Next stop, climate neutral

by Beatrice Rindevall

Nonstop (Issue III/2019)

Stockholm has set itself high climate goals. By 2040 the historic but fast-growing city wants to be completely climate neutral. Its inner-city mostly comprises islands and the water around the city centre enhances the metropole’s beauty, but distracts from its accessibility for road users. There are very few crossings between northern and southern parts of the city and it can get crowded during the rush hour. The car fumes, in particular, represent a big challenge for Stockholm’s climate targets. “Since 1990 we have lowered polluting emissions by forty percent, especially in heating and power generation, but we are not making any progress when it comes to traffic,” complains Katarina Luhr, representative of the city's Environmental Protection Agency. Cars are more efficient and fuels are cleaner but overall emissions have not decreased because the number of vehicles continues to climb. The city has set itself an ambitious target to get a grip on damaging emissions: By 2030, petrol and diesel vehicles will no longer be allowed on the roads and electricity will be generated exclusively from renewable sources.

That is an ambitious goal, not least when you consider that people living in Stockholm make more than two million trips every day. Forecasts also show that the number of inhabitants in Stockholm is set to rise by a quarter by 2030. For that reason, Stockholm’s environmental protection programme aims to build up pedestrian, bike and public transport. To be precise, that means banning dirty cars from the city, forming new environmental zones, creating new lanes solely for public transport, and transforming existing parking spaces into bike lanes.

Until now Stockholm had one environmental zone, which spanned the entire city centre and regulated heavy goods transport on specific streets. From next January, two new zones will be created. In the environmental zone 2, petrol and diesel vehicles will need to fulfil the European emissions standard 5. These regulations also apply to hybrid vehicles and cars which are fuelled by biogas or natural gas. By summer 2022 the requirements for diesel vehicles will be tightened and only vehicles which meet the stricter Euro-Norm 6 will be allowed into the environmental zone. The third environmental zone is the most restrictive: Only electric cars, fuel-cell cars and vehicles powered by gas which meet the European norm 6 will be allowed. According to calculations by the analyst firm Vrooms, only 30 percent of the cars which currently circulate in the city, will be able to drive in the environmental zone 2.

To push back car transport, Stockholm has ushered in so-called “summer streets”. In 2015 the city began converting car lanes into pedestrian lanes. In the first year, the plan only affected two streets in the Södermalm area, but in the meanwhile, it covers around 20 streets across the entire metropolis. Cars and parking spaces have vanished, to make way for benches, flowers and wider street cafes.

In Stockholm there are increasing numbers of electric scooters and rickshaw-like battery-powered pod taxis. Purchases of electric bikes are financially subsidised but the city emphasizes traditional bicycles: Right now the bike-route network is being built up and existing lanes are being expanded. Over the past 15 years, pedal-power has gone from strength to strength, with cycling climbing by almost 85 percent. Despite the extended period of snow and cold, increasing numbers even pedal during the winter: A quarter of Stockholm residents use their bike throughout the entire year.

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