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How Oslo Plans to Achieve the World’s Most Ambitious Emissions Targets

Oslo, Norway has a much more ambitious plan than most when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The city plans to cut its GHG emissions in half compared to 1990 levels, in only four years – faster than any city or country has made changes in the past, according to Fast CoExist. At the same time, if we want to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it’s the pace we need.

“[Oslo] is certainly the only city or region that I know of that has a goal which is consistent with 1.5 degrees,” said Glen Peters, senior researcher at Norway's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research.

For comparison, New York City’s plans to cut GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050, which is expected to be a challenge, and France’s shift to nuclear power from fossil fuels only reduced emissions by about 5 percent per year. Adding to Oslo’s challenge, the city already gets most of its electricity from hydropower and is not reliant on fossil fuels. As Fast CoExist points out, this means that rather than focusing on changing its energy mix, Oslo will have to focus most of its efforts on reducing pollution from waste disposal and transportation, and other problems.

In 2015, the city decided to ban private cars from the city center, and has new plans to switch all taxis away from gas and make public transit ‘fossil fuel-free’ by 2020. More bike lanes are being built and other new infrastructure is expected to reduce freight emissions. The city also plans to implement more parking restrictions, even though bike lanes are already replacing street parking in some areas – much to the annoyance of some residents. Others, however, are starting to see the benefits.

“Because there's no parking, there's basically no cars in the street,” Peters said of his own street, where parking was converted into a bike lane. “You don’t have to worry about the kids getting run over, and it’s quiet. It’s just like walking down a car-free street. I think people will see that and think, ‘Oh, it’s actually quite nice not to have cars coming down the street.’”

Bike sharing isn’t new in the city, and it is becoming more popular as the network of bike lanes expands. Peters said he sees a “stream of bikes” on his way to work. “I think it’s reinforcing that people see there's another way,” he added. “It’s actually quite convenient. I don’t have to get my bike stolen if I park it in the city, and I don’t have to decide if I want to ride my bike or not, I can just take a city bike.”

The transportation changes are but a few of the 42 measures that the city is planning to implement to reduce emissions. Others include phasing out oil-heated apartments and houses, and if funding allows, adding a carbon capture and storage system to a plant that burns waste for district heating.

Of course, these changes are thanks to the election of Greens and other left-wing parties to a majority of seats in the city council in 2015, who immediately went into action. If Oslo succeeds, it could encourage other cities to change their thinking about what is politically or technically feasible.