It appears that Scandinavian countries do not like to be outdone by one another, even when it comes to combatting climate change. First out of the gates was Denmark, which recently made headlines for generating 140% of its national electricity demand on one very blustery day. Sweden took this to heart, declaring soon after that it would, through legislation, become the world’s first fossil fuel-free nation by the end of the century. Now, Norway has thrown its hat into this very laudable ring by announcing that it will permanently ban cars from its capital’s center by 2019, as reported in the Guardian.
This citywide traffic ban is part of an overarching plan to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 50% by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels. The newly elected city government plans to build at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) of cycle lanes by 2019, and invest heavily in public transport.
Although there is currently no specific detail from the new city government indicating how this might be undertaken, this target does seem to fit with the recent trend identified by the International Energy Agency: The world’s foremost nonpartisan authority on energy production has recently stated that 26% of the world will be powered by renewables by 2020.
This amounts to the first all-encompassing and permanent ban for any European capital, and is aimed in the short term at reducing local pollution. This is shown to be remarkably effective in several cities across the world that have toyed with temporary bans, including Paris, which normally suffers from crippling air pollution. In fact, the Oslo city council announced that they would study the experiences of other cities that have trialed similar schemes.
Beijing, one of the most dangerously polluted capitals in the world, barely has a day go by without a gray sky full of aerosols and toxic gases. For the 70th anniversary of their victory during the Second World War, the government planned to put on a gigantic parade. To this end, traffic was banned for several days from the city center. On an average day, Beijing rates 160 on the Air Pollution Index, meaning that there will be adverse health effects for everyone within the smoggy city. On the day of the parade, a blue sky emerged, and the API dropped to just 17.
Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen is already a frontrunner in reducing pollution levels, even if its city isn’t completely free of cars. Over half the population cycles to and from work every day, using its more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) of bicycle lanes, with more superhighways for bikes being built every day to reach the suburbs. Perhaps this new announcement by Oslo’s city government will spur Denmark into banning cars from its capital’s streets once and for all too.
It’s certainly better than the slap on the wrist the U.K. has just received from the United Nations’ chief environmental scientist: this island nation is reneging on its earlier renewable energy commitments. In the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference, it looks like Scandinavia is setting the best example.