The Himalayan kingdom has pledged to reduce its fossil fuel imports by 70 percent by 2020. Having no oil or gas reserves, Bhutan has an abundance of hydropower to supply citizens with electricity, exporting much of the surplus to its larger neighbour, India. Almost three quarters of the nation is forest and its 700,000 citizens produce around three times less CO2 than is absorbed by its trees (Bhutan seeks further reforestation and in 2015 broke the world record for number of trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000). Other initiatives include gradually replacing government cars and taxis with electric vehicles (recharging is estimated to be around an eightieth of the cost of petrol); the Gross National Happiness index - measuring policies and progress in terms of environmental sustainability and psychological wellbeing rather than purely economic - and aiming to be the first country to have an agriculture system that is 100% organic.
Germany’s second-largest city held a referendum in 2013 which led to Hamburg buying back its power supply from the multinational energy giants Vattenfall and E.On. The Hamburg Unser Netz (Our Hamburg Our Grid) coalition of environmental, anti-poverty, and consumer rights groups – launched in 2010 - successfully argued that the city’s energy grid be brought under local ownership after its contracts with private companies had expired. Germany has pledged to move away from reliance on fossil fuels towards providing renewable energy sources for citizens (a plan known as Energiewende). This has led hundreds of neighbourhoods, in response to what they consider to be the inefficiencies of privatisation, seeking a “re-municipalisation” of public utilities and a transition to renewables.
The Berlin Senate has introduced a “rental price brake” to slow down the city’s spiralling housing costs. Germany has the lowest level of home-ownership in the European Union, and Berlin’s 3.5 million residents – over 80% of whom are renters – were the first in the country to experience the “mietpreisbremse” in action from June 2015.
The median price per square metre is calculated in each of the city’s districts based on a census of rent prices, and landlords are prohibited from raising rents above ten per cent of the neighbourhood average.
Estimates indicate that based on a one-bedroom property of seventy square metres, the lowest rental area in Berlin has an average rent of around £250 per month whilst the highest area’s average would remain under £800.
With up to 50,000 new residents moving to the city every year, and though exceptions have been made for new-builds and largescale property renovations, it is still hoped that lower income Berliners would less likely be pushed to the outskirts of the city because of high housing costs.
In recent years, to curb gentrification the city has passed laws limiting holiday rentals and the conversion of existing properties into luxury apartment blocks in central districts.
Berlin has long experimented with innovative methods of residential co-housing, promoting collaborative and cooperative ways of living – from collectively-funded co-ops (“baugruppen”) that hire construction workers and architects to custom-build their homes, to shared intergenerational living schemes encouraging the idea that young and old can mutually support one another by cohabiting together.
All intellectually disabled people in Sweden can choose where they would like to live and the type of support they receive in the community after the closing down of all former institutions. The de-institutionalisation process began in the 1970s (in the face of some parental opposition), as community-based services gradually came to replace institutionalised care provision in full. Group homes – often where five-or-so people live in individual small apartments - and supported living offers people with complex needs the freedom of their own space and ability to make their own choices – from housing to shopping and cultural activities. To aid this, the Swedish Government funds over three hundred ‘Personal Ombuds’ - representatives independent of healthcare services and family - who support people to assert their legal rights and make major life decisions.
Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in apartments built by the state Housing and Development Board (HDB), while 90 per cent own their home. In 1959, less than one in ten citizens owned their homes and it was clear that there was an acute shortage of sanitary housing. Post-independence, the Government established the HDB, which within five years built over 50,000 flats and encouraged citizens to use funds from a social security savings scheme to work towards owning their homes. Since then, the board has been able to provide publicly-built housing to a growing number of citizens and, with a staff of 5000, manages nearly a million housing units.
The European Green Capital Award recognises EU cities’ efforts to raise public awareness of ‘Green’ issues through innovations aiming to improve the local environment and citizens’ quality of life.
This year, the Slovenian capital Ljubljana was awarded the prize as the first EU capital to adopt a ‘Zero Waste’ strategy. The city recycles two-thirds of its waste, having installed street-level collection points which temporarily store discarded paper, packaging, and glass underground, while residents can use an electronic card to open containers to deposit (and monitor) their biodegradable waste. The city-centre is car-free, with Slovenes using a smart card to access both public transport and bike-sharing facilities (as well as their local library), whilst an electric taxi service (the Kavilir) offers free trips to those who have mobility issues.
Bristol became the Britain’s first European Green Capital in 2015. The city’s often quirky environmental schemes include a 40-seater bio-bus, which can travel almost two-hundred miles on one tank powered by methane from Bristol Sewage Treatment Works; an art installation and solar power source in Millennium Square known as the ‘Energy Tree’, which provides the public with free phone charging and WiFi (but only if they pass a special ‘Energy Quiz’); and a community fish farm producing not only fish but vegetables fertilised with fish waste (a process named aquaponics).
Copenhagen, which won in 2014, has built a reputation as one of the greenest cities in the world – aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2025, nearly half the population cycles to work or college, and citizens are able to swim in its harbour’s clear water. Bike-friendly credentials have seen the city develop a system (‘Green Wave’) to coordinate traffic signals for cyclists so they don’t hit red lights in rush hour; draw up plans for a cycle bridge 213 feet over the city; and fund the ‘Cycling Without Age’ initiative in which volunteers on cycle rickshaws ‘pilot’ elderly care home residents across the city so they’re able to enjoy ‘the right to wind in your hair’.