City of opportunities
In the city of opportunities: Interview with Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm
A European capital that is fossil-free and climate-neutral by 2040? All inner-city traffic emission-free by 2030? For Stockholm's mayor, this is no utopia but rather part of a plan to make the city greener and more livable.
You believe a city needs a strong identity as well as a purpose to be attractive to people and companies. Why is this important?
I am proud to be the mayor of Stockholm, which has a reputation for being a forward-thinking city with high living standards and an ongoing important work with gender equality, clean energy, and improving accessibility. Stockholm has a strong identity and purpose that draws both people and businesses to the city. It is a city of opportunities for the people living here and for the companies.
The people of Stockholm want to make an impact and be a part of this ongoing work. Therefore, the city must deliver these opportunities of involvement and impact. We can also see a change in priorities, especially among young people, when they face choices such as a new workplace or which city to live in. They ask themselves, what is my purpose and what do I want to leave behind? Another observation is that workers increasingly choose where in the world they want to live, before choosing which company they want to work for. Therefore, it is a priority for me that Stockholm operates according to the values of openness, transparency and freedom. I believe that Stockholm's collaborative environment and open mindset have helped it attract and retain talent.
So, compared to before, we tend to prioritise involvement with companies and projects that have a sense of purpose instead of only the salary. Therefore, it is also important to create an open environment where companies and people can be creative and flourish, and feel belonging to the city during the process of development. For these reasons, I want to continue building a city of opportunities for our citizens.
Stockholm is investing heavily in its infrastructure – metro, highway, and even the city’s power supply is being upgraded. How does this lead the city to become not only climate neutral but even climate positive faster than others? Do you have a sustainability master plan?
Of course, metro expansion plays an important role in reducing emissions in the future. I am very happy and proud that we have such a large expansion of the metro and that more are planned in the future. But there is also much more a city can do to reduce emissions and enable cleaner air for residents.
Since 1990, the time when we started measuring emissions in the city, we have managed to reduce emissions in absolute terms by 50% and per capita by 65%. We are now further intensifying our climate work and aim to be fossil-free and climate-neutral by 2040, and all traffic in Stockholm's inner city will be emission-free by 2030. An important prerequisite for achieving our high goals is the electrification of the vehicle fleet. Therefore, we have now made a historic investment in charging infrastructure in the city of Stockholm - by 2030, all parking spaces in the inner city, (owned by the city) will be equipped with charging options and for the suburbs, 80% of the city's parking spaces will be equipped with charging options.
We are also phasing out fossil fuels in the city's procurements of transport and work machines. In addition, we have also initiated a collaboration with the business community, a project we call the electrification pact, with the goal of speeding up electrification and solving difficult challenges such as lack of electricity capacity and charging of heavy traffic.
Through our energy company Stockholm Exergi, we also carry out several important projects in line with our climate ambitions. One of these projects is a facility for CO₂ removal through bio-CCS. This technology involves capturing and storing CO₂ emissions from the combustion of biofuels from our combined heat and power plant that produces electricity and heat. Stockholm Exergi's calculations show that there is potential to capture 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The goal is a full-scale facility by 2025.
Digitalisation increasingly determines our normal everyday life. What new digital solutions have you seen in recent years that have proved the most promising to you in terms of supporting modern city life?
The City of Stockholm is continuously transformed by new digital solutions that support our modern city life. To do this in the best way I truly believe in close collaboration with both the research and business community, locally and internationally. One of our ongoing projects is a collaboration with academia and industry where we focus on urban planning and development. The project, named Senseable Stockholm Lab, explores how artificial intelligence, big data, and new sensor technologies can help Stockholm evolve into a more liveable and sustainable city.
The starting point for the research is to use digitalisation as a tool to map out the urban environment and better learn how people and companies “use” Stockholm. The project covers areas such as energy production and efficiency, environmental monitoring, water and waste management, and more.
The city of Stockholm is looking to lead the way as a global role model for the green transition. Throughout the collaboration, we have identified development areas and come up with solutions that can help us in supporting this modern city life. One of the projects was focused on urban segregation and inequalities where we investigated how the citizens of Stockholm meet during the day while traveling across the city. By doing this, the results can be used to plan for a more cohesive city.
Another project is the Stockholm Sensing Platform where a multisensory platform was designed and tested to collect various environmental data from the street space. The goal was to implement, test, and evaluate the possibilities for the lab and then for the city, to collect hyperlocal data from the street space in Stockholm with simple sensors. Through the data that we collect from the sensors, we can measure air quality, temperature, humidity, and noise. The results in the form of knowledge and methodology from the project will be important as a basis for urban planning at several different levels and for the climate adaptation investments needed to achieve a good living environment in the city. Digitalisation is with us every day and we elaborate on new solutions frequently through the city's collaboration with academia and industry that I am very proud of.
This edition revolves around brave steps and action in the transition to clean energy. What action have you seen in Stockholm with regard to the energy transition?
Several important steps have been taken in Stockholm for the energy transition. For example, district heating production's emissions have fallen sharply thanks to the phasing out of coal and fossil oil, and in 2020 our energy company closed the last coal boiler.
Also, Stockholm's CHP plant produces heat and electricity from renewable biofuel, which is very climate-friendly, and from household waste. In order to reduce emissions when it comes to the combustion of waste, we have set up an automated sorting facility that will sort out the plastic from the waste. Thanks to our district heating system, we can also use surplus energy from nearby industries and recycle it to warm up Stockholm's households.
Every city has its own preconditions, geographically, economically, or technologically. How important do you consider the social factor to be and how does this guide your work?
As you mention every city has its own preconditions and the social factor is very important. Today social sustainability in the City of Stockholm is developing in a positive direction. Stockholm is well placed in a global comparison with a high living standard and an expanded welfare system. Life expectancy increases in an equal, well-educated population with a high turnout. Compared to other major European cities, for example, Stockholm has a high employment rate and low relative-poverty rate. These are very important basic conditions in the city's work. Differences in living conditions affect people's health and well-being, hence the city's attractiveness.
In my everyday work, I always bear with me the importance of the social factor. For instance, everyone should feel safe in their city. To achieve and maintain that we need to plan our city so that it offers a variety of activities and performs different functions that reflect the needs of the population living here. That is different in every city and here it is important for me that we work closely with the citizens and businesses to achieve the best results.
One way of doing this is by adopting feminist urban planning. The theory by Jane Jacobs, which I was inspired by, is about making urban spaces safe for women and children in order to make them become safe for everyone. You need to feel welcome when you come to a public space. Important elements to achieve this are good lighting and cleanliness. By including women more in urban planning, we can create safer urban spaces and this is a benefit for everyone.
At AFRY, we talk about Making Future. What are your main priorities for the next 10 years?
Stockholm is at the forefront when it comes to technology development in the climate area. We have high ambitions and allocate resources to reduce emissions and create a more sustainable society. Stockholm has pursued an effective and results-oriented climate policy, where we have been concerned that all money invested in the climate will yield results. We have also succeeded in combining economic growth with reduced emissions, which I believe is an absolutely crucial part if we are to succeed in the future as well.
The question of future priorities in the climate for the 10 years to come must of course be affirmed in the light of technological and societal developments. But as it looks today, I think we need to focus on four priorities when it comes to city perspectives.
To succeed in the green transition in cities, we first need to reduce emissions by electrifying the vehicle fleet, phasing out fossil fuels, enabling the electrification of heavy trucks, and strengthening electricity capacity. We also need to acknowledge and be open to new technologies and solutions for the climate.
Secondly, we need to recycle more, for example, we could recycle building materials. Today, large amounts of building parts that could be reused in rebuilding and new construction are thrown away instead of being used to their full potential. We should also invest more in district heating, in this way we have the opportunity to recycle heat that would otherwise have been wasted, for example from nearby industries. Through district heating systems, we can also transport locally produced electricity from combined heat and power plants, which can have significant effects, especially now when there is a lack of capacity in the power grids.
Thirdly, we need to capture and store emissions. Stockholm's energy company is doing this on a trial basis through BIO-CCS and it has the potential to capture 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Fourthly, we need to adapt the climate to the city through various measures, for example, we need to be able to capture large amounts of water to reduce the risk of flooding or provide for heatwaves.
Why should people choose Stockholm as their new home city?
The City of Stockholm is a city of opportunities. In our city, we have amazing creative people from different countries and cultures that drive the development. Stockholm is unique and a city of balance. A balance between the city and nature as well as a work-life balance makes it an attractive city to raise a family and build a career.
In recent years, Stockholm has earned the reputation of being a “unicorn factory” and Stockholm strives to have Sweden's best business climate in 2025. A healthy business climate in combination with an open and welcoming atmosphere where diversity and innovation are encouraged. I would say that Stockholm gives its citizens a high quality of life.
Stockholm is growing and, in line with that, the city has adopted a unique approach to sustainability where every aspect of environmental, economic, and social impact is part of the equation. My continued vision is for our city to be the most attractive city with high living standards. Therefore, I can proudly recommend people choose Stockholm as their new home city.