Seeing green

Seeing green
© Rob Dammers

PEN profiles smart and sustainable strategies in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, which has been named European Green Capital 2018.

The European Green Capital award is given out annually to a European city with high environmental standards. An initiative of the European Commission, the award seeks to highlight a city that is demonstrating leadership at the cutting edge of environmental policy and smart technology, and delivering on commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change.

This year, the title of European Green Capital was awarded to Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in celebration of the efforts the city has made to embrace innovation and reduce its environmental impact. Nijmegen is the first Dutch city to receive the award, and has planned a number of initiatives throughout 2018 to demonstrate its excellence in a number of green sectors, including food investment, health, and the green environment, as well as sustainability in technology and innovation. Despite being the Netherlands’ oldest city, Nijmegen describes itself as a city of the future, embracing novel solutions and engaging in the sharing of best practices with other cities – including former European Green Capital winners such as Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Essen, Germany – to create green jobs and opportunities.

Cities vying for the title of European Green Capital must demonstrate their commitment to 12 criteria which are pre-requisites for leadership in environment, including: climate change; local traffic; urban green space; biodiversity; air quality; acoustic ambience; waste management; water economy; sewage management; eco-innovation; power efficiency; and environmental management. Developing best practice in these areas allows each European Green Capital titleholder to serve as an inspiration to other cities in their efforts to fight climate change and become more sustainable.

Among these criteria, Nijmegen has outlined a number of goals that it hopes to achieve during its year as European Green Capital, which will foster innovation in the city, invite external investment, and promote an agenda of renewable energy and sustainability. These goals include: implementing a more comprehensive sustainability policy; accelerating ongoing environmental projects; strengthening the regional economy in the surrounding area by focusing on health, energy and sustainability; addressing the specific challenges faced by medium-sized cities; and increasing its reputation as a green innovation hub in Europe and beyond.

To support this, Nijmegen has published a manifesto outlining its ambitions in more detail, and holding itself responsible for achieving them. The programme of new measures and events is divided into five key areas: protecting and expanding green spaces in cities; the transition towards solar and wind energy; water use and conservation; the circular economy; and smart and sustainable mobility.

Smart transport

The development of a manifesto, along with concrete actions to help achieve green goals, is vital to the planning and management of a smart city, and is most effective if it is built on areas in which the city has already demonstrated success. For example, much of Nijmegen’s smart mobility policy is structured around its bicycle-friendly infrastructure, including a network of cycle paths which makes it easy for commuters to switch from a car to a bicycle in making journeys. Given that cities are often responsible for enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, the move towards more sustainable modes of transport is more urgent than ever.

To encourage this, Nijmegen plans to increase its focus on shared vehicle concepts, such as the shared city bike systems seen in cities such as Helsinki, Finland, and Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as mobile applications which facilitate car sharing over long and short journeys. As there are already effective examples of bike-sharing systems in operation, Nijmegen can benefit from the sharing of best practice, including with previous winners. Some cities have already expanded beyond simple bike sharing to offer electric bikes, which means that cyclists are able to make longer journeys; this in turn could encourage even more commuters to switch from a car to a bicycle.

Additionally, innovations such as smart ticketing and the transition towards renewable fuels for buses could encourage people to switch to public transport rather than personal vehicles. The Nijmegen bus fleet already runs on green fuels, meaning that they are a much more environmentally friendly than taking a car, and so the city’s priority now is to encourage as many people to make use of them as possible. This serves the city’s goal of driving uptake of both public transport, bicycles, and other more sustainable modes of transportation in order to significantly reduce its environmental impact.

Smart energy

Another area in which innovation can drive more sustainable practices is in the transition towards renewable energy, not only in transport but in all sectors. Nijmegen has set an ambitious target that its energy sector be carbon neutral by 2045, which will require new methods of generating and storing electricity, monitoring the efficiency of its use, and meeting fluctuating capacity requirements. The city is extending its existing partnerships and reaching out to companies, housing corporations, universities and residents, both in the city itself and in the wider region, to develop a network of innovation to drive this transition forward.

One technology which is at the forefront of making energy use more efficient is the smart meter, which could be used by Nijmegen to monitor energy use; this could help to identify surges in demand, and to develop technologies which can allow the energy grid to respond effectively. In this, the development of an innovation network will be vital, as the implementation of smart grid technology will require a collaborative effort between stakeholders across all sectors.

One example of this has recently been announced in the UK as part of a plan which could see a return of £17bn (~€19.3bn) into the country’s economy by 2050, as well as having a revolutionary impact on the environmental consequences of energy use. The plan will see private owners of properties or vehicles equipped with solar panels able to sell the energy they generate back to network operators, or potentially even directly to consumers, creating a number of smaller, regional energy markets all over the country working in tandem with the national system.

The technology to facilitate this development has already been trialled at a small scale, and could prove valuable in the Netherlands for changing the way that renewables interact with existing energy systems, as well as incentivising greater uptake – such as the installation of solar panels – among the general public. The breadth of the reforms that are necessary to implement a regionally targeted energy system carries with it a need for broad stakeholder engagement, and an innovation network such as the one that Nijmegen is developing could facilitate the type of communication that could make this possible.

The fact that Nijmegen has received the title of European Green Capital 2018 demonstrates that the city is already a global leader in smart and sustainable cities, and the additional commitments it has made show that the city recognises this responsibility, and is on track to deliver innovation and become a truly green city.

 

This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 24, which will be published in January, 2018.

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