Stockholm’s climate-positive journey

Never mind climate- or carbon-neutral, Stockholm is going climate-positive. The city’s mayor and government have set an ambitious target: Stockholm should be free of fossil fuels by 2040. But what can the rest of us learn from Stockholm’s journey? Here are ten takeaways.

The journey towards being climate positive is a long one – It requires sustained commitment over many years. Stockholm’s mayor Karin Wanngård commented recently that the city’s government has been focused on sustainability and reducing its environmental impact for more than twenty years. Carbon emissions have reduced by 44% since 1990, and the target is revised and reduced on an ongoing basis. This is a long-term commitment.

It is also only part of a wider economic picture – The ambition for climate positivity is only part of Stockholm’s aims; it is coupled with a drive for growth and sustainability. This has led to investments in technology and systems designed to make the city more business-focused and encourage companies, especially tech giants, to invest. And of course the presence of tech companies supports smart city developments and technologies, creating a virtuous circle.

All journeys start somewhere: the key is in recognising the potential for further travel – Stockholm’s journey, for example, started with work on e-government services. It was therefore very much focused on public involvement in policy-making, a key aspect of the smart city movement around the world, including Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona. The difficult part is to make the leap from improving services, to recognising the potential for onward travel and other improvements, building on the processes developed.

Sweden’s culture supports entrepreneurial thinking and innovation… – Stockholm perhaps has an advantage over other cities, because many commentators report that Sweden is very entrepreneurial. For example, in an answer on Quora, James Pember commented that universities teach entrepreneurial skills, as well as technology, meaning that graduates are alert to the possibilities of creating their own companies. The very strong welfare state also supports entrepreneurialism, because it enables failure without massive social consequences.

…and it also has a tradition of research and excellence in climate and environmental issues – It may have been the devastating impact of acid rain on Sweden’s forests back in the 1980s, but we can probably all admit that Sweden developed an early reputation for environmental awareness and activism. Alongside that, it also developed a tradition of research and innovation in environmental and information technology, which very much supports the smart city movement.

Sharing best practice with other innovators is key  – Sharing information and good practice is vital to maximising success, and minimising environmental impact. Stockholm is part of the C40 Cities group, and Karin Wanngård notes the benefits of networking at events such as the C40 Climate Positive and Sustainable Urban Development Networks workshop, to be held in Wunan in November. Stockholm has also hosted good practice events, such as the recent Smart Cities Live.

‘Demonstrators’ are a useful way to test new technologies and ideas – Stockholm’s approach is to use large-scale ‘demonstrators’ to pilot ideas. Its Royal Seaport area is one of the largest urban development areas in Europe, and has become a model for sustainable urban planning. It will not be fully finished until 2030, but when complete, will be climate positive. Kista Science Park brings together public and private sectors and academia, concentrating expertise.

People are key to smart city development…  Like so many of the most successful smart cities, Stockholm’s government has placed its citizens central to its thinking, and the principle drives development. Technology is simply an enabler. It has to work to meet the needs of the city’s residents and visitors.

…but early and extensive investment in technology is important – Twenty years ago, Stockholm invested in a fibre optic network that would provide high speed, high quality connections for all, at relatively low cost. By 2013, almost 100% of companies and 90% of households were connected. This reduces environmental impact by reducing traffic, and optimising resource use. But it also makes the city more attractive for inward investment and big companies.

Open data supports traffic management and planning – Traffic management and planning are crucial to helping citizens to use public transport and other more sustainable means of transport, but also to journey planning to maximise sustainability. Stockholm’s trafiklab is an open data resource community that allows developers to share data and APIs to improve traffic and journey planning. Open data was crucial, for example, to allowing Google to integrate Stockholm into its travel planning services.

Image credit: Jon Flobrant

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