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Q&A: Carbon neutral champion Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard

Words:
Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Copenhagen should achieve its goal of being the first carbon neutral capital in five years’ time. How near is it to this ambitious plan and how does it get there?

So is Copenhagen an example of ‘hedonistic sustainability’?

I’d like to think so. When I got the mandate  to make the city an environmental capital in 2010, I knew we had to change the system. Copenhagen’s story was about green growth, better citizen and life quality; but we needed everyone to be a stakeholder in that future. It was also about changing the idea of sustainability as sufferance. We argued that taking a bike means fewer cars, more trees, cleaner air – and you might engage with other people on a bike! It all makes for a more liveable city.

Ten years after you implemented it, how is the programme going? Will it reach its goal?

It’s moving forward. It helped that we adjusted the plan between 2017-2020 to make sure we were still on course. It involved extra investment of DKr800m (£92m) to reduce business consumption of electricity and boost green mobility. This was partly because the city is affluent and growing by around 1000 residents a month. But it’s not only about adjustments for that but being seen to be on the case with the carbon neutral plan.

What’s the single biggest policy that will have contributed to achieving the goal?

Production of energy; 80% of the goal is about changing energy sources. Copenhagen is now negotiating with municipalities to generate electricity regionally. Part of the plan also uses biomass, whose sustainability is now being questioned by the UN, as if everyone used it as an energy source, there simply wouldn’t be enough of it. We are now looking at defining ‘sustainable biomass’.

Isn’t it just about the small scale? Could these policies be implemented in a bigger metropolis like London?

The key is ensuring that there is cross-party political consensus to a plan being implemented. If the long-term policy is stable and unwavering, everyone can get behind it. I’m really encouraged by young people’s climate awareness nowadays. Change feels more possible when it’s bottom-up as well as top-down.

What can we do to help arrest global mean temperature rises?

Stop the carbon quotas trade for a start. It’s not about technical fixes but concrete, achievable plans from every city. The challenges, with floods and fires, are formidable. In a short time the biggest refugee problem will be climate migration ones. The time to act is now.

You’ve started a consultancy, ‘Greenovation’. What are you doing now and what scale of client are you advising?

We’re mostly advising city leaders. We’re working with a few Spanish and German cities on their sustainability strategies – and even the Bangladesh government. We’re also working on the development of a start-up that turns sewage into not only fertiliser but energy. In five years we hope to launch it as biofuel for jets…

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