Urban-LEDS II City in Focus Series

The Urban-LEDS II project has set out to define different low emission, resilient, green, and inclusive urban development pathways with and for cities. But what does transitioning into a low emission future mean for daily life and operational planning in our cities? In our City in Focus series, we will take a closer look at some of those actions that are translating sustainability goals into experience-able practices. In our series we will follow a different city each month, bringing those sustainable solutions and initiatives to the forefront that are already reshaping our cities today.

In focus...

Aalborg_Photo by Rahbek Media on Unsplash..

Living the affordable energy transition dream

How Aalborg is advancing to become fossil fuel free by 2050

As modern societies we need energy for almost all aspects of our daily lives. Be it for transportation, manufacturing, charging our phones or illuminating and heating our homes, our demand for energy is ever growing. And so is the challenge to cut emissions from energy consumption. Thus, a successful energy transition not only has the potential to reshape geopolitical coordinate systems and the global economy, but is a priority area for Urban-LEDS cities to accelerate their low emission development.

When looking for ambitious examples of redesigning local energy supply systems, city planners need to look no further than the Danish municipality of Aalborg. Aiming to become 100% fossil fuel free by 2050, Aalborg’s ~220,000 citizens are no strangers to a set of ambitious initiatives. Below, we will explore some of the key aspects that are enabling Denmark’s third largest municipality to transition towards a carbon free future!

The Danish Example – (District) energy efficiency first

In a policy area as closely interlinked as energy, the national regulations and policies in place are no small fee for what ambition, scope and resources are needed to decarbonise local energy supply. As internationally recognised frontrunner of a green energy transition, known in Denmark as “grønne omstilling”, Denmark has demonstrated high continuity of national energy objectives and consent across governments in recent years. With a national objective to become fossil free by 2050, national ambitions have also been setting the scene for Aalborg’s local energy transition.

Reflecting national energy policy trends, Aalborg has been moving its strategic energy and heat planning forward already since the late 1980s, with a focus on district thermal network solutions. As a result, the extensive district network is now covering around 80 % of the municipalities’ heat demand. By 2050, networks are even set to cover up to 85-90% of net heat demand. Providing for flexibility in integrating volatile renewable sources, the thermal networks are an important backbone of the city’s energy action plan (2011-2030) and its ‘Energi Vision 2050’. As such, a mix of renewable heat and cold sources, including local biomass, wind, solar, heat pumps, waste and geothermal heat, as well as an envisaged total of 40-50% in energy savings is foreseen to bring down emissions from the network in the future. Aalborg network companies are thus required to increase energy savings by approximately 2% in supply annually. While the costs of the conversion are expected to stay in line with those of the current system, additional investments are foreseen to go into energy conservation and increasing efficiency in coming years.

All on board for the green transition

For a fossil free Aalborg 2050, the municipality approaches and promotes its energy transition as an integral part of a wider Sustainability Strategy. Already back in 1994 the city approved the Aalborg Charter during the first Sustainable Cities and Towns conference, as its political framework for sustainable development. By that Aalborg not only prepared the ground for a variety of European movements, such as the Aalborg Commitments and the Sustainable Cities Platform, but also set a trend for its local transition. The current strategy was formulated in close consultation with citizens, civil society, educational institutions, business and industry, with the aim to make sustainability an accepted principle in private, professional and public life of Aalborg’s citizens.

The central point for Aalborg’s cooperation with business and citizens is the Centre for Green Transition created in 2013. The center is an umbrella organisation for sustainability projects and partnerships, supporting initiatives such as a Green Agents program and a Green Shops scheme to embed sustainability in daily life. For sustaining competitiveness in the transition, the city and its university are identifying and supporting green innovation projects amongst a growing network of local companies. Complementary, Aalborg’s citizens are encouraged to take an active part in the transition through regular household energy saving support campaigns, competitions for neighbourhood energy saving rates and the highly popular annual sustainability festival.

Its motivational and encompassing concept to support climate friendly behaviour in the public and private sector, and the longstanding, forward looking approach to energy planning, put the municipality on track for a fossil free energy system. The example of Aalborg shows that even though change does not happen overnight, ambitious agenda setting, and sustainability as a principle approach in city planning, have the ability to transform the operation of an entire city and to turn the carbon free vision into a feasible reality. 

For further details and reading consult our sources:

More on Aalborg and its energy transition, energy strategy and sustainability initiatives

State of Green, City of Aalborg: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/

State of Green, Center for Energy Transition: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/solutions/center-for-green-transition/

State of Green, District Heating and Cooling in Aalborg: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/solutions/energy-efficient-heating-and-cooling/

Invest in Aalborg, Denmark’s most energetic city: http://investinaalborg.dk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Energy-white-paper.pdf

Aalborg Kommune, Energistrategi for Aalborg Kommune frem til 2030: https://www.aalborg.dk/media/4021849/energistrategi_for_aalborg_kommune_frem_til_2030_-_endelig_udgave__skrivebeskyttet_-1.pdf

Aalborg Kommune, Climate strategy 2012-2015 Mitigation: https://mycovenant.eumayors.eu/docs/seap/20581_1412589503.pdf

HotMaps project, Aalborg profile: https://www.hotmaps-project.eu/aalborg/Energy Cities

More on Danish and international to local energy policy

Agora Energiewende, Snapshot of the Danish Energy Transition (2015): https://www.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin2/Projekte/2015/integration-variabler-erneuerbarer-energien-daenemark/Agora_Snapshot_of_the_Danish_Energy_Transition_WEB.pdf

Energy Cities, Cities heading towards 100% renewable energy (2016): https://energy-cities.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/publi_100pourcent_final-web_en.pdf

Energy Cities, The Energy Transition Chronicles (2016): https://energy-cities.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/chroniqueste_complet_en.pdf

Foresight. Climate & Energy, The path to emissions-free district heating in Denmark: https://foresightdk.com/the-path-to-emissions-free-district-heating-in-denmark/


Budapest on the move – A sustainable urban mobility transformation

Crowded streets, the sound of accelerating engines in a stop and go traffic, the scent of gasoline and rubber in a blur of lights, smog and metal. A classic rush hour scenario stretching from the suburbs to city centres around the globe. With cities having temporarily reorganised their city centres with pop up biking lanes and car-free streets due to the COVID-19 crisis, many citizens have claimed the new space for walking and cycling. The measures provided many urban dwellers with their first glimpse on what urban mobility in the greener and more resilient cities of the future could look like.

A scenario Urban-LEDS city Budapest has long been working to realise by advancing its sustainable mobility plan. Reason enough to take a look at some of Budapest’s actions to square the minimum pollution – maximum mobility circle connecting its 1.7 million citizens across a 525 km² territory.

Pursuing excellence

Like for many cities, Budapest’s efforts take root in the need to reduce emissions from road transport, while at the same time expanding its public transport system – currently composed of four metro lines, five railways, 33 tramlines and 279 bus lines – to accommodate the needs of a growing population. A process of anticipating the mobility needs of generations to come, while planning, designing, constructing and interconnecting different means of (public) transport integratively and effectively in the now. A process of such complexity and impact on the daily operations and sustainability of the city, that it prompted Budapest officials to create the BKK, a specialised centre to drive the process. Brought to life as a centre of excellence for transport in 2011, the BKK addresses key aspects of urban mobility ever since.

As such the BKK was responsible for the development of a new Mobility Plan to modernise transportation system in line with the guidelines issued by the European Commission for developing Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) and the city’s climate resilience and adaptation plan. The BKK included more than 200 institutions in the preparation of the plan to analyse key mobility problems in the city, including a one-year public consultation process. In promoting more connections, more attractive, environmentally friendly, comfortable vehicles and technologies, better service, and more efficient governance, regulations and cooperation, the plan is to deliver on ensuring a liveable urban development with a safe, reliable and dynamic transportation system. For this purpose, the SUMP has been integrated into the Budapest 2030 Development plan and echoes the targets of Hungary’s National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) requiring the country to reduce emissions by 40% (to 1990 levels) until 2030.

Hungary: an active mobility exception

Thereby Hungary can build on a remarkably high number of citizens already taking up active mobility solutions. According to Eurobarometer and the European Cyclist Federation, around 22% of the population opt for cycling frequently to get to work. Only the Dutch and Danes are cycling more on a regular basis in Europe. Budapest is embracing and promoting this potential further via campaigns like “I bike Budapest” and its longstanding participation in European wide initiatives such as European Mobility Week. The city’s 200 km of bike routes are making it one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe, tying in well with its emission reduction targets.

What’s next?

Budapest demonstrated yet again in 2019 that it is advancing its vision of a green future, when the newly elected mayor, Gergely Karácsony, declared the state of climate emergency for the city. Yet, like many cities, Budapest experienced unprecedented shifts in mobility trends during the COVID-19 lock down with public transport numbers dropping to 10%. For Budapest city planners, the lockdown reconfirmed the importance of taking an integrated, holistic approach that is promoting several parallel transport options and equipping citizens with the knowledge to make conscious mobility choices. Before presenting its carbon-neutrality strategy in 2021, Budapest is set to finalise its integrated (access-based) urban transport strategy and action plan still this year. Budapest’s success in turning its visions of a modernised, sustainable transportation system into reality is building on the cities commitment, as well as its willingness to go beyond the status quo via European projects such as MaaS4EU, SUMPs-UP and Dynaxibility4CE, while also working on a strong and broad public support for its measures.

A fresh breeze brushing through the green and spacious sideways filled with pedestrians, cyclers and scooters hurrying to catch the tram rattling by. A vision that many cities like Budapest are turning into a reality already.


References for further reading:











City of uMhlathuze: An Urban-LEDS II city proactively leading to combat climate change

Renowned for being an economic powerhouse in South Africa, the City of uMhlathuze is home to the biggest harbour on the continent, the largest coal export facility in the world, and many heavy industries, such as aluminium smelting. Over the years, the City of uMhlathuze has had an influx of people migrating from the rural areas in search of livelihood and education opportunities. This has increased the pressure on the City’s infrastructure, the built environment and exacerbated high energy consumption. Due to the nature of the industrial activity, the City of uMhlathuze is considered one of the areas with the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in KZN, surpassing the City of eThekwini.

“Climate change has emerged as a cardinal pillar in local planning,” says Nontsundu Ndonga, Deputy Municipal Manager; City Development. “The City of uMhlathuze has heeded this call by acknowledging its impact at a local scale and has made concerted efforts to institutionalize mitigation and adaptation responses into service delivery functions of the City. Strategic policy initiatives such as the Integrated Urban Development Framework integrate climate change as a cornerstone theory of change to foster a risk-averse approach to budgeting, planning and climate proofing urban development.”

The Municipal Climate Change Action Plan is informed by a vulnerability assessment and incorporates priority and cross-cutting interventions as climate responses. The work is sanctioned by a core team, the “Green Team”, representing various departments across the municipality serving as a vehicle to mainstream climate action across the municipal functional departments. The institutionalization process has furthermore included civil society and partnerships with business. The core objective is to leave no one behind. This is even more prevalent in times of a health crisis, where issues of sustainability come to the fore. “The COVID 19 pandemic will no doubt alter the course of our developmental trajectory and, through our Economic Recovery Plan, growth and development must be cognizant of ecological parameters and reducing greenhouse emissions” says Ndonga. “Programs like Urban-LEDS II,” she says, “are a vehicle to frame our climate action responses and let us reflect on the importance of social partners in mobilizing an all-of-society approach to successfully implement our sustainability agenda.”

The City has also identified the need to proactively take a leading role by not only relying on external resources to address climate change, but to also mobilize the municipality’s own resources to carry out measures against climate change, such as compiling a GHG inventory and green building guidelines. These measures will support the City’s decision making process going forward.

Like many cities in South Africa, emissions from the City of uMhlathuze are predominately attributed to electricity consumption from stationary energy, notably the manufacturing and construction industry. This highlights the need to identify measures to be put in place by the municipality to reduce emissions in the specified sector. Although the municipality has no mandate over the manufacturing and construction sector’s energy usage, Council is the mandated authority for the approval of building plans for new buildings and the retrofitting of existing buildings. As such the municipality sees the green building guidelines as a stepping stone to reduce the emissions from the stationary energy sector in general.

Sectoral interventions in uMhlathuze’s Green Building Guideline

Going forward, the City of uMhlathuze sees strategic partnerships as imperative for the municipality for profiling, networks and access to programs and climate finance. As such, the municipality has embarked on programs with various partners in efforts to scale up responses to climate threats, with ICLEI’s Urban-LEDS II being one. The municipality’s involvement in the latter has also created opportunities for involvement in Smart Building Metering and the Training of Building Inspectors.