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Stockholm's Green City award: it's what you can't see that counts

Stockholm's Green City award: it's what you can't see that counts

Published: 04 Apr 2010 10:03 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 Apr 2010 10:03 GMT+02:00

The sight is not uncommon in Stockholm, which this year was singled out for the European Union's first ever Green Capital award.

"The environment here is good, it's beautiful, it's clean," summed up Anna Elig, a 37 year-old Stockholm dweller pushing her eight-week-old daughter's carriage through the city centre on a cool, sunny afternoon.

"All the moms and dads who are on parental leave go out for walks around the city ... This wouldn't work in Paris," she chuckled, strolling along the broad walkway near the sparkling water.

With 40 percent of the inner city composed of green spaces, the Baltic Sea archipelago city seems a natural place to begin the European Commission's Green Capital initiative.

"I wasn't surprised," said Katarina Eckerberg, a professor of political science and head of an environmental institute.

"Stockholm has a highly developed environmental policy, and any foreigner who comes here is probably surprised that we can benefit from nature as much as we do in the very center of town," she said.

Revelling in nature is a way of life in Sweden, so deeply engrained in the national character that widespread environmental activism already began here as long as 50 years ago.

"Maybe it's because (Sweden) is so sparsely populated and many of us have summer cottages, that Swedes have such a high regard for the environment," Gustaf Landahl, who heads Stockholm's environment and planning department, told AFP.

Even in Stockholm, virtually all residents live within walking distance of lakes, hiking trails and other natural settings, and stepping into a pair of cross-country skis outside their front door is commonplace.

It's a capital that "all along had the privilege of being a town built on water," said Eckerberg, and Stockholmers are ready to defend this privilege.

In the 1960s, when pollution forced Stockholmers to stop fishing or swimming in downtown areas, a bottom-up movement emerged to clean up city waters, Eckerberg said.

Today, the salmon caught there is edible and swimming poses no health risk.

But what impressed the European Commission, the EU executive body, was not what they could see, but what they couldn't.

"I spoke to the evaluation committee and I think what impressed them the most is how we've been able to reduce our CO2 emissions," Landahl said.

Indeed, the city brought environment-damaging carbon dioxide emissions down to 3.4 tonnes per capita in 2009 and hopes to slash that to 3.0 tonnes by 2015.

In Sweden as a whole, CO2 emissions are only six tonnes per capita, as compared to the European average of 10 tonnes per capita.

Stockholm's efforts have focussed on the two biggest environmental culprits: road transport and heating, which together account for 43 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

In a city where freezing winter temperatures can last up to five months, this was a challenge. One solution was investing in district heating, which hooks up 75 percent of buildings in the capital to central heating plants that run primarily on renewables and also produce electricity.

And in the transport sector, "we've been able to reduce emissions even though the municipality has grown," Landahl said proudly, noting that in the rest of Europe transport emissions tend to rise as cities expand.

Stockholm officials tirelessly campaign against residents using their own cars, and even during the long, cold winters 19 percent of Stockholmers bike or walk to work, according to figures from 2007. In summer, that number jumps to 33 percent.

Many others in the spread-out capital region also ride public transport, to the point that figures published by the city show that the number of users continues to rise each month.

Despite the award, there are those who feel the EU's first Green Capital could do more.

"Even in Stockholm, there is a lot of discussion and disputes about whether some current developments are in line with environmental considerations or not," Eckerberg noted.

A major problem, she said, was the booming real estate development along the waterfront that at points has blocked public access and risks endangering the delicate Baltic Sea ecosystem.

"There's much more to be done," she said. "More could always be done."

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

14:48 April 4, 2010 by powerofknowledge
It really deserves this appreciation
18:07 April 4, 2010 by storstark
swedes must be well-chuffed about this... it justifies their pontificating about how green they are while they overheat their houses and keep every freaking light on and some for 6 months of the year...
19:44 April 4, 2010 by ontheball
Thanks for the insight. This 'news' is over three months old. Go to the EU's site and see for yourself!
22:49 April 4, 2010 by jaradat_omar
God bless Sweden!
08:21 April 5, 2010 by Kronaboy
@ontheball

You should know by were so humble that it takes us a bit of time to blow our own trumpet.
11:57 April 5, 2010 by seychelle_18
I have been staying here in Sweden for less than a year and I could say that this is the cleanest country in Europe that I have visited so far compared to Spain, Italy and France. I am a nature lover and I really enjoy the lake and the forest that is always a few meters away even if you live in the city.

Sweden shows a fantastic beauty everytime it change the seasons.
12:54 April 5, 2010 by waybackwhen
It's "we're" not "were" Kronaboy.

And Ontheball is right this is old news, I read or saw something about this about 6 months ago.

i.e. thelocal.se isn't "on the ball"
13:27 April 5, 2010 by conboy
Reminds me of the time when Mats Hulth the then Social Democrat Mayor of Stockholm conned the IOC Committe into drinking water swept up in a glass from the steps adjoining the Klara Kanal as part of a propaganda drive to bring the Olympics to Sweden banging on about the "clean water" - a few months later it was revealed that the bottom of the canal was riddled with cyanide and lead - never judge a book by it's cover folks!
13:28 April 5, 2010 by Audrian
I still feel burnning sensation from exhausts in streets of Stockholm even though ollution her might be less than elsewhere, e.g., Tornoto. On the other hand, it is common to see trash thrown around, probably by the young. In Tornonto one does not see such type of trash. As the writer has suggested there is a lot of work to be done, e.g., cutting down the number of cars coming into the city by developing more underground transport.

A point that is not said in the article is that Stockholm probably tops the world's most beautiful cities.
00:22 April 6, 2010 by GLO
This is just another pile of Bull @#$%.....
12:02 April 6, 2010 by Kronaboy
@waybackwhen

What can I say, while you were learning your grammar at school, we were wasting our time worrying about silly little things like not getting knifed.
21:08 April 6, 2010 by seychelle_18
I agree with you Xi Dam :-) I love that possitivity.

Why do we always complain? Why not just think of how we could be of help. It's better that if we have complain/s there must be a corresponding suggestion for improvement.
12:18 April 7, 2010 by quentin77
You can always tell an AFP derived article. 9/10 Swedish idolatry, 1/10 objective journalism. AFP need to drop the gushing tourist brochure mode and get back to proper reporting.
15:02 April 7, 2010 by MyFire
European Commission should be targeting the dirty countries around the 'clean Baltic Sea' that constantly dump unprocessed waste directly into the ocean!

Like...Estonia / Poland / RUSSIA!!! (but then you need to have a pair of something between your legs...;)
15:18 April 7, 2010 by tommycapes
stockholm is a beautiful place, its just the people who live here let it down.

love stockholm, hate stockholmers
17:04 April 8, 2010 by rydbo1
Credit where it's due it's a great benefit to all of us to live in a beautifully clean, green city. But I do agree the leaving on of lights especially outdoor lights for endless months is a waste of precious energy, and I am sure there is more to be done including putting pressure on the great offenders of carbon pollution.....do I need to name names !!!

I think the love Stockholm and hate Stockholmers is a whole topic that will be discussed for years to come by all of us that are not native to Stockholm.
17:13 April 9, 2010 by harrylatour
Don't knock yourselves too much you Swedes,,,rude?? as an Englishman of 70 you aint seen nuthin!! London is the the ''crap central'' of the entire western world and expensive,,,at least most of the turist stuff is the only stuff thats cheap!!
17:26 April 9, 2010 by mukiwa
Come on over and give it a try in LA......Sweden's size makes allot of things possible.....
15:30 April 16, 2010 by barryberry
wow, I'm really jeaous of Stockholmers! I'm from Hong Kong. There're seven millions people in such a tiny city! And we always suffered from air pollution! I ,as an individual, try my very best to reduce my carbon footprint such as using less plastic bag, switch off some idle eletrical appliance. But still the environment in Hong Kong is getting worse and worse!

Although Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan metropolis, it's time we should reflect on our environmental policy. Here, Stockholm is a good example! :D
17:26 April 19, 2010 by randyt
My first visit to Stockholm was in 1996 and the first thing I noticed on the taxi ride in from Arlanda was how clear the water ways were. Reaching my hotel room and being a bit thirsty I grabbed a drink from the tap, wow water tasted better than the bottle water in the states. Keep up the great work and example to the rest of the world.
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