Green economy, better life spur sister-city pact with Beijing

Mayor Frank Jensen views relationship with China’s capital as way to share Copenhagen’s urban planning successes

The common quest for a green economy and higher living standards have spurred Beijing and Copenhagen to forge a sister-city partnership, Copenhagen’s mayor, Frank Jensen, said prior to his trip to Beijing for an official signing of the agreement.

“I know that Beijing is implementing ambitious goals on sustainable facilities and we hope that Beijing can be inspired by the lessons we have learned in Copenhagen,” said Jensen in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua.

“Beijing and Copenhagen are also two cities which have a lot to give our countries, because they are engines for creating new growth, innovation and jobs,” he added.

The Beijing-Copenhagen sister-city agreement is specifically expected to boost co-operation in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and to reduce traffic congestion in Beijing and Copenhagen.

“The city of Beijing says it wants to focus on sustainable solutions, the clean-technology sector, social welfare and liveability, and how to be a growing city and still have a focus on citizens’ quality of life. I think we have a lot to share with each other to develop both cities,” Jensen said.

Greater Copenhagen, which has some 1.2 million inhabitants, has undergone a green transition in recent years, which has helped regenerate its former industrial areas and polluted harbour, and reduced its reliance on fossil-fuel based energy sources.

In 2009, city authorities announced an ambitious plan to become the world’s first carbon neutral city by the year 2025, in a move that would see it cut 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It has already achieved its mid-term goal of reducing emissions to 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2015.

Current renewable-energy investments include offshore wind-turbine parks in Copenhagen Harbour and a district heating and electricity plant powered by urban and household waste. It wants to increase electricity generated from wind, solar and geothermal sources, and to install another 100 wind turbines to supply the city power grid.

By comparison, some 17 million people live in Beijing, which is rapidly embracing sustainable development methods as China embarks on the path towards a green economy under its on-going 12th Five Year Plan.

“Many of our sustainable solutions can be replicated in other cities given our experience of what works and what does not work, when it comes to developing our cities in a more green and sustainable way,” Jensen said.

In Copenhagen, cycling is method of transport used by people from all walks of lifeHe also sees the sister-city agreement leading to initiatives that make both cities more attractive to live in. Copenhagen already ranks among the world’s most liveable cities, thanks to its focus on cutting pollution and congestion while at the same time promoting people-centric urban planning.

A key reason for success in this area has been in convincing residents to ditch their cars and get on their bikes when they commute inside the city.

Half of all Copenhagen residents bike to work every day and the city is now expanding its cycle network by 30 percent, in a move to reduce emissions by 7,000 tonnes per year. This will also cut the city’s healthcare expenditure bill by 300 million kroner annually, owing to improved health of commuters.

Jensen himself bikes to his office at City Hall every morning, and told Xinhua it was “the most efficient way to commute in Copenhagen”, ranking above the city’s bus and underground rail network.

He added that biking is less stressful than driving, builds a sense of community in a big city, and is a great social leveller.

“In Copenhagen, all kinds of people go by bike: cabinet members, deputy mayors, businessmen. It is not only for poor people. It is also for people in prestigious positions,” Jensen said.

Given that Beijing is a relatively flat city, and was famous for its bicycle traffic until some years ago, he believes there is great potential to develop bicycling infrastructure there, which in turn will lower air pollution.

Urban energy efficiency systems, such as district heating and cooling installations, waste and waste water management, could provide further areas of technical collaboration between the two cities.

Jensen admitted Copenhagen and Beijing are very different cities, but “are facing the same big problems” such as higher energy prices and a need to cut carbon emissions, and therefore “have to share the solutions”.

Moreover, these measures could lead to lower energy bills for city residents and generate green-sector jobs, which Jensen said are sorely needed in Denmark and China.

In the long term, he envisages Copenhagen as a hub for green energy industries, and “as a green laboratory for testing new solutions” which can then be rolled out in other cities including Beijing.

He expects the two cities to invest heavily in sustainable solutions and work with local businesses and universities to develop green technologies.

The sister-city agreement will mark the first time in decades that Copenhagen has chosen such a partnership, as it has previously preferred to collaborate in international city groupings.

These include the C40 group of the world’s biggest cities which emphasizes green and sustainable urban development, and of which Beijing is a member. Copenhagen is also part of the Euro cities group of 135 European cities, currently chaired by Jensen.

The official ceremony to sign the Beijing-Copenhagen sister-city agreement will take place in Beijing this week.

Jensen and Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong are scheduled to participate in the 2012 Beijing Forum on the Sustainable Development of Cities, which starts Tuesday.

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