Want cleaner air (and improved livability) in your city? A lesson from Oslo

Oslo's approach to creating a more livable environment for its citizens may seem radical, more than many cities would or could attempt all at once. However, what Oslo has accomplished so far and what it expects to accomplish in the near future is inspiring. The key takeaway for other cities? A roadmap that illustrates how a city can blend its efforts to enhance livability, reduce traffic and minimize air pollution into a single, well-coordinated goal. — Doug Peeples


The goal Oslo's city government hopes to reach with a broad range of measures is to improve city life by making the urban environment a healthier, more enjoyable place to live and work.

The city, already a partner in air pollution reduction efforts led by the World Health Organization, UN Environment and others, is literally taking it to the streets.

Some of the commitments the city has made and measures underway include:

  • The city plans to reduce carbon dioxide by 95% in 2030, and it's providing plenty of incentives for drivers to switch to electric vehicles to help it reach that target. EV drivers include lower taxes, use of bus and taxi lanes, free use of toll roads and public ferries and free parking. The city also has added to and expanded its EV charging network.
  • All public transportation in Oslo and a neighboring county will be completely powered by renewable energy by 2020.
  • Cyclists and pedestrians have priority over cars.
  • An approximately one-half square mile section of the city center will be car-free by 2019.
  • The city plans to convert about 700 parking spaces to other uses.
  • It's also heavily promoting its bike-sharing program which offers bikes at 200 stations throughout the city center.
  • Oslo introduced a 'climate budget' in 2016, which consists of measures focused on energy and the built environment, transportation and resources. It's essentially a budget for carbon dioxide emissions and works in the same manner as a financial budget.

The point?
With fewer cars and parking spaces the city can devote the space they would have taken up to things such as outside dining, cultural events, more bicycle stands and even playgrounds.

Eventually, Oslo expects to become a completely car-free city. When that plan was first floated a few years ago it was met with objections from business owners, citizens and others who said a sudden transition would likely ruin the city and its economy. The city council changed course and while the goal remains the same it will be accomplished in stages, gradually.

"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," commented Executive Director of UN Environment Erik Solheim. "Oslo is aiming to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time it is turning climate action into an opportunity. I hope that other cities around the world will be inspired by what Oslo is doing."

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.