Opinion | Take the lead, Copenhagen

It’s often said that new trends come to Denmark ten years after they emerge in the US. Plastic bags is apparently one of these trends. In 2007, US cities Los Angeles and San Francisco banned plastic bags – and with good reason. 


Various types of plastic all too often wind up in our seas and other places in nature. We need to stop this. We don’t want the fish we eat to contain plastic. This is an area in which Copenhagen can take the lead and inspire other European cities. 


Another related area where Copenhagen is behind the times is waste sorting. Why this is is because we are so good at incinerating our waste and turning it into energy. 


This way of thinking isn’t sustainable at a time when our natural resources are becoming increasingly sparse. We need to start sorting and recycling. Or why not go all the way and start turning our waste into biogas? This is an area in which we could be inspired by cities in Germany and Sweden. The know-how and the technology exist. We just need to do it.


When it comes to traffic, the number of cars on the city’s roads is increasing, even though car ownership in Copenhagen has not increased. That’s why the people of Copenhagen shouldn’t put up with levels of fine particles from petrol and diesel that in some areas exceed EU limits. Why not invest in light rails that can supplement cycling and the Metro, train and bus networks that already exist? Other cities already have.


Green light for green transport

Light rails are an environmentally friendly, efficient and inexpensive method of reducing traffic, according to the Trængselskommission, the government-seated panel of transport experts charged with finding solutions to traffic problems in Copenhagen and the rest of the country. This would benefit everyone in Copenhagen. Light rails could also contribute to reduced expenses to treat lung illnesses caused by fine particles. 


We should also consider replacing the city’s buses with ones powered by sustainable energy. This would ensure that our children do not breathe in the dangerous fine particles emitted by diesel exhausts. The first step in this process would be to speed up the phasing in of Euro 6 technologies, which would reduce the amount of harmful particles by half and bring levels of nitrous oxides down to a fifth of the previous limits. 


At the same time, we need to break up the city’s ‘stone deserts’ by making the city more green. Asphalt and paving stones should be ripped up, and we should introduce more biodiversity in the form of new trees, more grassy areas and more open spaces. This will allow for the creation of so-called pocket parks and can be done by renovating greenspaces and outdoor athletics facilities. Such initiatives are good for the body and mind. 


Beyond green

Torrential downpours like the one we experienced in 2011 may not have been an isolated incident. The water such weather dumps needs to be led somewhere where it can be held until it runs off properly instead of winding up in people’s basements.


People need to be involved in deciding how to implement climate-friendly urban planning, such as we’ve already seen taking place in Østerbro, with its ‘climate quarter’. Plans to open up a stream that was diverted underground to flow beneath the city through a pipe is another such example of how nature can be given a prominent role in urban planning.


We believe that we need these types of projects if we want to prevent Copenhagen from flooding, but we also see them as a way to make ourselves more aware of the natural environment that we are a part of. 


We need to go further, however. The City Council must be a leader when it comes to establishing green standards for firms doing business with the city. This is an area in which we can be first-movers and catalyse firms that want to live up to high environmental standards. A lot of firms already do, but at the city level we don’t do enough to raise these green standards to other aspects of competition, such as price. 


The authors are members of Netværket Omstillingen Nu, an environmentalist group.