Land use and transport in Denmark

From the immediate postwar era, Denmark has been in the vanguard of green urban planning and development. Copenhagen’s “Finger Plan” has been instrumental in creating the city’s clean, ecologically sound environment.

The challenge

The city of Copenhagen has long nurtured ambitions to be one the world’s greenest cities. Its strong environmental credentials date from 1947-8, with the inception of “the Finger Plan’” a voluntary collaboration between three counties, 22 municipalities and several stakeholder organisations, initiated by the Regional Planning Office of Copenhagen. [1]

In the 2000s, Copenhagen set itself a number of “eco-challenges” as part of the Finger Plan, including its desire to be:

  • The world’s first carbon-neutral capital.
  • At the cutting edge of technology and innovation in Europe.
  • Free of air, water, soil and noise pollution.

The initiative

The 2007 Danish Planning Act gave renewed regulatory support at the national level to the Finger Plan. (Copenhagen is segregated into the core urban region, which is the palm, and the suburbs, which are the city’s fingers.)

The Finger Plan had the following renewed objectives:

  • Through a climate adaptation plan, with its focus on the city’s transport, to reduce the level of carbon emissions and be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.
  • To be the world’s best bicycle city with 75 percent of all trips to be by foot, bicycle or public transport by 2025.
  • To invest in the metro system and the promotion of bicycle use, including the “Station Proximity Principle” which requires new, large offices to be located within 600 metres of a metro or railway station.
  • To create and conserve valuable buildings, settlements, urban environments and landscapes.
  • To prevent pollution of air, water and soil and noise nuisance.
  • To involve the public in the planning process as much as possible.
  • To be a hub for business in Scandinavia, including being a laboratory for testing green innovations.

The public impact

The impact of these initiatives, and the Finger Plan in particular, are evident to any visitor to the city:

  • Wide bicycle lanes have been constructed throughout the city.
  • Transport-related carbon emissions decreased by 9 percent in the 20 years to 2011.
  • Over 56 percent of the residential population and 61 percent of jobs within the metropolitan region are within easy walking distance (a kilometre) of a metro or railway station.
  • Copenhagen received the INDEX: Award 2013 for the city’s climate adaptation plan, which “provides a unique and robust framework for a massive influx of sustainable design solutions in the future.” [2]

In addition, the Copenhagen metropolitan regional economy grew by 30 percent from 1993 to 2010, demonstrating that green initiatives can help promote economic growth.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.


Public Confidence Fair

Citizen are actively involved, as in their support of facilities for cyclists, and the related reduction in car usage.

Stakeholder Engagement Good

The Stakeholders are limited because the plan was laid down and managed by the Danish government itself. However, both the city and national administrations support the funding and citizens have engaged themselves in the plan. Citizen activism is prominent and Copenhagen’s inhabitants advocate for improved facilities for cyclists.

The Danish national government helps in the strategic metropolitan-wide planning of land use and the investment in public transport infrastructure.

Political Commitment Strong

There is a strong support from the government, both at national and city level. and substantial funds are provided for projects such as metro lines to make for a greener city:

  • Copenhagen's city administration promotes the transport system and funded 55% of the construction of metro lines 1 and 2. It also invests in the city-ring line at a total cost of DKK21.3bn (US$3.7bn).
  • The Danish Government has funded the construction and operation of rail network over past 60 years, along with 45% funding for metro lines 1 and 2.
  • There is a committee, comprising representatives from the relevant government ministries, to assess the plan’s progress.


Clear Objectives Strong

The City of Copenhagen's has clear objectives for the year 2025, for example:

  • To make the city the first carbon neutral capital by 2025.
  • For 75% of all trips to be made on foot, or by bicycle or public transport by 2025.

These aims are maintained and are measurable and achievable targets.

Evidence Good

The overall planning for the Greater Copenhagen area was taken over by the minister for the environment as part of the municipal reform which came into force under the 2007 Planning Act.

A committee was set up to assess the need for modernising and specifying the transport corridors in the Finger Plan. The main principles of the overall ‘Finger’ structure was continued.

The minister of environment initiated planning in both urban and rural areas, and plans were laid out in the Finger Plan 2013.

Feasibility Fair

The 2007 Act divided the Greater Copenhagen into a core urban region, the peripheral urban region, and green spaces of undeveloped land. Its aim was to estimate accurately the feasibility of its objectives regarding budget, population and resources required, etc. However, no information is given on how diligently the feasibility measures were undertaken.


Management Good

There has been a proper mechanism and governing structure to direct the initiatives and plans, under the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is under the authority of the Ministry for the Environment.

In 2000 the Capital’s Development Council was set up and was made responsible for overall development and regional planning. There is a committee that is responsible for overall infrastructure facilities in the Greater Copenhagen area.

Since 2007, the minister for the environment has been responsible for overall planning in the Greater Copenhagen area via the preparation of a national planning directives. The EPA manages all the environmental activity in Copenhagen and has approximately 450 employees.

Measurement Good

The Ministry of Environment monitors the impact of the plan and has also created seven decentralised hubs to administer them, and especially to monitor the local areas, while 60 environment databases have been created to assess its impact.

Alignment Strong

The alignment is strong, as specific responsibilities are assigned to the actors in relation to achievement of the objectives. Funds are provided by the government. The official committee of the Ministry of Environment manages transport issues, and there are specific departments for handling waste, regional planning, economic development, etc.

The Orestad Development Corporation has been responsible for the construction of the metro and the development of surrounding land from 1993.

The EPA monitors chemicals and offshore platforms, and prepares the relevant legislation and guidelines, and also grants authorisations in several areas.

The municipalities established communication paths between general public and companies who wish to access information on environment. They also grant permits, inspects enterprises and carries out the majority of specific public sector duties.

The Greater Copenhagen Authority oversees transportation planning, regional planning, transit operations, economic development, tourism and culture.