Tackling climate change one city — and carbon budget — at a time

A governance tool for reaching the municipalities emission targets, Oslo’s ‘Climate Budget’ budgets the city’s CO2 emissions in a similar manner to the city’s finances.


Anne-Sophie Garrigou

The Beam’s editor-in-chief, Anne-Sophie Garrigou, reports from COP25 in Madrid


“Oslo is part of a global trend. More than 55 % of people live in cities and urban areas today; a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. So we need to find climate-friendly solutions so that all those people can live in our cities,” explains Vegar Andersen, one of Oslo’s seven Vice Mayors.

Cities are already responsible for around 70 % of global green gas emissions today. They also have huge financial resources to localise, and many of them are already threatened by the climate crisis. A few municipalities around the world are taking bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Oslo, which was designated European Green Capital in 2019, wants to be position itself as a role model to other cities.

The city’s ambition is to reduce its global emissions by 50 % by 2020 and by 95 % by 2030. “CO2 emissions is a political matter and must be dealt with in a matter of government,” says Andersen. In 2017, the city developed a Climate Budget as a governance tool for efforts to achieve these targets. Oslo’s Climate Budget is fully integrated into the budget of the government. It’s a management tool for achieving the city’s goal to become zero-emission by 2030, and it is directly linked to Oslo’s financial budget.

Wha does a Climate Budget do?

A Climate Budget like the one implemented in Oslo shows whether the existing measures to reach climate targets are sufficient. It also imposes an obligation on all municipal bodies to submit regular status reports on the climate measures for which they are responsible.

Oslo wants to create a livelier urban society, with more green spaces, better air quality, and easier access to nature and opportunities for outdoor recreation and prioritise climate measures that will help to achieve the city’s emission goals. But this doesn’t come without efforts. “Everyone must contribute and look towards the same direction. Everyone must want to decrease emissions and everyone must be held accountable,” says Oslo’s Vice Mayor.

Everyone, meaning all sectors. The 36 measures within the Oslo’s Climate Budget have been developed to tackle GHG emissions from waste, buildings, and transport sectors.

Transport is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Norwegian capital. “Road traffic is the largest emissions source in the city, and accounted for 54 % of all emissions in 2016,” explains Vegar Andersen. The rapid phasing out of fossil-fuelled vehicles is therefore essential for the achievement of Oslo’s climate goals. The city is now implementing a variety of strategies in order to improve accessibility and the capacity in the public transport system. The goal is to reduce car traffic into the city by 20 %. The city also wants to implement a rapid transition to low- and zero-emission vehicles. At the start of 2018, already 17.5 % of privately owned cars in Oslo were chargeable vehicles. The city also shows its ambition to keep well-maintained bike roads and lanes throughout the year to improve security and accessibility. “That might come as a surprise, but people in Oslo are biking all year round!”, adds Anderson. 60 kilometres of additional bike roads or lanes are planned to be built on a network of prioritised stretches.

When it comes to the buildings, Oslo wants to encourage fossil-free construction projects and reinforced efforts to promote fossil-free construction practices. A ban on fossil heating fuels will come into effect in 2020 for the building sector. Waste treatment is another priority: “We have a circularity approach to waste,” explains Andersen adding that the city currently recycles 40 % of its waste, and aims to reach 60 % by 2030.

Earlier this week, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa said that if we manage to address climate change in cities, we’ll be in a very good situation to address the global challenge. “I believe what is important is that climate change is embedded in all planning and agenda of all level of government. So addressing climate change doesn’t become a side program for those governments,” she added.

Oslo’s climate budget was the first document of its kind in the world, but other cities like New York City are considering Norway-style bill to budget climate emissions like finances. This is the kind of ambitious climate action the world needs. And we need it now.

Picture Copyrights: Oliver Cole. Oslo.