Unique municipal collaboration accelerates climate action

Almost all Danish municipalities and the country’s five regions have joined DK2020, a unique collaboration to develop local climate action plans and speed up adaptation and mitigation efforts across the country. Just across the Skagerrak strait, 170 Norwegian municipalities are taking action by directly integrating climate budgeting into their operating budgets. This means that all activities are assessed by their climate impact.

C40 Cities-approved action plans

The DK2020 initiative is based on a standard developed by C40 Cities, a network of almost 100 world-leading cities using their power to deliver urgent climate action. DK2020 supports the municipalities in living up to the commitments of the Paris Agreement and becoming climate-neutral and climate-resilient by 2050.

“We now have 95 of Denmark’s 98 municipalities developing climate action plans following the C40 Cities standard, which is one of the most ambitious in the world,” says Anna Esbjørn, Head of the Cities of the Future Programme at sustainable think tank CONCITO. “The 96th municipality, the City of Copenhagen, already has a C40-approved action plan.”

By joining DK2020, the municipalities commit to reducing their emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. The initiative is a partnership between philanthropic association Realdania, KL – Local Government Denmark, and the five Danish regions, with CONCITO and C40 as knowledge partners. It is the first time the framework has been applied in climate action planning for smaller cities and municipalities.

“Danish local authorities are required by law to make climate adaptation plans, but there is no mention of mitigation,” says Esbjørn. “As a consequence, we could see that the mitigation aspect was missing from most municipal climate plans. The DK2020 framework offers a more integrated approach, focusing on adaption and mitigation, governance and collaboration, and, not least, inclusivity and the wider benefits of climate action.”

A new method based on climate budgets

In Norway, 170 municipalities are designing their climate plans using a method based on carbon budgeting, initially developed in Oslo. The idea is that the carbon budgets are integrated with the municipalities’ operational budgets and that all expenditure and activities are assessed on their potential to deliver emissions.

“The method was first used in Oslo six years ago,” says Kjetil Bjørklund, Climate Advisor at the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities. “The purpose is to show the financial consequences of the climate measures and the climate impact of the activities in the budget. The climate budget outlines the reduction measures and assesses the cost and expected emissions reductions from each one. An important part of the process is to nominate the unit responsible for carrying out and reporting back on each activity.”

The method has already proven its worth. Whereas emissions in Oslo increased by 15 per cent between 1990 and 2017, they are now declining. Oslo’s target is to reduce direct emissions by 52 per cent by 2023 and by 95 per cent by 2030, compared with 2009. Every year, more and more cities are using carbon budgets in their climate planning.

“We see that the municipalities using this method find better ways to address their climate targets and identify the measures they need to fill the gaps,” says Bjørklund, who also emphasises the knowledge sharing between the municipalities. “Oslo has used its platform and experience to guide several other municipalities in designing their carbon budgets. That’s one of the key reasons why this has become so successful.”

Twenty climate action plans already completed

The first twenty municipalities joined DK2020 in 2019, while the project was still in its pilot stages. They have now finalised their climate action plans.

“In the beginning, we launched an open call for climate-ambitious municipalities,” says Esbjørn. The lead-up was short; the municipalities only had six weeks to ensure political commitment and apply for the programme. “Despite the short notice, we received 31 applications, which by far exceeded our expectations and shows that the municipalities are eager to play their part in the green transition.”

All 95 municipalities follow the same method, adapted to the local conditions in each area. For example, more than 95 per cent of the emissions from the municipality of Lolland in southeast Denmark come from activities related to energy, transport, and agriculture. Consequently, Lolland has a particular focus on these areas, striving for a CO2-neutral energy sector by 2030 and net-zero emissions from transport by 2050.

All twenty action plans can be downloaded – in Danish – from KL’s website.

Essential involvement from municipalities

According to Esbjørn and Bjørklund, the regions and municipalities play a vital role in reaching the national climate targets in the two countries. Denmark’s goal is to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

“Denmark cannot reach these goals without support from the municipalities,” says Anna Esbjørn. “However, despite their importance, the municipalities are not mentioned in the Danish national climate plan. The DK 2020 platform and network is one way of giving the municipalities a common voice and pushing the legislation in a direction that better supports municipal climate action.”

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