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green cities

Oslo is Europe's Green Capital 2019 - finally

After Stockholm and Copenhagen, another Scandinavian city has won the title European Green Capital, honoring green urban achievements. It is the third time Norway's capital Oslo was shortlisted.

Raymond Johansen, the mayor of Oslo, broke into a broad smile when the decision was announced.

This year is the third year that Norway's capital had applied for the title - and it is also the third time that the city was shortlisted.

A city has to go through the entire labor-intensive application process each time it applies - so Oslo authorities were happy the work has finally paid off.

"I am proud to tell you that we have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world," Johansen says.

The European Green City Award is an initiative of the European Commission. Since 2010, one city in Europe is awarded the title each year. Winners are announced 18 months in advance.

For 2019, the jury announced its decision on Friday in a theater in Essen, Germany - which is the European Green Capital for 2017.

'Long-term vision'

All European cities with a population of more than 100,000 are eligible to apply for the European Green Capital award.

The award honors high environmental standards, sustainable urban development and green job creation.

Indicators for being a green city include local transport, biodiversity, air quality, waste management and noise.

Norwegen Oslo Ladestaion für Elektroautos (Getty Images/AFP/P. Deshayes)

Norway is among the most e-car-friendly cities in the world

Oslo, with its 660,000 inhabitants, is green not only due to its low carbon footprint of 1.9 tons per capita per year, Katja Rosenbohm tells DW. As head of communication at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Rosenbohm was part of the jury that awarded Oslo its new title.

"They have very ambitious targets, for example of having a car-free city by 2050."

Rosenbohm also praises Oslo's "front-running activities in electro-mobility."

"They say it is about giving the city back to the citizens and taking the space away for cars."

Political will and public engagement

Northern countries tend to do well in general when it comes to protecting the environment, she adds.

But that richer countries like Norway might have it easier when it comes to investing in new technologies is not the only thing that counts.

"It is not about money. It is about political will and public engagement."

Rosenbohm points out that also Lisbon, a city from Europe's south, has been shortlisted this year and "was very impressive for us."

Portugal - Ascensor da Bica in Lissabon (picture alliance / J. Woitas)

Lisbon also got high marks for impressive progress on getting green

Three other cities were shortlisted for the award this year, and presented their concept to the jury in Essen: Ghent (Belgium), Lahti (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia). In total, 14 cities across Europe had applied.

For 2018, Nijmegen in the Netherlands took the title, while Ljubljana in Slovenia won for 2016.

Since 2015, the European Commission also honors cities of 20,000 to 100,000 people with the European Green Leaf Award. 

This year, Leuven in Belgium and Växjö in Finland both won the title for 2018.

Last winner of the European Green Leaf Award was Galway, Ireland. 

Worth changing

In 2015, many people were baffled when Essen in Germany was announced European Green Capital 2017. In the heart of the Ruhr metropolis, Essen used to be a coal city, featuring mining, steel manufacturing, and heavy industry.

City of Essen (picture alliance/blickwinkel/A. Held)

Essen: from mining capital to Green Capital

The last colliery was closed in 1986; since then, the city of 590,000 people has transformed. The judges praised its "admirable efforts" to overcome its challenging industrial past and reinvent itself as a "green city."

"Essen has built green and blue corridors within the city, and is investing in green infrastructure," the award's official website reads.

By 2020, the people of Essen will only need to travel 500 meters maximum (about a third of a mile) to access a network of green spaces, the local project team for Essen told DW after the city had officially taken its European Green Capital title.

"No one expects to find so much green here," project team leader Ralph Kindel said.

The jury also honored the city's future plans to promote biodiversity in new green areas, "in particular on species that are resilient to climate change."

Essen's Baldeneysee, a lake in the river Ruhr, is now a certified bathing spot under EU standards. It was once one of the dirtiest industrial rivers in Europe, according to Kindel.

"This ability to transform … makes Essen so exciting - and also an example for Europe, because we have mastered problems and are tackling problems that other regions in Europe will still be facing."

A no swimming sign at the Baldeneysee on the Rhur river, where a public bathing platform is set to open in May to enable the first swimming in the Rhur in generations (DW/S. Early)

The Baldeneysee used to be among Europe's dirtiest waterways

From parks to badgers

In 2018, Nijmegen in the Netherlands will celebrate its European Green Capital title.

The city of 170,000 inhabitants is the largest in the Arnhem-Nijmegen metropolitan area. Until 1990, living, working and recreational areas were separated; now the city is expanding green space into the city center and is transforming working areas into modern residential areas.

Nijmegen runs a campaign called "Green Connects," calling on its citizens to enhance the green face of their city. It aims to become emissions-neutral by 2045 and "climate proof" by 2050. Its first wind park, developed with citizen participation, delivers 10 percent of the city's energy.

And finally, a badger habitat protection project was the last step needed to convince the jury to award Nijmegen the title.

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