through its extensive bicycle infrastructure, Copenhagen has managed to cut down on almost 90,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. It is investing in electric and hydrogen-based vehicles which will significantly reduce emissions. Copenhagen, anticipating floods as a result of climate change, is building a defense. It has improved its sewer capabilities, invested in high-ground buildings, and created emergency awareness.

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Bicycle Pathways of Copenhagen_©unsplash.com/photos/IicHpgjMPKs.com

Copenhagen has also adapted to the use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP), which prevents heat energy loss that is otherwise unavoidable when electricity is generated. The benefits of the CHP system include the creation of jobs, reduced CO2 emissions, district heating costs around 45% less than oil by individual household boilers, affordable energy production without harming the environment, and almost no negative impact on air quality. 

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Combined Heat and Power System_©urbanlifecopenhagen.weebly.com/sustainability.html

The buildings are also being upgraded with an eye to sustainability. By this, it is planning to decrease 10% of its electricity usage and 20% of its heat consumption by 2025. Green roof gardens, solar panels, insulating doors and windows, and advanced technology are being utilized to progress sustainability.

2. Oslo, Norway

Oslo is working towards reducing its greenhouse emissions by over 95% by 2030. One of the biggest sustainability solutions adopted by Oslo is Electric Vehicles (EV). It is one of the only cities in the world where almost all new car sales are EVs. Oslo’s major source of energy is hydropower, but geothermal, solar, and wind energy have also been harnessed, and biogas is efficiently utilized to power buses and public transportation. It has been so successful in its steps towards sustainability that it was named the European Green Capital for 2019.

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Organic Food Truck at Oslo_©www.visitoslo.com/en/articles/oslo-european-green-capital-2019/

3. Lisbon, Portugal

This Portuguese city won the European Green Capital Award for 2021. This can be seen in the fact that Lisbon is particularly strong in the field of sustainable land use, sustainable urban mobility (transport), green growth & eco-innovation, climate change adaptation, and waste. It has one of the largest electric vehicle charging networks that restrict private car usage and encourages walking, cycling, or public transport. Water conservation methods for floods and sewage treatment plants are also a highlight of the sustainable methods implemented by the city. Lisbon passed its 2030 target of 40% emission reduction in 2016 and now aims to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

It has created certain measures that provide concrete actions to its residents such as eliminating single-use plastic, using sustainable mobility methods over private ones, installing solar equipment and photovoltaic cells, increasing green spaces, and restructuring old, abandoned areas into thriving green spaces.

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Lisbon Electric Bus_©www.sustaineurope.com/lisbon-european-green-capital-2020-20201228.html

4. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is already one of the greenest cities in terms of the production of greenhouse gases. Geothermal energy centers all over the cities generate almost 750 megawatts of energy, providing clean energy. The usage of geothermal energy has prevented 110 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, only about 0.1% of Iceland’s energy production comes from fossil fuels. The city also provides hydrogen-based public transportation and the roads are uncongested. People live within a five-minute walk of green spaces. All of this sets Reykjavik to be completely free of fossil fuels by 2050. 

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Geothermal Energy, Reykjavik_©www.rg.is

5. Amsterdam, Netherlands

The city has established a Sustainability Fund of almost 50 million Euros which plans to achieve its goals by encouraging collaborations between industries, transportation facilities, housing development organizations, and food chains. Amsterdam increased its solar energy production from 9 megawatts to 160 megawatts, thus reducing its per-person energy consumption by 20%. It is also working to increase energy production by harnessing the wind. It now aims to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 95% by 2050 and be completely free of natural gas by 2040. 

Amsterdam has managed to successfully convert public transportation buses, ferries, and taxis to electric vehicles and encouraged private vehicle owners to also shift to electric vehicles by creating various schemes. The city, aside from having switched to solar and wind energy, is also recycling its waste to create a zero-waste environment. The waste is treated and the energy produced is redistributed back to the residential and commercial buildings.

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Amsterdam_©unsplash.com/photos/VEXIwDcY1gw

6. Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki works towards sustainability with its people. An environmentally conscious lifestyle is encouraged by having parks, forests, and such green areas closely surrounding residential areas. Helsinki aims to achieve carbon neutrality and cut greenhouse emissions by 60% by 2030. Energy consumption monitoring systems have been installed in all the City’s properties, ecological thinking is being considered right from the initial stage of building construction, buildings with charging stations, green roofs being implemented and sustainable heating and cooling systems have also been used. 

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Helsinki Street View_©unsplash.com/photos/I9SWvZ9sO2U

7. Bern, Switzerland

Bern, the de facto capital of Switzerland is working actively to implement various sustainable measures. It encourages initiatives between inter-departmental and organizational bodies and supports projects that work towards sustainability. It has been working for years towards an eco-friendly approach to energy and resources and has received the European Energy Award Gold. The city has projects in waste management, sustainable mobility, eco-friendly transport alternatives, solar initiatives, and low energy consumption and wastage.

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Bern_©unsplash.com/photos/V1xz0bEPwZ8

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, “The EU’s Greenest City” boasts of many sustainable measures. All of the energy that is used by the city is obtained from renewable sources. Almost 99% of the waste generated is recycled. Stockholm has also set itself the goal of being fossil-free by 2040. It has one of the only airports in the world to be accredited at the highest level in a European program that grades the environmental impact of airports. Bio Fuelled buses and taxis, approximately 990km of bicycle paths with a well-implemented bicycle renting program and walking are all sustainable transportation methods.

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Stockholm Bicycle Program_©www.semesteratsea.org

9. Vienna, Austria

The city of Vienna in Austria has amazing green areas and transportation facilities. 30% of the energy it uses is derived from renewable energy sources and the local markets help in creating a healthy economy. The city has set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. It aims to install over a million solar panels on the rooftops of various buildings. Vienna’s power plants recycle the waste and provide clean energy, while also standing as an important part of the city’s skyline.

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Waste Incineration Plan_©www.wien.info/en/sightseeing/green-vienna/vienna-power-plants-363592

10. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague has committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050. It plans to do this by building on its existing progress towards sustainability. The city encourages the creation of man-made green spaces as well to supplement its conserved natural green cover. It has an 8-year scheme to plant 1 million trees. Prague also has wonderful recycling facilities, which ensures that less than 10% of the waste ends up in landfills with the rest being recycled for energy.

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Prague_©unsplash.com/photos/btd6rjalFUY

References:

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  3. UN Sustainable Development. The 17 Goals. [online]. Available at:https://sdgs.un.org/goals [Accessed 10 May 2020]
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  11. Sustain Europe (2021). Iceland: Where Beauty and Sustainability Go Hand In Hand. [online]. Available at: https://www.sustaineurope.com/iceland-where-beauty-and-sustainability-go-hand-in-hand-20211002.html [Accessed 11 May 2020] 
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  14. Sustainable Helsinki. Helsinki is a model city of sustainable development. [online]. Available at:https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/work-and-study/helsinki-is-a-model-city-of-sustainable-development [Accessed 11 May 2020] 
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  20. Sustain Europe (6 Jan 2021). Prague: The City of a Hundred Spires. [online]. Available at: https://www.sustaineurope.com/prague-city-of-a-hundred-spires-20210106.html [Accessed 12 May 2020] 
Author

Kanak Holani is a first year architecture student who can usually be found reading novels and trying her hand at various crafts. She is passionate about history, culture and climate and how it all ties in with architecture.

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