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Copenhagen makes an ambitious push to be carbon neutral by 2025

More bicycle lanes, biomass generation, public transit, cooling buildings with seawater – it's all intended to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

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Copenhagen’s pursuit of carbon neutrality also rests on its ability to meet demanding energy efficiency and transportation goals. Commercial and residential buildings are to reduce electricity consumption by 20 percent and 10 percent respectively, and total heat consumption is to fall by 20 percent by 2025.

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In an interview, Bo Normander, director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Europe office and a Copenhagen City Council member, noted that new buildings in Copenhagen must now be constructed to Denmark’s Low Energy Class ratings; the 2020 standard calls for near net-zero energy buildings.

It will be considerably harder to achieve energy savings in existing buildings. More than 70 percent of Copenhagen’s buildings were constructed before the introduction of Denmark’s energy efficiency standards, and a major hurdle is the so-called landlord-tenant dilemma, since many Copenhageners rent and neither tenants nor landlords have a strong financial interest in retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient.

“Most of the people here rent,” Marianna Lubanski, executive director of the Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster, told me. “If I own a building, and I have 10 people living there, and I invest a lot of money in energy savings, my tenants will get the savings, not me. We need new ways to share the costs and gains of energy efficiency... Copenhagen can’t succeed with their plan if they don’t find a way.”

She said she would like to see an ESCO (energy service company) market launch in Denmark, where private firms take on the risk of guaranteeing energy savings and in return are paid a fee by landlords or tenants.

Another key component of becoming a net zero-carbon city is further reducing the use of cars. Bo Normander, like many Copenhageners, does not own a car and bikes to work. “It’s the most convenient, quickest, and healthiest way to get around,” he said.

Newcomers to Copenhagen quickly learn the same, as did I. Within a few weeks of starting a job in Copenhagen, in 2008, I abandoned the Metro for a bike, which became my year-round way of getting around, no matter the weather. Weekday mornings, I pedaled along the perimeter of the cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard rest, girding myself for the merge into the horde of bicycle commuters racing along Nørrbrogade, Copenhagen’s busiest bike corridor, toward the city center. It was exhilarating and invigorating, and easily the fastest way to my office. Why would anyone own a car here? I often wondered.

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