SHARE
COPY LINK

EUROPEAN UNION

Stockholm’s Green City award: it’s what you can’t see that counts

A fisherman braces to reel in a large, wriggling salmon, its scales glistening in the sun as he lays his catch down, not on a sandy river bank but on the bustling cobblestone walkway outside parliament, at the very heart of the Swedish capital.

Stockholm's Green City award: it's what you can't see that counts

The sight is not uncommon in Stockholm, which this year was singled out for the European Union’s first ever Green Capital award.

“The environment here is good, it’s beautiful, it’s clean,” summed up Anna Elig, a 37 year-old Stockholm dweller pushing her eight-week-old daughter’s carriage through the city centre on a cool, sunny afternoon.

“All the moms and dads who are on parental leave go out for walks around the city … This wouldn’t work in Paris,” she chuckled, strolling along the broad walkway near the sparkling water.

With 40 percent of the inner city composed of green spaces, the Baltic Sea archipelago city seems a natural place to begin the European Commission’s Green Capital initiative.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Katarina Eckerberg, a professor of political science and head of an environmental institute.

“Stockholm has a highly developed environmental policy, and any foreigner who comes here is probably surprised that we can benefit from nature as much as we do in the very center of town,” she said.

Revelling in nature is a way of life in Sweden, so deeply engrained in the national character that widespread environmental activism already began here as long as 50 years ago.

“Maybe it’s because (Sweden) is so sparsely populated and many of us have summer cottages, that Swedes have such a high regard for the environment,” Gustaf Landahl, who heads Stockholm’s environment and planning department, told AFP.

Even in Stockholm, virtually all residents live within walking distance of lakes, hiking trails and other natural settings, and stepping into a pair of cross-country skis outside their front door is commonplace.

It’s a capital that “all along had the privilege of being a town built on water,” said Eckerberg, and Stockholmers are ready to defend this privilege.

In the 1960s, when pollution forced Stockholmers to stop fishing or swimming in downtown areas, a bottom-up movement emerged to clean up city waters, Eckerberg said.

Today, the salmon caught there is edible and swimming poses no health risk.

But what impressed the European Commission, the EU executive body, was not what they could see, but what they couldn’t.

“I spoke to the evaluation committee and I think what impressed them the most is how we’ve been able to reduce our CO2 emissions,” Landahl said.

Indeed, the city brought environment-damaging carbon dioxide emissions down to 3.4 tonnes per capita in 2009 and hopes to slash that to 3.0 tonnes by 2015.

In Sweden as a whole, CO2 emissions are only six tonnes per capita, as compared to the European average of 10 tonnes per capita.

Stockholm’s efforts have focussed on the two biggest environmental culprits: road transport and heating, which together account for 43 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

In a city where freezing winter temperatures can last up to five months, this was a challenge. One solution was investing in district heating, which hooks up 75 percent of buildings in the capital to central heating plants that run primarily on renewables and also produce electricity.

And in the transport sector, “we’ve been able to reduce emissions even though the municipality has grown,” Landahl said proudly, noting that in the rest of Europe transport emissions tend to rise as cities expand.

Stockholm officials tirelessly campaign against residents using their own cars, and even during the long, cold winters 19 percent of Stockholmers bike or walk to work, according to figures from 2007. In summer, that number jumps to 33 percent.

Many others in the spread-out capital region also ride public transport, to the point that figures published by the city show that the number of users continues to rise each month.

Despite the award, there are those who feel the EU’s first Green Capital could do more.

“Even in Stockholm, there is a lot of discussion and disputes about whether some current developments are in line with environmental considerations or not,” Eckerberg noted.

A major problem, she said, was the booming real estate development along the waterfront that at points has blocked public access and risks endangering the delicate Baltic Sea ecosystem.

“There’s much more to be done,” she said. “More could always be done.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

SHOW COMMENTS