Cities have a huge opportunity to impact the magnitude of climate exchange: after all, larger cities are consuming two thirds of the world's energy and responsible for emitting over 70% of global CO2 emissions. The recently published Sustainable City Report 2016 demonstrates that European cities continue to be pioneers for sustainability, and especially environmental sustainability. We analysed the key objectives of the five cities that were ranked highest in terms of environmental sustainability.
European cities continue to dominate the ranking for sustainable cities, according to the annual Sustainable City Index 2016* that was published on September 16th 2016. The study ranked 100 global cities on three sustainability dimensions: people (social dimension), planet (environmental dimension) and profit (economic dimension). The report not reports interesting findings drawn from all these dimensions, but also allows you to play around with different cities and variables in their online platform.
In this blog I focus on cities performing well on the planet dimension of sustainability.
In terms of environmental sustainability, the top five cities according to this report are Zurich, Stockholm, Geneva, Vienna and Frankfurt. These cities are most sustainable with regards to their energy consumption, renewable energy, green spaces, recycling, composting, greenhouse gas emissions, natural catastrophe risk, drinking water, sanitation and air pollution.
A closer analysis shows that each city installed a long-term strategy on environmental sustainability. This appears to be a good decision, as four of the five are ranked amongst the top six in the overall sustainability ranking, too. In other words, environmental sustainability appears to have a strong correlation with overall sustainability.
In the light of this report, the five most successful sustainability strategies for city’s environmental impact in 2016 are:
1. Zurich – The 2000-Watt Society by 2050
This number one city has chosen “The 2000-Watt Society” as their approach to tackling climate change and the future conflict of resources. By 2050, Zurich aims to have every person in their city consume a maximum of 2000 watts a day. Commitments to support this goal include sustainable buildings, mobility for the future and an effort to increase public awareness, including events such as annual environment days and the Zurich Multimobil action day. Furthermore, at least 75% of energy needs need to be met using renewable energy sources. Read more >>
2. Stockholm – Fossil-free transportation by 2030
In their efforts to become becoming fossil fuel-free by 2050, transportation is a key element in the city’s strategy. The goal for entire Sweden is to go have fully fossil fuel-free vehicle fleet by 2030. In Stockholm, this is pursued with smart traffic solutions and information technology. Furthermore, the city continues to prioritise cycling, walking and public transportation to cope with the 350,000 new journeys the predicted population increase will create. In order to reduce private rides, the city has implemented a “congestion tax” that private drivers have to pay when driving in the streets during rush hour. Read more >>
3. Geneva – 100% renewable energy by 2050
The City of Geneva develops its energy and climate policy aiming for zero CO2 emission and 100% renewable energy in 2050. It reduces its energy consumption by half thanks to energetic refurbishments of its buildings and shares its targets with the others territory stakeholders. The city also started using the water from its famous lake to provide international institutions’ buildings with natural air-conditioning. Read more >>
4. Vienna – Design for best living standards by 2050
As part of its Smart City strategy, Vienna’s goal is to continue to improve its living standards by 2050. Vienna actively comes up with ways to make the city more “liveable” and enjoyable for residents and visitors with smart design of energy, mobility and infrastructure. For example, due to pedestrianising and public space initiatives, currently already 30% of all trips within the city are made on foot. Furthermore, the city reduced drastically the prices for their public transportation. Read more >>
5. Frankfurt – 95% decrease in greenhouse gas by 2050
Self-proclaimed “Green City Frankfurt” has a long track record of proactively initiating large-scale actions to improve its sustainability. The city’s master plan known as “100% Climate Protection” states that by 2050, 100% of Frankfurt’s energy will originate from renewable, mainly local sources. Via increasing energy efficiency and decreased demand, they are aiming at 95% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the city has been put immense effort in its recreational areas: not only is every tree in the large city forests registered and monitored, but the information is also publicly available online. The recreational areas are spread around the city, which partly explains why 15% of all commutes are already done by bicycle. Read more >>
It is worth taking a notice that each of the five cities is European. Furthermore, even in the top ten there are only two non-European, Sydney and Wellington. This indicates that Europe continues to be at the forefront of environmental sustainability. For example, the U.S. cities are negatively affected in the ranking by their high per-capita emissions, energy use and lower amount of green spaces. It could be that European city administrators are more concerned about the planet, but I suspect they are also aware that nothing less is no longer expected of them by the citizens. In European cities, sustainable lifestyle trend has kicked in a big way. Today, being a green city goes hand in hand with perceived attractiveness and good reputation.
Whatever the reason is, it is great that we continue to have stories of cities that have ambitious objectives in terms of environmental sustainability. Already today 70% address environmental issues in their long-term strategies, but still there is more work to be done. What cities can and should do is adapt the best practices and the can-do attitude of the pioneers, while supporting the growing trend of sustainable lifestyle. The choices made in cities today on transport, infrastructure, buildings and industry will determine whether our planet can both manage climate change and capture the benefits of resource-efficient growth.
*The index is produced by Arcadis, an Amsterdam-based global engineering and consulting company, in partnership with the London-based Centre for Economic and Business Research. The research covers 100 cities zig-zagging the globe, from Tokyo (45th overall), which houses a tenth of Japan's population at about 14 million, to 400,000-strong Canberra (18th). The full list was ranked according to 32 indicators split into three "pillars of sustainability" covering social, environmental and economic elements of city life
Photo credit: Oliver Wender / Unsplash
Resource efficiency, Environment, Climate action
Relevant tags: Smart cities, sustainability, sustainable city index, 2000-Watt Society, emissions, renewable energy, environmental sustainability, fossil-free, transportation, Sustainability, Sustainable lifestyles, Energy policy