Copenhagen climate plan

Posted on 18 September 2014

First carbon neutral capital by 2025 

First carbon neutral capital by 2025

Copenhagen aims to be the first carbon neutral capital by 2025, and plans to get there by switching to biomass in the district heating system; extending cycling ‘superhighways’ in its continued modal shift; and making heavy investments in wind power and other renewables. Copenhagen’s remaining transport emissions will be offset by exports of green electricity. The city has been rewarded for its efforts, being named 2014 National Earth Hour Capital and 2014 European Green Capital, and receiving the 2013 Climate Leadership Award for Carbon Measurement and Planning.

Copenhagen was awarded the title Global Earth Hour Capital in Earth Hour City Challenge 2014

Keywords: carbon neutrality, biomass, wind power, cycling superhighways, renewables

Copenhagen is one of a handful of cities that stand out for their long-term work with urban sustainability – in Copenhagen’s case going all the way back to 1962 when it pedestrianised its famous main thoroughfare Strøget (see also Copenhagen). The city is especially renowned for its efforts to create a walkable and livable environment, competing with Amsterdam for the title of the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. Investments in energy efficiency, district heating, and offshore wind farms have also helped Copenhagen reduce its direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 40% since 1990, despite a real economic growth of 50% (see also Copenhagen).

Climate change plans
Since the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the city has concentrated its efforts on climate-change mitigation. In the Copenhagen Climate Plan from that year, the city set the goal of a 20% reduction of emissions by 2015 from a 2005 baseline. That goal was reached already in 2011, and in 2012 Copenhagen launched a new Climate Plan which aims for carbon neutrality by 2025 (see also Sønderborg).

In 2012 Copenhagen’s starting point was annual emissions of 1.9 million tons of CO2. Earlier plans and legislation on energy and transport were already on target to reduce this figure to 1.16 million tons by 2025. The city plans to accomplish this steep decline mainly through a switch from coal to biomass at Amager and Avedøre, the two major combined heat and power (CHP) plants that feed the district heating system covering 98% of heating demands in Copenhagen.

To get from 1.16 million tons to zero, Copenhagen is carrying out a range of measures to reduce energy consumption and divert energy production to renewables. A surplus of green energy must be produced to offset the emissions that will continue to be generated by city activities. Transport alone will generate an estimated 400,000 tons of CO2 by 2025, and more time will probably be needed to make private cars fossil free.

Energy efficiency
In its own operations, the city administration will set an example by: reducing energy consumption in buildings by 40%; introducing high energy-efficiency requirements for new buildings; running all vehicles on electricity, hydrogen or biofuels; retrofitting all street lightning; and installing 60,000 square meters of solar PV panels on municipal buildings. This is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons.

Heat and electricity consumption account for around 75% of CO2 emissions in Copenhagen, and the city plans significant energy efficiency improvements in all sectors, reducing CO2 emissions by 80,000 tons. The major goals are: a 20% reduction of heat consumption, a 20% reduction of electricity consumption in commercial and service companies, a 10% reduction of electricity consumption in households, and installation of solar PVs corresponding to 1% of electricity consumption by 2025. Copenhagen plans to regulate and increase investments in energy-efficient retrofits and new construction, to develop a digital smart city infrastructure, and to invest $74 million in solar PVs up to 2025.

The city also plans to introduce energy finance schemes for retrofitting. The so-called landlord/tenant dilemma makes retrofits of older apartment buildings difficult, as most people in Copenhagen rent their apartments. Thus the city plans to incentivize an energy service market, where private firms take on the risk of guaranteeing energy savings, and in return are paid a fee by landlords or tenants.

Cycling superhighways
Copenhagen aims to reduce emissions from transport by 135,000 tons by 2025. The sector accounts for around 22% of CO2 emissions – a low figure for a big city and the result of Copenhagen’s earlier efforts in this area. More than half of Copenhageners claim bicycles are their main means of transport and the ratio of bicycle-to-car ownership is 5:1. The city has 359 kilometers of cycle tracks and 36% of all trips to work and school are by bike (which is more than by car). The Climate Plan aims to increase this figure to 50% by 2025, and ensure that 75% of all trips in Copenhagen are on foot, by bike, or via public transport. The city also aims to increase the use of public transport by 20%, and make it carbon neutral (see also Oslo). Further, it set goals that by 2025 20-30% of all light vehicles, and 30-40% of all heavy vehicles run on new fuels such as electricity, hydrogen, biogas.

To achieve these goals, Copenhagen is expanding and improving its cycling and public transport infrastructure in a number of ways, including ‘green wave’ traffic signals prioritizing bicycles and buses, and resting bars for cyclists at intersections. In cooperation with neighboring communities, Copenhagen has started construction of ‘bicycle superhighways’ – wider, smoother and better-lit cycle tracks, in some places with three lanes – to encourage more suburban commuters to abandon cars for bikes. A total of 26 bicycle superhighways are planned, covering 300 kilometers.

Green electricity exports
The bulk of reductions, 855,000 tons of CO2, will come from investments in renewable energy production. By 2025, Copenhagen’s production of electricity and heating will be mainly based on wind, biomass, geothermal energy, and waste. The district heating will be carbon neutral and the city will produce green electricity exceeding its consumption, in order to offset remaining CO2 emissions. The excess of green electricity will be exported to other parts of Denmark.

To achieve this, Copenhagen is investing in wind power, in new biomass-fired combined heat and power plants (CPHs), and in a new, high-tech waste treatment center that will incinerate rest waste for district heating, and feature biogasification of organic waste. Before 2025, Copenhagen plans to install 100 new wind turbines with a total capacity of 360 MW, both inside and outside the municipal boundary, and both onshore and offshore. The city also plans to build a wood-fired CHP of 115-350 MW, a geothermal plant of 65 MW, and a heat storage tank with 200 MW of capacity, all of which will help the city with flexibility in heat and electricity supply.

The Climate Plan entails investments of around $ 4 billion up to 2025, yet Copenhagen expects the plan to save money through energy efficiency and reduction of fossil fuel imports while it generates income in the green sector, including around 3,500 new jobs over the 10-year period.

City of Copenhagen, “CPH 2025 Climate Plan”,

C40, Siemens, Climate Leadership Awards, “Copenhagen Climate Close-up”,

New York City Innovation Exchange, “Best Practice: Carbon Neutral by 2025”,

Justin Gerdes, The Guardian, “Copenhagen's ambitious push to be carbon-neutral by 2025”, 12 April 2013,

Bo Normander, Worldwatch Institute, “Copenhagen Aspires to be the First Carbon Neutral Capital in the World”, 2014,

EU, European Green Capital, 2014 – Copenhagen,

EU, “Copenhagen: European Green Capital 2014”, 2013,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

Cycling superhighways
© Ursula Bach
Copenhagen Mitigation
Offshore wind farm in Øresund
© Ursula Bach
EHCC National Earth Hour Capital 2013 – Copenhagen