Oslo’s Zero-Emission City Center: Innovation and Collaboration

Setting Goals

The City of Oslo is dedicated to improving the experience of city life and maintaining livability for generations to come. The City is developing GHG emissions reductions strategies in ways that will return the city to pedestrians, such as shifting away from vehicle use and encouraging bicycle travel. While the nation of Norway is renowned for its generous electric vehicle (EV) promotions and its ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, its capital has especially seized upon the environmental movement to help deliver a quieter, cleaner, and more holistically connected community.

To reach its transformative goals, in 2017 the City set a goal of achieving zero emissions by 2030 and developed a carbon budget to allocate carbon expenditures. Developed with local stakeholders and overseen by Oslo’s Department of Finance, the carbon budget creates a transparent allocation for each of the city’s departments and enables the public to track progress. Given the wide-ranging nature of reducing city emissions and a timeline of zero emissions within 13 years, achieving Oslo’s climate and livability goals required a suite of innovative and assertive policies and actions.

Decisive Action

Many of Oslo’s initiatives focus on reducing vehicular air quality pollutants and GHG emissions by reducing vehicle access and incentivizing zero-emission vehicle adoption for personal and commercial vehicle use. The City has added over 1,000 charge points for EVs, has created exemptions on toll roads, and has allowed EVs to use restricted-access vehicle lanes. Most notably, two policies combine to make driving zero-emission commercial vehicles (ZECVs), or shifting modes away from driving entirely, more attractive in Oslo:

  • A congestion tax based on the time of day a vehicle enters the Oslo reduces severe traffic, but cars and trucks propelled by electricity or hydrogen are exempt.
  • The city center isremoving parking spaces almost entirely, except for spaces for people with restricted mobility and freight-loading zones. Because the City will be emission-free by 2030, ZECVs will be needed to deliver goods to loading zones within the city.

Oslo’s congestion tax, with exemptions for zero-emission vehicles, encourages individuals and fleets to adopt electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicles by saving on the costs of driving in the city relative to petroleum-powered vehicles. However, the City’s goals of eliminating petroleum-powered vehicles, in combination with the establishment of a vehicle exclusion zone in the city’s center, establish a strong signal that zero-emission vehicles adoption as a matter of business will be required within a decade.

Recognition and Innovation

Zero-emission vehicle adoption in Oslo has been swift, and the City’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions and improve its air quality have already been noted by none other than the executive director of the United Nation’s Environment Program, Erik Solheim: “I am very proud of my hometown, Oslo, which is demonstrating that by reducing the number of polluting vehicles and introducing policies that encourage a cleaner future, we can improve the everyday lives of citizens as they can breathe cleaner air.” A 2018 report by Greenpeace indicates that Oslo is the only City in its analysis with air quality emissions below the European Union limit and World Health Organization guidelines. As a result, Oslo has been named the European Union’s “Green Capital” and its mayor has referred to the city as the “EV Capital of the World.”

To reach the City’s goals of zero-emissions by 2030, the City and its industry partners must continue to innovate. Delivering freight into a city center exclusively through zero-emission technologies is a goal that has not been achieved in large, developed cities since the internal combustion engine became popular over a century ago.

One global logistics company has already taken on the opportunity to become a leader in zero-emissions freight in Oslo by creating a freight hub outside of the city. DB Schenker’s Oslo City Hub establishes a logistics center where non-compliant trucks can deliver goods that can be transferred to ZECVs, including trucks and specially-designed electric cargo bikes. By creating the first zero-emission freight hub for deliveries on Oslo, DB Schenker may benefit from a first-mover advantage and create a new opportunity to develop zero-emission vehicles to meet the needs of delivering freight in Oslo and other cities with exclusion zones, low-emission vehicle zones, or congestion pricing with ZEV incentives. This example reflects the mutually beneficial role that industry partners may play in achieving city and regional targets to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions.

Lessons Learned

Implementing paradigm-shifting policies that affect how people and goods move in a capital city was not a simple or brief process. Oslo and other cities have navigated contentious challenges and learned valuable lessons along the way.

  • Design Zones, Exemptions, and Prices:The central exclusion zone contains residences and businesses that rely on current transportation options. Oslo has created exemptions for persons with limited mobility to park in the city, will allow transit buses to operate in the city center, and has established freight loading zones to supply residential and commercial needs.
  • Build Public Support:By establishing a transparent carbon budget and providing several years of lead time to implement its policies and actions, Oslo earned support from residents and allowed them time to adjust to new transportation options.
  • Designate Revenue: Ninety percent of congestion pricing revenue is channeled directly to funding the city’s public transportation system. Providing reliable transit service is critical to promoting a viable alternative to passenger vehicle use.
  • Invest in Mobility Alternatives:In addition to increased transit access, Oslo is building out 100,000 new bicycle lanes by 2025 and may consider new technologies as they approach the market.
  • Consider Related Policies:To restrict passenger vehicle use, the City is slowly removing parking spaces from the city center. Alternative mobility options that the city provides will become more attractive than driving into the city center.

Oslo’s early successes show that a coordinated municipal effort to make a city more sustainable can succeed by engaging residents regularly and transparently and by working with industry to meet its projected goals through innovation and seizing business opportunities. By envisioning what the City should become rather than focusing solely on strategies to reduce GHG emissions, Oslo is creating an example of how to create a new and sustainable city and community.