Bloomberg Philanthropies Announces Mayors Challenge Winning Project to Combat Climate Change Will Spread to Seven Global Cities

Bloomberg Philanthropies has announced that seven cities from Europe and the United States will receive support to adopt Stockholm’s 2014 Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge Winning Biochar Project, which turns plant waste from parks and homes – everything from grass clippings to trees and limbs – into a charcoal-like substance that residents can then use in their yards and gardens to help combat climate change. When biochar is used as a soil fertilizer it promotes plant growth while simultaneously absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it into the soil as well as reduces stormwater runoff.

Darmstadt, Germany; Helsingborg, Sweden; Sandnes, Norway; Helsinki, Finland; Cincinnati, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Minneapolis, Minnesota will each receive up to $400,000 in funding, along with implementation and technical support from Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop city-wide biochar projects and engage residents in the fight against climate change. Participating cities will also benefit from robust best practice sharing and peer-to-peer networking to share lessons learned in implementing their efforts. In total the projects are expected to produce 3,750 tons of biochar, which would sequester almost 10,000 tons of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking 6,250 cars off the roads every year. In addition, thousands of residents across the seven cities will contribute to the success of this work.

“Stockholm’s Biochar Project is a remarkable example of how a great idea in one city can inspire positive climate action in cities around the world,” said James Anderson, who leads the Government Innovation program at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “We are eager to see how civic leaders in these next seven cities build on Stockholm’s lessons learned and take their own efforts to engage residents and reduce carbon emissions to entirely new heights.”

Since winning the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2014 and opening its first of five planned biochar facilities in 2017, the city of Stockholm has produced over 100 tons of biochar and distributed it to 300,000 citizens. The amount of carbon this biochar project will capture when operating fully is equivalent to taking over 700 cars off Stockholm streets. In addition, the plant has begun to send energy back into the city’s heat grid and is currently heating 80 apartments.

“It’s great to see Stockholm’s Biochar project spreading around the world,” said Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm. “In Stockholm, Biochar has become an important part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. With Bloomberg Philanthropies’ support for innovative cities, we can continue developing great ideas like the Biochar project, learn from each other, and join forces in the fight against climate change.”

“It is exciting to see the urban biochar community continue to expand. I’m amazed at cities’ ability to continuously develop new biochar systems, production methods and applications. Biochar’s ability to sequester carbon is an important piece of the puzzle to fight climate change, and used in soil biochar makes for greener, more verdant cities,” said Mattias Gustafsson, Biochar expert and original member of the Stockholm Biochar Project. “These seven cities are on the cutting edge and this growing community is a first step towards using biochar to its full potential as a tool to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for thousands of years globally.”

Each of the seven cities plans to approach the effort in a unique way based on their local environments and needs:

  • Darmstadt, Germany: Darmstadt plans to produce biochar for city parks and gardens, private citizens, and sports grounds. The city will work to demonstrate the potential of biochar to other German cities.
  • Helsingborg, Sweden: Helsingborg plans to scale up its existing biochar production. The city will establish a biochar knowledge center to act as a hub for communications, research, and events to engage local communities and researchers around the world.
  • Sandnes, Norway: Sandnes has been producing biochar based on the Stockholm model and now plans to scale up their biochar output fivefold. Sandnes will develop educational materials on biochar and engage school children.
  • Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki plans to re-purpose an existing biochar facility to convert green biomass from city parks and residents’ gardens. Helsinki will test and document the impact of biochar use in urban plantings across the city.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati plans to use biochar to repurpose green waste produced by parks, improve urban planting, support the tree canopy in underserved neighborhoods, and incorporate into stormwater management projects.
  • Lincoln, Nebraska: Lincoln plans to capture community wood waste for biochar production and use it to support tree plantings, urban agriculture, public gardens, composting, and stormwater treatment. Lincoln will build its first biochar production facility working closely with the Nebraska Forest Service, the University of Nebraska, and other stakeholders.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minneapolis will build a biochar production facility and plans to utilize green waste from the region and harness the heat produced in a low carbon district energy system.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Government Innovation portfolio focuses on creating great public leaders, investing in powerful urban innovations, and developing more effective city halls to deliver results for residents in cities around the world. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge identifies the most ambitious city ideas to tackle today’s most pressing challenges faced by cities – ranging from climate change to economic development — and provides robust resources to bring those ideas to life and help them spread.

The Mayors Challenge has been run by Bloomberg Philanthropies five times and includes: the 2021-2022 Global Mayors Challenge, two Challenges in the U.S. (2013 and 2018), one in Europe (2014), and one in Latin America and the Caribbean (2016). Thirty-eight ideas have won the Mayors Challenge since its launch in 2013 and often yield such powerful results that other cities adopt them. In addition to Stockholm’s Biochar Project, includes Providence Talks (2013, Providence, Rhode Island, USA), a project that aims to increase the number of words children from low-income families hear each day in order to support healthy brain development and prepare them for school, that is currently being implemented in five additional U.S. cities with Bloomberg Philanthropies support; and Visor Urbano (2016, Guadalajara, Mexico), a program that decreases corruption by creating transparency in the permitting process for new businesses and buildings, that will be replicated by 61 additional cities in Latin America.

Click here for more details on the Mayors Challenge and visit @BloombergCities on Twitter and Instagram.

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