With the inability of governments around the world to take immediate and concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, many cities, towns and even villages across Europe are forging ahead with their own initiatives to cut carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming.
From Vaxjo, in southern Sweden, to major cities like London, Munich and Paris, Europeans are taking the lead and using novel ways to reduce their carbon footprints, with some of them achieving emission cuts that exceeded those prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol. Here are some heartwarming examples of what an environment-conscious citizenry can achieved :
Woodchip fuel, VaxjoVaxjo, Sweden
This southern city of 78,000 in Sweden, which aims to be completely free of fossil fuels eventually, has been using leftover products from forestry industry and sawmills, namely fir and pine chips, to generate electricity. Its centralised "district heating system", running on the low-emitting woodchip fuel, provides about 90 per cent of local heating needs. Ashes from the process are also brought back to fertilize the forest.
With emissions from cars being a major contributor to carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, Vaxjo has also been encouraging its citizens to use bicycles as the main mode of transport. Snow is cleared from the cycle paths before roads and its bicycle network has also been expanded. So successful has been its efforts that Vaxjo has managed to cut greenhouse gases emissions by 30 per cent since 1996 and is confident it can get a 50 per cent cut by 2010. Visitors from all over the world also come to see what can be done on a local level.
Photo-voltaic panels, Woking
An early pioneer in adopting environmental-friendly practices, this town south of London has gained a reputation as Britain's greenest city. With its solar-powered street lights, photo-voltaic panels and energy-efficient power generators, it has managed to cut carbon emissions by about 20 per cent since 1990. Enterprising solutions like installing photo-voltaic panels on top of glass-roofed structures along its roads, generates more than 50,000Kwh of energy every year and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40 tonnes annually. Thanks to its alternative energy supplies, parts of Woking will remain lit even if the national energy grid were to go down.
This tiny town in Austria is the first community in the European Union to cut carbon emissions by more than 90 percent since 1995. Using a technology that produces natural gas from scrap lumber, which is use to drive the town's power plants, Gussing generates about 22 megawatt hours of power a year, more than enough to meet its energy needs and sells the surplus of 8 megawatt hours to the national grid.
Big signs of "Eco-Energy Land" greet visitors to the town and its alternative and renewable energy movements have spawned an entire "eco" industry with many companies producing power, heat and fuels from sawdust, corn, cooking oil and creating more than 1,000 jobs. So determined is this tiny outpost in Austria in seeking alternative energy that it is now embarking on a major project to harness the power of the sun through a 50 million euros plant built by Solon AG Fuer Solartechnik of Germany, which is scheduled to begin operation next year.
"Velib" bicycle scheme, ParisCities
Major metropolises in Europe are also doing their part in reducing their carbon footprints. In Barcelona, through its Solar Thermal Ordinance, all new and renovated buildings are required to be fitted with solar panels to generate at least 60 per cent of the energy needed for hot water production while in Munich, old buildings are been refurbished to tackle energy wastage through poor insulation.
The Europeans are also tackling the fastest-growing source of carbon-emissions in cities : transport. Paris has its "Velib" free bicycle rental scheme, a self-service bicycle-hire scheme that is available round the clock to encourage people to cut down usage of cars. Similar bicycle schemes can also be found in Copenhagen, Helsinki and Brussels. In London, its much-admired congestion charge has tremendously cut down weekday traffic through the city centre. And through the Climate Alliance of European Cities, a grouping of more than 1,400 cities and municipalities across Europe, the Europeans have also set the ambitious target of cutting carbon emissions by 10 per cent every five years.
Cities covers just 1 per cent of the earth's surface but are home to more than half the world's population. They consume about 75 per cent of global energy and are responsible for 80 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases emissions. As a result, it is cities that have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change and it is also in cities that climate and sustainability solutions are to be found.
The actions by the Europeans are definitive and shining examples of what the local populace can do and achieve in the battle against global warming, proving that it does not need international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol or the recently ended contentious Bali Climate Talks to come to grips with climate change.
- The Nature Conservancy
- Climate Alliance of European Cities
- Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign, European Commission
- Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, United Nations
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