What Stockholm can teach the world about green urban development

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm, City of Stockholm


  • Stockholm is leading example of how urban innovation can foster entrepreneurship.
  • The city is offering testbeds for climate-smart ideas and enabling businesses to scale-up low-carbon solutions.
  • Mayor Anna König Jerlmyr shares her thoughts on the city’s integrated approach for green urban development.

Cities around the world are currently on the frontline of tackling climate change. With growing urban populations, common challenges range from provision of housing, energy, waste, and transportation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges have become even more prominent and as we begin our recovery, there is a desire to build back better and greener.

Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, is looking to lead the way as a global role model for this green transition. As a member of the supervisory board of the Net Zero Carbon Cities programme, I would like to share my thoughts on the city’s integrated approach for climate-smart urban development and examples from its partnership with local actors to create sustainable spillover effects.

For many years, Stockholm has had high ambitions to reduce emissions, with the goal of becoming fossil-free and climate positive by 2040.

Stockholm has been growing rapidly and even though we saw a temporary decline in the number of people who moved to the city during the pandemic, we expect the growth to continue as we reopen our city. But as the city grows, all new Stockholmers need housing, workplaces and public services. In other words, the city needs to expand, but also maintain a high quality and sustainable infrastructure.

Cities need to consider how they can, for example, find smart solutions for energy efficiency and reduce climate impact while also creating more jobs and supporting local businesses.

Stockholm is offering testbeds for the research and business communities’ climate-smart ideas. By doing so, the city is enabling businesses to scale-up their low-carbon solutions, while also creating a hub for innovation and start-ups.

The Stockholm Royal Seaport is a current testbed where new ideas and methods are tried out with the goal to also inspire other cities, companies, and researchers. The project is located at a former industrial site and brownfield-area and is one of the largest urban development areas in northern Europe.

It is being transformed into a waterfront urban district with social facilities, 12,000 new homes and 35,000 workplaces. For example, the large space offers opportunities to try out new materials and construction methods for low-energy buildings, waste management and circular resources.

Stockholmers are put at the centre of the district’s transformation. As a result of keeping locals involved throughout the process, we are hoping to bring about long-term and actual sustainable behavioural changes.

By having a continuous dialogue with locals and also considering aspects such as feminist urban planning, we can make sure that both men and women feel included as our cities grow.

We must remember that public spaces are the core of urban life. This is where we as a city can make room for unexpected encounters between people of different ages and backgrounds. For me as a mayor, it is fundamental that we create public spaces that are welcoming and safe for everyone. Cities

What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?

Cities are responsible for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are home to over half of the world’s population—a number that will grow to two-thirds by 2050. By going greener, cities could contribute more than half of the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to less than 2°c, which would be in line with the Paris Agreement.

To achieve net-zero urban emissions by 2050, the World Economic Forum is partnering with other stakeholders to drive various initiatives to promote sustainable urban development. Here are just a few:

To learn more about our initiatives to promote zero-carbon cities and to see how you can be part of our efforts to facilitate urban transformation, reach out to us here.

To actively include residents in all phases of the urban planning also plays an important role for the many climate-smart solutions that are being tested within the project. We should always try to make it as easy as possible for people to opt for more sustainable choices. But to do so, first we need to learn more about the preferences of the people who will be making them.

Within the project, ongoing consultations with citizens have led to the expansion of pedestrian and bicycle lanes and the development of more intuitive recycling systems. Together with over 150 households in the area, researchers also conducted a study to test smart energy solutions. Through this, residents became more aware of their energy consumption as they could view it on an app in real time, and in turn control both their spending and climate impact by using their appliances in a smarter way.

Another interesting initiative, which embraces an integrated approach to accelerate decarbonization, emerged from transport.

Together with key players from the business community, we initiated an “electrification pact” (Elektrifieringspakten) to expand the city’s charging infrastructure, and by doing so stimulate the sales and use of electric vehicles. The electrification of the transport sector is one of the most central measures needed to pave the way for a fossil-free society. The pact marks an important step in the work for Stockholmers to feel confident when investing in electric vehicles, knowing that the city has a good charging infrastructure to match it.

By strengthening the cooperation between the City of Stockholm and industry we are also hoping for a spillover effect, where businesses can inspire each other to adopt more ambitious environmental and climate goals.

We all need to speed up our actions in the coming years to fulfil the Paris Agreement, but we can’t do it alone. Participation and consultation must be stimulated to create local motivation and support for a sustainable shift, both regarding our citizens and our businesses.

Read the report Urban Transformation: Integrated Energy Solutions.

All cities around the world face common challenges, related to the provision of housing, water, energy, transport and waste management.

Achieving net zero at city scale will require a transformation in how energy is produced, distributed and consumed in support of these services. This briefing paper shows how the built environment and mobility can serve as the foundations to kickstart urban transformation and decarbonization anywhere in the world. To support the implementation phase, the authors also recommend addressing four critical success factors, namely the push of integrated policies and circularity, data collection and co-benefits tracking, public engagement and district-level initiatives.

This is how any city can start their net zero journey.

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