Helsinki Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson all collaborated on clean city initiatives at the 2016 Globe Series on Friday and Robertson acknowledged his city is still playing catch up on the European nations in their “friendly competition” to become the greenest city in the world.
“Right now we’re about 31 per cent renewable,” he told the roundtable audience. “Almost all our electricity is from renewable sources — the big challenges for us are with transportation and with the heat of our buildings.”
Both Copenhagen and Helsinki have made greater strides with energy efficient infrastructure and transportation using innovative district heating and cooling methods, upgrading old homes, and reducing reliance on personal vehicles.
Robertson said, with gas-fired power so cheap, one of the biggest challenges for Vancouver is to incentivise greener practices in heating homes.
“We’re behind in that target,” he explained. “We need fresh approaches to that and technology that will enable it. If there were a higher price on carbon that might make a difference because a lot of homes are heated by natural gas.”
Both Copenhagen and Helsinki have vibrant heating and cooling systems that don’t use fossil fuels. In Copenhagen, 98 per cent of houses are linked to a super-efficient district heating system that captures waste heat from electricity production normally released into the sea, and channels it back through pipes into peoples’ homes.
This has helped the city reduce its emissions by 50 per cent from 1995 levels, putting it well on its way to being carbon neutral by 2025. Helsinki too, has an award-winning district heating and cooling system with a 90 per cent efficiency rate based on an annual reduction of 40 per cent of overall carbon emissions.
“We need to be more aggressive on renewable energy,” said Robertson. “That’s a piece we’re learning from European cities like Copenhagen, Helsinki — European cities that are further ahead of us.”
He didn’t mention specifically if such a strategy could work for Vancouver, but said there will be plenty of other opportunities.