Copenhagen betting its future on clean technology

The city is hoping that the technology that will enable it to become carbon-neutral by 2025 will also turn around its economic woes

Copenhagen’s ‘green’ credentials were once again reinforced this week following the release of an OECD report that praised the results of the city’s investments in renewable energy and low-carbon technology.

The report pointed out that companies in Copenhagen increased their exports of green services and products by 55 percent between 2004 and 2009, with only four percent of companies experiencing a decrease in exports between 2010 and 2011.

The organisation stated that the success was the result an ambitious climate policy and strong co-operation between the public and private sectors.

The OECD’s verdict vindicates the city's gamble on investing in green technology – also called ‘cleantech’ – to both tackle environmental issues and boost the city’s flagging economy.

The strategy includes branding Copenhagen as a global centre for the development of green technology. As part of this, Copenhagen this week held the second annual Global Green Growth Forum (3GF).

The purpose of the conference is to bring together the media, industry, and global government representatives in order to speed up the transition to economies based on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Copenhagen’s mayor, Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne), hopes, however, that the city will become more than the symbolic site of the move toward green technology.

“We hope that our plan to make Copenhagen the world’s first CO2-neutral capital city will help stimulate growth by making it a global hub for innovation in green technology,” Jensen told The Copenhagen Post in a recent interview.

Jensen was referring to the ambitious climate plan put forward by the city this year that will see it move away from fossil fuel technology and become fully carbon-neutral by 2025.

In order to meet its target, the city needs new technology – technology that might not otherwise be developed unless the city makes a guarantee to invest heavily in transitioning away from carbon energy sources over the coming decades.

According to Jensen, the city’s climate plan identifies nine specific areas to meet carbon reduction targets – such as energy efficiency – that allow business to know which technologies the city will then be placing orders for.

Jensen is betting that other capital cities around the world will follow Copenhagen’s lead to become carbon-neutral. And with Copenhagen so far ahead of other cities, it will then act as a showcase for clean technology.

“Copenhagen will become a laboratory for testing these technologies, and businesses will have a site to invite city officials from around the world to visit and see what does and doesn’t work,” Jensen told The Copenhagen Post.

To ensure that there are the necessary businesses to develop the technology it needs – and the economic growth they are expected to generate – the city has developed the Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster (CCC) to bring together business, research and government authorities in order to increase innovation and development.

According to a press release from Copenhagen Capacity –  the city’s official agency for soliciting investment and a CCC partner – the OECD identified the CCC as having successfully contributed to developing economic growth in Copenhagen.

The head of CCC, Marianna Lubanski, welcomed the news but added that Copenhagen needed to maintain the investment in order to retain its global position.

“Competition, especially in the cleantech field, will soon become so fierce that increasing our efforts and focus is vital if we hope to succeed and stay in front,” she said.

Copenhagen has its share of environmental problems, however, particularly related to transport sector. This week, it was revealed that the city’s air quality will only continue to worsen unless new initiatives to limit traffic pollution are implemented.

The transport sector is also resolutely carbon heavy despite the ambitions of electric car manufacturers, such as Better Place, that hope to electrify vehicles using renewable energy.

A more short-term solution is to transition more city-dwellers onto public transport, which the now-defunct congestion charge would have created an incentive for.

Jensen is still optimistic about reducing traffic in the city, however, through the introduction of a nationwide road pricing system and improved public transport network.

“We are investing in public transport and expanding the Metro to the regional bus and traffic networks as well as making big infrastructure investments, such as the harbour tunnel, to lead traffic around the city,” Jensen said.