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That's what she said

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The Boulder Protocols Go to Kyoto


photo courtesy Susan Osborne

Japan, Germany, and Sweden rely heavily on nuclear power for their electricity supplies, Mayor Susan Osborne pointed out in reporting on her February 11 talk to the Low-Carbon Cities Conference in Kyoto, Japan at a PLAN-Boulder evening forum on February 21.  Osborne was invited by the Japanese government to participate in the conference, along with representatives of Freiburg, Germany, Vaxjo (with umlauts over the “a” and the “o” and pronounced “vec-wa”), Sweden, and about a dozen Japanese cities, as well as Japanese academics and officials of the national government.  The conference was first held last year and is expected to become an annual event. It is intended to stimulate efforts by Japanese and other cities to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions.

The conference was held in the same building where the Kyoto Protocols were created in 1997. Osborne addressed (in English) an audience of about 450 about Boulder’s GHG reduction campaign and elaborated on four principles –“have a vision and then be steadfast and patient,” “consider local opportunities,” “lead by example,” and “measure and celebrate progress”—which she believes underlie it. She said that her transportation and hotel expenses were paid by the Japanese government.

Freiburg and Vaxjo each claimed to be the “greenest city in Europe.” (Freiburg received the appellation from a European Union agency and Vaxjo from the British Broadcasting Corp.)  Each has a university—Freiburg’s being famous; and each is located in a scenic area. Freiburg’s population is 220,000, and Vaxjo’s is 83,000. Each is growing.

The speakers from Freiburg and Vaxjo each said that the commitments of their communities to reducing carbon emissions had arisen from environmental challenges—in the case of Freiburg a proposal (subsequently dropped) to build a nuclear power plant near the city, and in Vaxjo’s, the desiccation (and subsequent restoration) of a popular lake. The Vaxjo speaker, who had been a member of the Swedish parliament representing the Moderate (conservative) Party, said that a strong political consensus, including all four major Swedish political parties and the business community, had developed in support of its carbon emissions campaign. She also noted that the designation “the greenest city in Europe”—has become a point of strong pride among Vaxjo’s citizens, who want keenly to live up to that reputation.

Freiburg has adopted a building code which is automatically 33 percent stricter than the code prevalent in the rest of Germany with respect to energy efficiency. Its representative Dr. Dieter Worner, the director of Freiburg’s environmental department, said that the business community, after initial opposition, had embraced these standards. He also said that Freiburg subsidizes energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings and that those subsidies have stimulated much larger private investments in such improvements. “Passive housing” standards (in which no external heating source is needed) are now being required in annexed and redeveloped areas, he related.  Freiburg has aggressively promoted a regional railroad, tramway and bus system, and built 400 kilometers of bike lanes and trails. Worner claimed that a third of all movements in the city are accomplished by bicycles, and that 60 percent are by bicycles or public transit.

Freiburg owns its electrical utility, which subsidizes solar energy projects beyond the attractive, national feed-in tariff rate. As a result 18 megawatts of electricity is now generated by solar systems in Freiburg. One hundred and thirty co-generation projects are also operating there. Worner said that from 1992 to 2007 Freiburg had reduced carbon emissions by 14 percent (20 percent per capita), and has a 2030 target of 40 percent reduction from the 1992 level.

Vaxjo relies on a district system fueled by co-generation and bio-mass (mostly wood pellets) to heat the great majority of its buildings. Wood is abundant in its area, and since the trees that are cut for fuel are replaced by saplings, the city believes that this fuel source is close to carbon-neutral. Vaxjo has adopted a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2015 and using no fossil fuels by 2030. The Vaxjo representative said that the sector in which it has made the least progress is transportation. She showed a graph indicating that since 1993 GHG emissions in both Vaxjo and the rest of Sweden have decreased significantly, while the economic production of both the city and the country have climbed substantially.

Several Japanese regions also talked about their programs. The city of Minamata, at the very southwest tip of the country, has adopted a zero-waste policy as a result of wide-spread poisoning of its citizens by mercury from chemical plants, banned plastic containers, and required all glass containers to be re-used (rather than re-cycled). An organization called the KES Environmental Management System explained how it provided energy audits to companies and governments throughout Japan and also financed renewable energy projects using funds from investors, who receive dividends. An investor can participate in the program for a minimum commitment of 100,000 yen (about $1,200).

Twenty-six Japanese cities participated in a contest for the best, low-carbon practice in 2010. The grand prize was awarded to Toyama, a fairly wealthy area of 417,000, on the Sea of Japan (its west coast). It was selected for a new tram system that has proven to be very popular with the public, despite a high rate of automobile ownership.

Osborne noted that the organizers of the conference displayed a graph asserting that peak oil production in the world occurred in 2004 and will decline to the level of the early 1950’s by 2050. (Are you reading this, Al Bartlett?).  The conference’s organizers also proclaimed that Japan intends to reduce GHG emissions from the 1990 level by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Osborne remarked that Japan now generates about 40 percent of its electricity by nuclear power and plans to boost that to 75 percent, Germany about 60 percent (down from about 75 percent), and Sweden about 50 percent (with the rest generated by hydroelectric facilities). She observed that if the United States produced nuclear power at any of those levels, its GHG emissions statistics would be much lower than they are.

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2 Responses to “The Boulder Protocols Go to Kyoto”

  1. Alan Boles says:

    Excellent article.

  2. […] Another renewable option, in countries where there is no shortage of A great related post about this: […]

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