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Climate mitigation and adaptation on the North Sea – Gothenburg’s holistic approach

To curb Gothenburg’s environmental impact, the emissions within the city’s geographical area will be reduced by at least ten-point-three percent per year until 2030

Gothenburg city: the world’s most sustainable destination

Gothenburg, or Göteborg in Swedish, is the capital of the Västra Götaland County and the second-largest city in Sweden, with a population of about 570,000 inhabitants in the city proper and around 1 million in the metropolitan area (Stor-Göteborg). Since 2016, Gothenburg has held the number one ranking in the Global Destination Sustainability Index as the world’s most sustainable destination based on GDS seventy-one indicators that assess cities’ sustainability performance across four social and environmental spheres aligned with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With ninety-five percent of its hotels carrying third-party environmental certifications such as ISO 20121 or ISO 140001, the Nordic Swan ecolabel, Green Key, and the Swedish Environmental Base diploma, in 2020, Gothenburg was selected along with the Spanish city of Malaga as the winner of the European Capital of Smart Tourism Award by the European Commission Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and SMEs. Sixty-six percent of Gothenburg’s electricity is from renewables, and about ninety-five percent of its public transport employs renewable energy. The Göteborg Landvetter Airport, the city’s international airport held by the Swedish state-owned company Swedavia AB that serves the Gothenburg region, is certified to the highest level of the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme. Forests like the Rya Skog on the island of Hisingen take up half of the city’s area, of which vast sections are made up of agricultural districts with 3138 hectares of green areas per 100 000 inhabitants.  

Historical background of Gothenburg and UN roadmap to sustainable cities

Gothenburg is located about 390 km southwest of the capital Stockholm on the west coast of southern Sweden, around halfway between Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and the capital of Norway, Oslo. At latitude 57° N and longitude 11° E, Gothenburg is Sweden’s chief seaport lying at the mouth of the Göta älv, a river that drains into the Kattegat, a shallow sea area located between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and the location of several seaports. King Karl IX of Sweden decided to build the city of Gothenburg in 1603 on the island of Hisingen, a strategical location that served as the only Swedish outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, Skagerrak, and the North Sea. This town was burned to the ground and destroyed in 1611 during the Kalmar War (1611–13) fought between Sweden and Denmark-Norway. In 1621 the city as it is known today was founded by King Gustavus II Adolphus in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) on the site of the earlier trade city of Nya Lödösea and named Göteborg after the Göta älv, making the city 400 years old in 2021. In the Seventeenth century, Dutch influence on the city was significant, as testified by the canals built in its city center by Dutch planners and engineers considered Europe’s leading experts on building in marshy areas. In the Nineteenth century, Gothenburgers built the Avenyn (Kungsportsavenyen), the city’s main boulevard, the Gothenburg City Museum (Göteborgs stadsmuseum), the Landshövdingehusen and the neighbourhoods of Lorensberg and Vasastaden. Gothenburg University (Göteborgs universitet), the country’s third-oldest university, was founded in 1891. The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication, and Ground-level Ozone, an international agreement stipulated to reduce multiple air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), was signed on 30 November 1999 in Gothenburg (UNECE). All over the globe, three-point-five billion people live in cities, and by 2030, five billion people are projected to reside in urban areas. Cities have a significant carbon footprint. They take up three percent of the Earth’s land surface and are responsible for seventy-five percent of the world’s anthropogenic carbon emissions (CO2) and between sixty and eighty percent of global energy consumption (UNEP). Given cities’ population growth rate and environmental impact, The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals call attention to the need to make cities inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable. The targets of the 11th Sustainable Development Goal, UN’s roadmap to sustainable cities, establish access to safe and accessible housing, transport, and green public spaces, as well as the implementation of policies and plans favoring disaster resilience, inclusion, and climate adaptation as the milestones to reach by 2030.

Volvo electric articulated concept bus

Environmental issues projects and implemented policies in Gothenburg city

«Gothenburg has been working towards becoming a sustainable city to a greater degree since the 1980s when the former Minister for the Environment Birgitta Dahl visited the town. At the time, the city was struggling with air pollution caused by the operations carried out in the harbor, road traffic, companies, and various other factors. Urged by the government to solve this crisis, the city appointed a team tasked with coming up with a solution-based strategy. Seeing the need to work together, they brought in various actors from different sectors, for example the business world. The institution of this team marked the beginning of our long-term strategic work tackling environmental issues, and our first policy document was released in 2013». Says Mathilda Edlund, Responsible for the implementation of the environmental and climate program at the City of Gothenburg. Over the years, Gothenburg has undertaken multiple initiatives and projects and implemented policies regarding various environmental issues. Among them is the ElectriCity project, which focuses on the electrification of public transport, a target that can reduce the city’s climate impact, nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, and noise pollution levels. The transition to a more sustainable Gothenburg is being facilitated by the use of digital methods and tools such as geofencing and the digital twin. This tool aids the development of an accessible and sustainable city, as the virtual 3D model assists Gothenburg in planning future public works that satisfy social and environmental needs and criteria. In January 2013, the Gothenburg congestion tax was introduced to diminish traffic congestion and improve the city’s environment. From November 2017 to December 2021, Gothenburg is participating along with the city of Malmö in the Car-free urban district (Bilfria Urbana distrikt) project coordinated by Lund University. The project’s purpose is to acquire new knowledge about car-free areas, their implementation, and their effects on socio-spatial opportunities and people’s mobility, facilitating the development of equitable car-free districts. In June 2021, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published the European city air quality viewer, an interactive tool showing the air pollution levels of over 300 European cities and their ranking based on the World Health Organization’s health-based guideline for long term exposure to fine particulate matter. Gothenburg ranked twenty-first with a fine particulate matter level of six-point-eight μg/m3. Improving the city’s air quality is one of the targets of Gothenburg’s current tripartite environmental program. Adopted by Gothenburg’s City Council on 25 March 2021, The Environmental and Climate program for the City of Gothenburg, 2021-2030 seeks to turn Gothenburg into a city with a climate footprint close to zero, high biodiversity, and a living environment that is healthy for its residents.

The Environmental and Climate program for the City of Gothenburg, 2021-2030 

Gothenburg’s environmental program focuses on preserving and increasing local biodiversity by managing and protecting the city’s habitats, increasing biodiversity within urban areas, and guarding seas, lakes, and streams. These goals are in line with Sweden’s environmental targets, which pursue the achievement of a poison-free environment with no eutrophication, well-preserved and healthy lakes, streams, marine environments, wetlands and forests, suitable groundwater quality, and diversity of plant and animal life. In line with the UN’s global sustainability goals of climate change mitigation and sustainable cities, communities, consumption, and production, the city of Gothenburg will cut its yearly per capita carbon dioxide equivalent (co2e) emissions from the four-point-two tons registered in 2018 to one-point-one tons by 2030. The emissions within Gothenburg’s geographical area will be reduced by at least ten-point-three percent per year, and the consumption-based emissions will decrease by at least seven-point-six percent each year until 2030. The share of Gothenburg’s fossil-free vehicles will rise from fifty-five percent (2019) to 100 percent by 2023. To give Gothenburgers a healthy living environment and promote their health and well-being, Gothenburg’s administration will be pursuing the improvement of air quality and reducing noise pollution and harmful substances, making Gothenburg a city where the ecosystems’ services can meet the city’s needs. By 2030, the percentage of new preschools with an equivalent noise level below 50 dBA and the percentage of older preschools with one equivalent noise level below 55 dBA will rise from eighty percent (2020) and seventy-five percent (2020) to 100 percent. By 2030 road traffic, quantified in the number of kilometers driven with all types of motorized road vehicles per weekdays in Gothenburg, will be reduced by twenty-five percent compared to 2020 levels and the percentage of inhabitants with access to green spaces larger than 0.2 hectares within 300 meters will increase from ninety-three percent (2018) to 100 percent.   

Mathilda Edlund 

Is responsible for the environmental and climate program of the city of Gothenburg.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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