Oslo European Green Capital 2019
October 23, 2019
Overlooking Oslo from one of Ekeberg Park's spectacular viewpoints
IMAGE: Clare Keogh / Europakommisjonen
What makes a truly green city? Many cities in Europe are now striving for a greener tomorrow, but a few, like Oslo, were striving for that greener tomorrow yesterday—and they’re nearly there already. It’s hard to imagine a more deserving winner of the European Commission’s prestigious title of European Green Capital 2019, which cemented the city’s reputation as a great location for sustainable living, leisure and business tourism.
So where did this city, a leading light of sustainability in a country with great green credentials, start its journey—and what does its future hold?
A scenic urban garden with the Oslo Plaza looming in the background
IMAGE: Didrick Stenersen
The making of a modern, green city
Archaeology has indicated that there was urban settlement in the Oslo area before 1000 CE, but the founding of the city is credited to King Harald Hardråde in around 1049, who established a trading post on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet. His son, Olav the Peaceful, built a cathedral and established a bishopric here, but Håkon V was the first monarch to reside in the city permanently, giving it status as the country’s capital and beginning construction of the Akershus Fortress in around 1300.
Oslo was badly affected by the Bubonic Plague and several fires. Power drifted from the church to the Hanseatic League, and then from Oslo to Copenhagen, with Oslo reduced to a symbolic capital. However, after the fire of 1624 virtually destroyed the city, Christian IV of Denmark-Norway built a new town, Christiania, farther west, under the walls of the Akershus fortress. The city regained its status as a capital in 1814 when the union with Denmark was dissolved and in 1925, it regained its original name of Oslo.
An outdoor concert at the Oslo Opera House; home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet
IMAGE: Thomas Zdrankowski
Today, Oslo is a modern, busy capital, yet more than two-thirds of the municipality’s acreage is protected forest, waterways, and agricultural land. This means 95% of inhabitants have a park or open green space within 300 metres of their homes, many of them linked by convenient paths. Notable green spaces include the Slottsparken, a 54-acre park surrounding the Royal Palace, the Botanical garden in Tøyen and the Medieval Park in Oslo’s medieval neighbourhood.
Oslo’s aim, put simply, is to be the most sustainable city in the world—and to inspire others to follow in its footsteps. The city has implemented some of the most effective climate and environmental measures in Europe. In 2016, Oslo set itself some highly ambitious goals, including an emission reduction of 95% by 2030. This is being done not by offsetting, but by implementing actual emissions cuts. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, emissions were reduced by 9%.
In 2017, the city’s first, ground-breaking Climate Budget was implemented, requiring authorities to "count carbon the way we count money." It shows municipal agencies where emissions must be cut and who is responsible for implementing adopted measures. That budget includes education, and in spring 2020, the ‘Climate House’ will open at the Natural History Museum in the Botanical Gardens at Tøyen, just part of Oslo’s funding for educating the next generation about climate change and emission reduction.
The city’s Business for Climate network was founded in 2010 and currently consists of over 100 business partners working towards the achievement of Oslo's climate goals. The partners actively participate in the creation of strategies, measures and instruments within the field of emission reduction and adaption. The network also acts as an arena for dialogue, where the Climate Agency can inform the business community about priorities and policies, and best practice can be shared.
Trond Gustav Sømme AKA Oslo's first electric taxi driver charging up one of the city's many E-Taxis
IMAGE: Hampus Lundgren
A city with a green vision
Oslo has been working towards the ambitious goals of its 2016 Climate Strategy. However, a new strategy for 2020-2030 was launched in August 2019 and it’s likely to be adopted by the end of this year, so let’s look at what the city is working on now, and its plans for an even greener future.
The mobility sector is the main source of emissions in Oslo, so green mobility solutions are key to its efforts to become a zero emission city. Oslo claims to be ‘the electric vehicle capital of the world’ and with the highest number of electric vehicles in the world per capita, that seems fair! The city has become a laboratory for the testing of new electric transport solutions as it transforms into a city where pedestrians and cyclists take precedence over private cars. As this happens, the Car-free Liveability Programme is repurposing parking spaces into areas and facilities that benefit the community, such as bike lanes and stands, benches and green lungs.
The government has ensured electric vehicles are cheap to buy, offering exemption from purchase tax and VAT, while city authorities have offered incentives such as free parking in the city centre, access to taxi lanes, a rapidly developing free charging infrastructure and reductions or exemptions from toll fees. One in five private cars here is now electric and when it comes to new car sales, two out of three new private purchases have been electric so far this year, proving that Oslo truly leads the way on electric vehicles.
Fortum's Charge & Drive stations are helping electrify Oslo's vehicles using clean energy
IMAGE: Hampus Lundgren
Oslo is also the site of an EU charging pilot project that aims to provide cost efficient home charging facilities for inhabitants living in blocks of flats with limitations in the local grid. The housing association has established four charging points outside the parking garage, which can be accessed via a simple booking interface. GreenCharge, who oversee charging management, will consider the integration of local solar power and assess improvements possible with stationary batteries.
Various car sharing mobility schemes provide fleets of electric vehicles that can be found, reserved and unlocked via an app on your phone, reducing the need for privately-owned cars in the city and supplementing public transport. This has helped reduce traffic congestion in the city by 5% in one year and still counting. Oslo is also working to increase the use of zero-emission vans through incentives such as offering grants to utility vehicle owners to install chargers at home and at work. It’s also using its procurement power to demand zero-emission vehicles for the delivery of goods and services to the municipality.
One of Ruter's driverless electric buses gets put through its paces during testing at the Akershus Fortress
IMAGE: Didrick Stenersen
From 2023 onwards, all taxis in Oslo will have to be zero emission and soon, Oslo will be the first city in the world to install wireless charging systems for electric taxis, hoping to make recharging quick and efficient enough to increase the take-up of non-polluting cabs. The project will use induction technology, with charging plates installed in the road at taxi ranks. This is more energy efficient and will be much quicker and more convenient than conventional charging, enabling taxis to charge while they’re in slow-moving queues at taxi ranks.
Public transport is steadily going green and already, most public transport journeys are powered by renewable energy. The target is for all public transport to run on renewable energy by 2020 (such as biogas produced from household food waste) and to be totally emission free by 2028. As of this year, 10% of the city’s 1200- strong bus fleet, run by public transport company Ruter, is electric.
Oslo established its first Metro line in 1966 and today, its Metro is one of the largest in Europe. New investment and expansion are planned, including a new line to the Fornebu peninsula in Bærum. A new fleet of modern trams is planned for 2020-21 too. They will be more spacious and accessible than much of Oslo’s older stock, with step-on at street level.
Oslo doesn't limit sustainability to dry land: Oslo's ferries are to be all-electric by 2021
IMAGE: Birgitte Heneide / Ruter
Ferries account for 10% of Ruter's emissions and over the course of this year, the conversion of all 3 ferries operating the Oslo-Nesodden route to electric propulsion has been taking place. This will be significant, as this is Norway's busiest car free ferry route, with 2.7 million journeys undertaken every year. By 2021, all ferries serving the fjord Islands will also be electric.
If you’re expecting to use public transport, grab an Oslo Pass when you arrive, which entitles you to free public transport throughout Oslo and the immediate area, including the Metro, tram, buses, boats and local trains. However, Oslo is a compact city and many travellers chose to walk or cycle. City Bikes for short trips can be found at 250 stations throughout the city, while there are a plethora of established private companies which offer rentals for a whole day or longer periods. Bike paths go practically everywhere, including the beaches and the forest, and are well-maintained.
Overlooking the islands of inner Oslofjord
A Green Port
Oslo Port is taking a lead in developing emission free solutions, aiming to reduce its emissions by 85% by 2030 and become emission free by 2050. Traditionally, ships use their own fossil powered generators for lighting, ventilation, heating and technological equipment, but the Port provides shore-based electrical power from the onshore, hydro-powered grid. By 2020, all ferries going from Oslo to Denmark and Germany will use shore-based power, reducing the port’s annual CO2 emissions by 5000 tonnes.
Carbon Capture and Storage
At the waste incineration and energy recovery plant at Klemetsrud, the City of Oslo and Fortum are testing ground breaking technology to capture and store carbon (CCS), supported by the national government. CCS in waste incineration plants solves two problems in one: waste management and emissions. The aim is to develop a full scale facility at Klemetsrud and build the most world's most advanced facility for CCS, which could remove atmospheric pollution equivalent to that produced by 60,000 cars every year!
The urban farming community at Losæter with the Bjørvika Barcode office buildings in the background
IMAGE: Clare Keogh / Europakommisjonen Clare Ke
Emission Free Construction Sites
Construction machinery accounts for 30% of Oslo’s traffic emissions. In addition, heating/drying and traffic to and from construction sites contribute to local emissions and climate emissions. After discussions with operators, the city established a zero-emissions standard and adopted fossil free construction sites as minimum criteria in all of its public procurement procedures from 2017. As a major developer and owner of buildings, the City can significantly reduce city-wide emissions.
A report prepared by DNV GL for the Climate Agency sketches two scenarios for cutting emissions from construction sites in Oslo. In one of them, almost all emissions could be eliminated by the end of 2025 if all private-and public developers require contractors to use zero-emission construction technology in tenders from 2021 onwards.
Eliminating emissions by the end of 2025 is also dependent on all construction machinery becoming electric, powered either by batteries or hydrogen, but Norway’s demand for greener construction machinery is causing this market to develop and expand; while fully electrical versions of all machinery aren’t available yet, the market is quickly adapting and sustainable biofuels are also being used rather than diesel. The City of Oslo is developing a 30-tonne battery- and hydrogen-powered digger in collaboration with NASTA, SINTEF, Skanska, Siemens and Bellona. By setting high standards, the City has pushed the industry to change, causing global ripples.
A restoration project in full swing in the Akerselva river
IMAGE: Clare Keogh / Europakommisjonen
Greener Blue Space: Reviving Oslo’s Waterways
Oslo has ten main waterways, equating to 354 km of rivers and streams. Once covered due to issues with pollution, sewage leakages, and convenience for urban development, they are now being reopened. This will help prevent flooding and is increasing biodiversity, water quality and recreational opportunities for residents. In the past decade, 2,810 metres of waterways have been reopened and the City plans to open up 30 more stretches, including an additional eight kilometres in the next decade.
Several of the projects are planned and developed as natural cleaning systems. Sedimentation basins, water rapids and shallow waters with dense vegetation for the uptake of excess nutrients provide a sustainable solution for water management and pollution control. The City endeavours to make the aquatic habitat and surrounding environment as natural as possible and create natural bottom substrates for invertebrates and fish. This has restored migration paths for fish, enabling breeding and population growth of migratory fish in the region—and where there are fish, there are people fishing! The Aker river offers urban fishing alongside swimming, salmon spotting and great riverside cafés when it’s time for a break, and even Alna Park in the middle of Oslo offers trout fishing in the river.
The Electric Gardener, Magnus Gommerud Nielsen, has been the driving force behind the electrification of the entire Agencies for Cemeteries
IMAGE: Oslo European Green Capital 2019
The Electric Gardener at Vestre Cemetery
Magnus Gommerud Nielsen is known as the Electric Gardener. In his 12 years as a gardener at Vestre Cemetery, he has pushed for the groundwork at Oslo’s cemeteries to be electrified. He has been replacing fossil-fuelled machinery for electric, and swapped tractors for bikes, contributing to the electrification of the entire Agency for Cemeteries in Oslo. While peers were sceptical, the City listened to his ideas and approved purchases of new electric equipment. Now his colleagues have taken to the new electric cargo bikes, and diesel tractors and petrol-powered equipment are all but gone. The cemeteries have also initiated meadow projects and perennial flower beds to increase biodiversity and attract pollinators.
Oslovian environmental group ByBi designed the world's first urban bee highway to help support bees living in city environments
IMAGE: Didrick Stenersen
The bee highway
Another scheme helping the city’s pollinators is the bee highway. In 2014, the urban guild of beekeepers ByBi began designing a project to create a bee highway through the city, ensuring that bees had a place to rest and eat as they travelled or migrated. Working alongside state bodies, businesses, associations, residents and school children, the guild created a ‘pollinator passage’ that includes parks, rooftop gardens, urban gardening projects and strategically placed beehives, stretching from Holmenkollen in the north-west, to Lake Nøkkelvann in the south-east.
Residents continue to support and expand the project by planting flowers on their balconies and erecting bug hotels, with some even getting their own beehives, so that there are now very few places in Oslo where a bee cannot get a meal and have a nap!
There are two particularly impressive beehives to be found on top of Dansens Hus in the Vulkan neighbourhood, near by the river Akerselva. These beehives were designed by Snøhetta, who also designed the Oslo Opera House. Nothing is too good for the bees!
The city's municipal government has established more than 10 meadows, and support workshops taught by botanists on scything and planting the bee zones. They’re also taken the bee highway into account when considering city planning. Vice Mayor for Environment and Transport, Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, says that Oslo wants to share what they've learned while establishing these projects with other cities.
“We know that we need to protect and restore biodiversity even as we build new homes. In a city that is growing fast, it’s also important to make it nice to live. That means good quality green areas,” she says. “We’d like to transfer the knowledge that we have to other cities.”
Holmenkollbakken ski jumping hill has been rebuilt 19 times since its inception in 1892 but loses none of its awe
IMAGE: Terje Bakke Pettersen
Green hospitality and green events in Oslo
As you’d expect, Oslo offers plenty of green event options. Oslo Congress centre has a total capacity of 1,400 people and years of experience at hosting a variety of events. The centre is Eco-Lighthouse certified and offers 25 well-equipped conference rooms and an exhibition area.
Norway Congress Centre, otherwise known as Norway Trade Fairs, is Norway’s biggest conference centre and its largest hall can seat 6,000 people. This Eco-Lighthouse certified venue is ideally located by the train station in Lillestrøm, between Oslo Central Station and Oslo Airport, offering easy access by public transport or car.
For something a little different, you could hold your event at the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, which offers 14 conference rooms, or Popsenteret, Oslo’s pop music museum, which has 3 conference rooms and banqueting capacity for 220 people. Both venues are Eco-Lighthouse certified.
Hotel groups known for their solid sustainability policies are well-represented in Oslo. The Scandic group has nine hotels here, including the historic Holmenkollen Park, just a few minutes from the famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump and offering fantastic views of the city and the fjord. The hotel holds the Swan eco-label and offers a spa and fitness centre, a gourmet restaurant and a café and pizzeria for more relaxed dining. There are numerous meeting rooms and event spaces, with the largest accommodating up to 800 people, and a total conference capacity of 1,500 participants.
Radisson Blu has two hotels in Oslo, and the Scandinavia has a cocktail bar on its 21st floor that offers great views of the city. It can accommodate a total of 1,000 conference participants, and its largest meeting room has capacity for 750 people.
The Thon group has 13 Oslo hotels. The Eco-Lighthouse-certified Hotel Opera is conveniently located next to Oslo Central Station with the Airport Express Train and great public transport links on its doorstep. Its largest meeting room accommodates 220 people and there’s capacity for 780 conference delegates in total.
For something a little different, Losby Manor is a beautiful manor house dating from 1850, situated on one of Norway's best golf courses. This hotel and conference centre holds the Eco-Lighthouse certification and offers a great activity programme (which obviously includes golf!). It can accommodate a maximum of 685 conference participants, with its largest meeting room accommodating 180 people.
Carefully tending to the delicate plants of Sofienberg Park's urban garden
IMAGE: Iselin Kristiansen
Sustainable dining in Oslo
The saying, “You are what you eat” is literally true, and foodies looking to be as green as their environmental values are certainly spoilt for choice in Oslo. The Urban Farm of Losæter, with its therapeutic ‘sensory garden’, chickens and beehives, is open to visitors. The farm says it has “room for everyone who wants to participate in the continuous creation of a green urban space in what used to be a pile of gravel.”
If eating food is more to your taste than growing it, visit Vippa Food Hall, a reused wharf building at Vippetangen pier, where cultures are brought together through their cuisines and employment is offered to immigrants and food entrepreneurs. Here, you’ll find international street-food made with short-travelled ingredients.
Sagene is an up-and coming district with a green-themed square. Nearby is the Ekte Vare Café, where you can enjoy dishes made with organic, short-travelled ingredients and shop in its grocery and home goods store, where products are carefully selected for ecology and sustainability and the emphasis is on supporting Norwegian small scale producers. One of the company’s chief objectives is to ‘become a hub for knowledge of food, ecology and sustainability’ and they run regular organic cooking courses.
Between March and October, you can take a ferry to the Bygdøy peninsula. The ferry departs every 20/30 minutes from City Hall Pier 3, stopping first at Dronningen, where you can visit the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Viking Ship Museum and then on to Bygdøynes, where you can spend time at the (the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Fram Museum. While you’re there, you can walk through the lovely urban forest with its fairy-tale sights and stop off at Sæterhytten, its picturesque wooden café, for a meal or a snack.
Whether it's biking or hiking you're after, there are miles of trails to discover in Oslo
IMAGE: Clare Keogh / Europakommisjonen
If you’re still craving museum experiences, 2020 is going to see the opening of Oslo’s new Munch Museum, new Deichman library and new National Museum; all currently being built in an environmentally conscious manner with features that minimise their carbon footprints.
Hikers will find plenty to see along the Akerselva river’s eight-kilometre hiking trail. You can spot salmon, crayfish, frogs, and around a hundred species of birds. The river has 20 waterfalls and Hjulafossen is the mightiest, reaching its peak in springtime. If you want to be on the water, Oslo offers island-hopping trips or kayaking, but if you feel more at home on land, you could try horse-riding or visit Oslo Summer Park, the city’s Eco-Lighthouse-certified climbing park offering 12 trails of varying difficulty.
When your busy day has built up your appetite, enjoy dinner at the three Michelin star restaurant Maaemo, serving world-class gourmet meals based on local and organic produce, or at the Restaurant Rest ('leftover'). Here, dishes are concocted from ingredients that other eateries are unlikely to use. Strangely shaped carrots and the usually discarded parts of the crab are just some of the items likely to be on the menu.
To finish off your evening, head to Torggata Botaniske Bar for a tasty, botanical cocktail made with fresh herbs. One of their most popular drinks is ‘Miss Basil’, made of gin, lemon, simple syrup and, of course, basil.
View of the eclectic Bjørvika Barcode office buildings from Ekeberg Park
IMAGE: OBR / Monocle Thomas Ekström
The Green City
There’s not room in an article to fully describe Oslo’s sustainable projects and plans: that would take a book. The city is so far ahead of the curve that they can barely see it! Greenpeace’s Living, Moving, Breathing report published in 2018 found that Oslo was the only city in their analysis that had emissions below both the European Union limit and the World Health Organization guidelines.
So it’s no surprise that Erik Solheim, the former-Executive Director of UN Environment, says he is proud of his hometown.
“Oslo is aiming to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time it is turning climate action into an opportunity,” he says.
“I hope that other cities around the world will be inspired by what Oslo is doing.”
To find out more about Oslo European Green Capital 2019 please visit the official website:
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