Samsø got the UN Global Climate Action Award for Climate Leaders

Denmark’s municipality of the island of Samsø has completely transformed its energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy, becoming the world’s first renewable energy island. Key results that have been achieved include: becoming carbon negative; 100% local ownership of renewable energy investments; and significant socio-economic benefits from the energy transition.

Samsø realized that it is not alone in this transition and that many other communities would be interested in learning from its experience. This led to the establishment of the Samsø Energy Academy with a mandate from the municipality. The Samsø Energy Academy puts resources to capacity building on community development and international cooperation in Denmark, Europe and beyond. It also participates in cooperation and knowledge exchange programmes, provides advice on sustainable community development and organizes on Samsø study visits, workshops and leadership programmes to inspire local leaders, stakeholders and policymakers from around the world.

Key facts

  • Samsø has already achieved its goal to reduce its annual CO2 emissions close to zero, effectively becoming carbon neutral. This was done through a series of renewable energy investments, namely 11 on-shore and 10 off-shore wind turbines, 4 local biomass-fuelled district-heating plants, solar panels and electric vehicles, which enabled Samsø to reach 100% net annual balance of renewable energy.
  • Samsø has renewed its ambition and aims to become completely carbon-free by 2030. This means that no fossil fuel will be used, and all the island’s energy needs will be covered by renewable energy. This is far ahead of the national ambition in Denmark for 2030 and the EU climate goals for the same year.
  • To become carbon-free by 2030, the island community will extend the use of renewable electricity in the heating and road transport sectors and will substitute fossil fuel in the sea transportation with locally produced biogas or electricity.

The challenge

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report confirms that it is indisputable that human influence has warmed the climate system, raising the global surface temperature. Recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying and impacts are affecting every region on Earth, including the oceans. Many weather and climate extremes such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts and tropical cyclones have become more frequent and severe. Not only have CO2 concentrations increased in the Earth’s atmosphere, but the rate of the increase has also sped up. Limiting warming to 1.5C can only be achieved through immediate and significantly scaled-up reductions.

The solution

In 1997, Samsø Municipality took the political decision to become Denmark’s renewable energy island in 10-year time. At the time, the island’s electricity came via an undersea cable from mainland Denmark’s grid, with coal supplying most of the power. Oil shipped from the mainland was the primary energy source for heating Samsø’s homes and businesses, as it was also for virtually all transportation on the island. The master plan foresaw the installation of on-shore and off-shore wind turbines, the substitution of heating oil with biomass and electricity, the construction of new district heating plants, solar panels, investments in energy efficiency in households and electric vehicles.

The financing model had the participation of citizens and stakeholders and local ownership of the renewable energy investments at its core. This led to significant benefits for the island community and economy, new jobs and local growth. By 2007, Samsø was producing enough renewable electricity and had decreased enough the consumption of fossil fuels so that the net annual balance of renewable energy in the local energy mix became more than 100%.

To tackle its remaining GHG emissions Samsø will use renewable electricity to cover heating and transport needs and will explore the option of locally produced biogas and renewable electricity as fuels for the ferries. Through these new investments, Samsø will become completely carbon-free by 2030 and will keep inspiring communities and local leaders and governments around the world to take local climate action and responsibility to address climate change.

Helping people

Putting the community at the centre of thinking of the energy transition brought tremendous benefits to the island and improved the community’s perspectives and sustainability in the long term. There was additional income for the Municipality and the citizens from the renewable energy projects and had a positive impact on employment. Samsø has managed to build a brand name for what a successful community-driven energy transition can look like, with benefits for the local community. In other words, Samsø demonstrated how renewable energy can be a catalyst for improving the perspectives of a community for the future, good business and effective climate action at the same time. Families have also moved to Samsø from the mainland, inspired by its success and green brand.

Spillover effect

Very early in the process, Samsø realised that it is not alone in this transition and that many island and other communities would be interested in learning from its experience. A sense of duty and responsibility to reach out and inspire like-minded communities to follow its example arose. This is why the Samsø Energy Academy, with a mandate from Samsø municipality, has started putting resources to capacity building at regional and national level, as well as to international cooperations in Europe and beyond. It participates in cooperation and knowledge exchange programmes, provides advice on sustainable community development and organises on Samsø study visits, workshops and leadership programmes. The Samsø Energy Academy aims to inspire more local leaders, stakeholders, governments and policy makers from around the world to act locally to address climate change in a way that improves the perspectives and chances for sustainable living of their people and their communities.

Source: UNFCCC