BY BILL PHILLIPS
Think our carbon reduction targets are tough?
They’re nothing compared to Vaxjo, Sweden. The city of 92,000 people, just slightly larger than Prince George, has decided to be fossil-fuel-free by 2030.
The environmental consciousness stems back to the 1970s when the community got tired of being surrounded by polluted lakes and decided to clean them up. The clean-up certainly helped the community.
Then, in the 1980s, an oil crisis hit.
“We had a decision to make,” said Mayor Anna Tenje at the opening of the Community Energy Workshop in Prince George Wednesday. “Do we want to be dependent on foreign oil and other resources that we can’t control? Or should we, instead, take care of the local resources that we have.”
Again, similar to Prince George, Vaxjo is surrounded by forest and the forest industry was doing well. However, not all of the fibre was being used. The community decided that rather than burn oil, it should burn biomass. The change wasn’t too difficult, Tenje said, as oil prices were high and the price to burn biomass was lower. The community already had a district heating system, so it was a natural fit and they expanded it.
“In 1996, we reached a decision in the municipality to be fossil-fuel-free in 2030,” said Tenje. “We were the first municipality in the world to make that decision. That made us quite famous, but it also was a very big commitment for our politicians.”
She stressed that the 1996 decision was unanimous and the municipality is as committed to achieving the goal today as it was 20 years ago. The business community is also committed to the plan.
“The companies in Vaxjo see the importance of being environmentally-friendly,” she said. “They see how they can use that in their marketing. We’ve seen that a lot of green-tech companies want to come to Vaxjo but we’ve also seen that other companies also want to take part of this, to be part of the Greenest City in Europe.”
The university, like here, also promotes being green and that, she said, draws students.
Another aspect of the plan is get buy-in from residents, who, she said, are very good at sorting household waste to feed local bio-gas plants for the city buses.
“They’re very committed as well,” she said.
While there are many similarities between Vaxjo and Prince George, there is one big difference that allows the Swedish city to press ahead with such a bold declaration as to be fossil-fuel free.
Sweden is a very decentralized country.
“The municipality has great power, concerning both taxation and the right to decide,” said Tenje.
The city budget is about $1 billion, however the municipality is also responsible for schools, seniors care, waste treatment, transportation and more.
“It is in the cities that things happen,” she said. “I won’t sit around and wait for the national government to legislate on things. I would prefer to see more cities, like Vaxjo and others, to go ahead, to be the frontrunners, and to do all of the things that you can’t do if you have to wait.”
Change, like becoming fossil-fuel-free, starts with the local government, she said.