© Anders Tukler

What does it take to be a climate-friendly city?

13 March 2019

This article originally appeared in The Circle: What happens after 1.5°C?. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Uppsala, a Swedish city with a population of about 150,000, was WWF’s global climate city of the year for 2018. WWF selected the city from a list of 132 cities in 23 countries as part of its annual One Planet City Challenge. The municipality stood out because of its strong performance across a number of key categories, especially its cross-sector sustainability interventions and leadership in surrounding areas.

We asked ERIK PELLING, the mayor of Uppsala, how his city has tried to reduce its environmental footprint and what advice he might have for cities that have similar objectives.

Uppsala was named the global winner of WWF’s 2018 One Planet City Challenge. What achievements played the biggest role in winning that distinction?

In Uppsala, the entire community works together toward the municipality’s clear, ambitious and politically mandated goals. The goals—to be fossil-free and renewable by 2030 and climate-positive by 2050—are both in line with science-based requirements and the Paris Agreement. We are working toward them in all sectors, but have been especially successful in the fields of transportation and energy.

What is the most significant climate-friendly initiative that Uppsala is currently undertaking?

The Uppsala Climate Protocol is an initiative that unites local businesses, universities, authorities, civil society and environmental organizations. These groups represent a third of Uppsala’s energy consumption, and they are working together to phase out fossil fuels used for heating and transportation. For example, district heating in Uppsala, which is the city’s main source for heating, will be fossil-free by 2020, and the city’s waste combustion will be fossil-free by 2030. As well, by 2020 at the latest, the city will have only fossil-free cars. A more challenging goal is to have all of the city’s procured transportation and non-road mobile machinery be fossil-free by 2023.

What are the easiest things you believe cities can do to become more climate-friendly? What are some of the more challenging things?

The easiest thing to do is make the transition within your own organization.

A more difficult but equally important step is challenging others to do the same. No country, no city, no company and no person can single-handedly stop climate change. We have to work together, and in Uppsala we have clearly shown that this is possible.

Are most Uppsala citizens pleased to support its climate-friendly initiatives? Are many residents critical?

There is a broad political consensus here, and we collaborate with businesses, universities and other organizations on our climate initiatives. Solutions can sometimes create debate, but my impression is that Uppsala’s citizens want their municipality to be a climate transition leader.

What is your advice for other cities around the world that would like to become more climate-friendly?

I would say that you can make some progress by working alone, but you will not really solve the problem without collaboration. Everyone needs be engaged and involved in the climate transition, and no organization or group of people should be left behind. In order to succeed, you also need clear leadership, a willingness to work together and a recognition that dealing with climate change can no longer wait.

Do you think cities around the world have the power to make a significant impact on global climate change despite inaction (or slow action) by many national governments?

Absolutely, and it’s already happening. Cities and municipalities have an enormous responsibility for the climate transition regardless of whether their national governments help them or not. But clearly it is easier if all levels of government are aligned in same direction.

Along with becoming climate-friendly, is Uppsala also a leader in climate adaptation?

Yes, Uppsala was Sweden’s 2017 leader in climate adaptation. Some examples of our ongoing work in that area are awareness and routines for handling heat waves, infrastructure and innovations for handling large volumes of stormwater, and the preservation and expansion of green areas for temperature balance and water management.

It’s clear that our climate measures are creating positive momentum in many related areas. For example, in 2018 alone, Uppsala was recognized with the Socially Sustainable Businesses Award and named the nation’s Climate Municipality, Best Bicycle City, Fastest Growing Municipality, Public Heath Award Winner, Best City and more. We have shown that contrary to being an impediment, Uppsala’s climate transition work is the driving force behind its positive development.