Oslo Moves Forward with “Climate Budget” for Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2020

Member of the Global Compact of Mayors presents climate plan at COP22 this week

By Jonathan Hahn

November 14, 2016


Illustration for Oslo's car-free citylife project | Photo courtesy of Oslo Municipality

While national governments wrangle over a global pact to fight climate change, some cities are already unwrapping local initiatives to cut their emissions, decarbonize their economies, and prioritize renewable energy. The push for local climate leadership received a boost in 2014 when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the Global Compact of Mayors—an alliance of city leaders working in concert to do their part in the fight to protect the planet. 

One member of the Compact of Mayors, the city of Oslo, Norway, has proposed an ambitious new plan to cut its carbon emissions in half in four years. Oslo’s “climate budget”—which its vice mayor of finance, Robert Steen, first unveiled in September—features a novel approach of incorporating carbon into the city’s financial budget while creating incentives for electric vehicles, building more bike lanes, and relying on carbon capture at waste management plants. The long-term goal of Oslo's climate budget is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.

As the second week of the COP22 climate conference gets underway in Marrakesh, Robert Steen talked with Sierra about how Oslo intends to achieve its ambitious goals. Oslo’s vice mayor of transportation and environment, Lan Marie Berg, will be presenting the details of the climate budget at COP22 this week. 

—Jonathan Hahn


How will Oslo achieve its stated “climate budget” goal to halve greenhouse gases in four years?

Our goal is to reduce Oslo’s emissions from 1.4 million tonnes CO2 in 2013 to 600,000 tonnes CO2 in 2020. To achieve this, we are implementing measures across all sectors, reducing the carbon footprint from heating, waste management, and transport in our city. 

In the heating sector, we are subsidizing the removal of oil boilers in exchange for district heating. The national government will implement a ban on oil boilers in 2020. The removal of oil-boiled heating will cut emissions by 284,000 tonnes CO2 according to our climate budget. 

Robert Steen
Vice Mayor Robert Steen | Photo by Sturlason
Our waste management plant, which incinerates a lot of waste for energy, is our largest point source of CO2 emissions. We have started a pilot project for carbon capture and storage on this plant; the technology exists, but we are now working on establishing a complete supply chain including permanent storage for the CO2. The [carbon capture and storage] project, along with measures for reducing emissions from wastewater and landfills, is estimated to reduce our emissions by 200,000 tonnes CO2 by 2020.


Transportation accounts for 61% of our emissions today, and is the most complex area. We are using both restrictive measures and subsidies to achieve our goal of cutting 352,000 tonnes by 2020. Oslo is already the electric vehicle capital of the world, and we will continue to give advantages to people with electric vehicles, such as free parking and cheaper toll fares, while increasing the fares for petrol and diesel cars. 

We are making it easier to bike in our city by creating eight new bike routes through the city center, and we are increasing the funding of our public transportation system. Achieving a fossil-free city requires a change in mindset; one measure that symbolizes this change is our decision to make the city center free of private cars by 2019. This marks a much-needed shift. We need to prioritize pedestrians, public transportation, and bikes. We are also working together with the goods transport sector to find emission-free and more cost-effective solutions for goods delivery within the city. 

The climate budget has a novel mechanism for incorporating carbon into the city’s financial budget. Talk about how it works. 

To achieve our ambitious climate goals, we need to use our most efficient tool for governing: our budget. Therefore, we have implemented a “climate budget” in our budget document, which details 42 measures needed to achieve our climate goals, the financing of each measure and, maybe most importantly, which department is in charge. The climate budget is a way of making sure we are held responsible for our goals and creates a much-needed transparency in how we are going to achieve them. 

What data convinced you that Oslo could accomplish the plan’s goals in a four-year time span? What is the significance of a four-year window? 

The path to change is through, (1) sense of urgency, and (2) measurable, realistic actions leading to plausible results. The most important effect of having a four-year window, instead of let’s say 14 years, is that it becomes obvious that we need to implement measures to achieve these goals here and now. Climate policy has been dominated by ambitious goals far into the future, which makes it much harder to hold the current politicians accountable, and much easier for politicians to focus on matters more relevant for their reelection campaign. 

Have any other cities reached out to you with interest to take on a similar plan of their own? 

Yes, the climate budget has received a lot of attention both in Norway and abroad. My hope is that what we’ve done here in Oslo, and learned by doing it, will be of use for both cities and countries looking to cut emissions across the globe. 

  Oslo emissions targets
Above: Graph showing Oslo's emissions targets.
Courtesy of Oslo Municipality.

Below: Area of Oslo's car-free citylife project.
Courtesy of Open Street Map.

Oslo map

What response have you received so far from Oslo’s residents? Do you have polling data or any other information that indicates whether Oslo residents support it?  

We have not seen any polling data on the climate budget itself, but the climate budget has received praise also from the political opposition, so it is safe to say that we have broad support. 

Talk about the Global Compact of Mayors and how that partnership has affected the work of cities in responding to climate change. In general, how can cities show leadership in the global fight against climate change? 

Cities are vital in the global fight against climate change, both because a large share of the current emissions come from cities, but also because we cities are able to innovate and implement new solutions for emissions cuts. Urbanization is a huge trend worldwide—people move to the cities because of employment opportunities and better life quality. 

At the same time, most cities are experiencing huge problems with air pollution and car-clogged transportation systems. Looking at new ways to solve these problems will not only cut CO2 emisissions but also make cities more livable. I believe a key component in achieving the necessary emissions cuts in the fight against climate change is finding solutions that also have a positive impact on the daily life of the population. Cities can lead the way and show that this is indeed possible.