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Helsinki aims to be carbon-neutral by 2035

The city aims to have achieved a 60 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990-2030

New Helsinki under construction in the Jätkäsaari district. Photo: Antti Pulkkinen/City of Helsinki
New Helsinki under construction in the Jätkäsaari district. Photo: Antti Pulkkinen/City of Helsinki

Helsinki City Council has voted to pass a proposal for a new city strategy, which includes becoming carbon neutral by 2035. Previously, it had set this target for 2050.


The city aims to have achieved a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between the period of 1990-2030. The strategy also seeks to make the Finnish capital the world’s most “functional city”, to ensure sustainable growth, and provide a high quality of “everyday” life for all residents.


Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori declared that the city should assume a globally pioneering role in the biggest challenges of our times, including climate change. "Helsinki should be a forerunner in finding local solutions for climate action," he said.


The new climate goals mean that the city will have to start applying new measures to cut emissions compared with those undertaken up until now, said Helsinki climate expert Jari Viinanen. Current measures enable Helsinki to exceed its target for 2020 to cut emissions by 30 per cent and these would have enabled an up to 50 per cent reduction by 2030.


It envisages making the biggest strides in the transportation sector, reducing emissions by 55 per cent with the help of sharp increases in electric vehicles and biofuels. It wants to make public transportation emission-free by 2020, promoting walking, cycling, and public transportation by rail.


Other measures to be implemented by 2030 include increasing renewable energy production and energy efficiency. The energy efficiency of the old building stock is to improve by 15 per cent with retrofits and that of new construction projects by 65 per cent compared with the current building average.


Carbon neutrality by 2035 will also require Helsinki first to abandon coal from its energy palette and possibly to abandon natural gas at a later stage. The move would be in line with the Finnish government plan to ban the burning of goal for energy as the first nation in the world. It envisions that the path from fossil fuels to carbon-neutral energy production will go via an interim stage of a bio-based economy.


"In addition to renewable energy sources, replacements to fossil fuels can come from smart energy solutions, such as energy recycling by the utilisation of waste heat by heat pumps," said Viinanen.


For example, energy company Helen’s Katri Vala heat pump plant generates district heat by recovering heat from purified sewage water and from district cooling water after it has been heated in the cooling process.


Helen will complement Katri Vala with a second heat pump plant in 2018. Helen has also pioneered data centres where the heat produced by servers is recovered and used as district heat.


Helsinki’s climate goals are in line with those of other Nordic capitals and markedly exceed the goals set by the EU, which seeks 40 per cent cuts in member countries by 2030 and 80-95 per cent cuts by 2050 from 1990 levels.


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