Copenhagen has been elected as the greenest city in Europe...

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Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo
ranked the greenest cities in Europe

A report by Siemens, reviewed by Brian Baker

3 March 2010: Scandinavian cities occupy the top three places in a European environmental index. Copenhagen leads the index overall, coming marginally ahead of Stockholm, while third placed Oslo rounds off the trio of Scandinavian cities. Fellow Nordic capital Helsinki follows in seventh place. Vienna, Amsterdam and Zurich occupy fourth, fifth and sixth places, respectively.

The goal of the Green Cities Index, produced by Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit. is to allow key stakeholder groups — such as city administrators, policymakers, infrastructure providers, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), urban sustainability experts, and citizens — to compare their city’s performance against others overall, and within each category. The index also allows for comparisons across cities clustered by a certain criteria, such as geographic region or income group. In short, this tool is provided in the hope that it will help European cities move towards being a bigger part of the solution to climate change and other environmental challenges.
Europe’s 30 greenest cities
1 Copenhagen; 2 Stockholm; 3 Oslo; 4 Vienna; 5 Amsterdam; 6 Zurich; 7 Helsinki; 8 Berlin; 9 Brussels; 10 Paris; 11 London; 12 Madrid; 13 Vilnius; 14 Rome; 15 Riga; 16 Warsaw; 17 Budapest; 18 Lisbon; 19 Ljubljana; 20 Bratislava; 21 Dublin; 22 Athens; 23 Tallinn; 24 Prague; 25 Istanbul; 26 Zagreb; 27 Belgrade; 28 Bucharest; 29 Sofia; 30 Kiew

There is a strong correlation between wealth and a high overall ranking on the index. Nine of the top 10 cities in the index have a GDP per head (measured at purchasing power parity, PPP) of more than €31,000. In many ways, this is unsurprising: wealthier cities can invest more heavily in energy-efficient infrastructure and afford specialist environmental managers, for example. Wealth isn’t everything, however: some individual cities punch above their weight within individual sub-categories: low-income Vilnius, for example, leads the air quality category; while Berlin, with a relatively low GDP per head, tops the buildings category and is ranked eighth overall.   

Among east European cities (which also represent the low-income cities of the index, with GDP per head below €21,000), Vilnius performs best of all, ranked in 13th place. It is followed most closely by Riga, in 15th place. The rest of the east European cities rank at the bottom of the index. The wealth divide aside, these cities also face the legacy of history, dealing with decades of environmental neglect during the communist period. This is most visible in the poorly insulated concrete-slab mass housing that was widely used, as well as the remains of highly polluting heavy industry. Although many have innovative ideas regarding specific environmental initiatives, such as a “lottery” in Ljubljana that promotes the sorting of waste for recycling, these cities must also balance with other pressing issues, ranging from unemployment and economic growth to informal settlements.   

The index shows little overall correlation between city size and performance. However, the leading cities in both the East and the West do tend to be smaller, with populations of less than 1 million. To some degree, this makes sense: physically smaller cities make it easier for people to cycle or walk to work, for example. However, wealth, and more importantly experience, can overcome the difficulties of size as policies that take advantage of environmental economies of scale, such as district heating or large public transport networks, come into their own. Accordingly, the index’s larger cities, with populations of three million or more, perform relatively well, generally occupying the top half of the rankings. Berlin does best overall (8th), followed closely by Paris (10th), London (11th) and Madrid (12th). This isn’t universal, though: Athens (22nd) and Istanbul (25th) both perform relatively poorly.

The index also attempts to provide a measure of current environment performance by the 32 cities. It uses 30 indicators, 16 of the quantitative and 14 qualitative, and groups them in 8 categories.

Results are calculated and displayed for overall performance and for each individual category. The eight categories are Carbon emissions, Energy, Buildings, Transport, Water, waste and land use, Air quality and Environmental governance. Oslo, Stockholm and Zurich score best in the CO2 category, while Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen were judged to have Europe’ greenest transport infrastructure.

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