Climate and energy

Heavy investments have been made in recent years to mitigate climate change, and decisions that are significant for reducing the amount of emissions have been taken for several years ahead.
SDG 13: Climate action
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy

Emissions reductions must be accelerated

The majority of emissions in Helsinki come from energy consumed by buildings and transport. From 1990 to 2019, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Helsinki decreased by 26%. The main reasons for this reduction include the use of natural gas instead of coal in energy generation and the lowered emissions factor of electricity.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the 2000s

Greenhouse gas emissions in the 2000s Total amount of emissions (1,000 t CO2e) in Helsinki. Emissions have reduced slightly from 1990 levels.


Total amount of emissions (1,000 t CO2e) in Helsinki. The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Helsinki in 2019 was 2,611,000 t CO2e. Teal = district heating, dark blue = individual heating, mint = electric heating, green = consumer electricity, red = transport, yellow = industry and machinery, pink = waste and wastewater management.

The Energy Challenge competition sought new heating solutions

To this day, Helsinki’s energy production is firmly based on fossil fuels, and therefore the City initiated a global competition, Helsinki Energy Challenge. The purpose of the competition was to find solutions that would make Helsinki’s heating system sustainable.

As a result, the City gained a large number of proposals and eye-opening insights that will help it make further decisions about an emissions-free heating system. These insights and ideas will help not just Helsinki, but also other cities in search of sustainable and innovative solutions; Helsinki is committed to sharing this information with others.

Helsinki has invested heavily in reducing emissions from construction

In addition to reducing the emissions from heat generation, the total amount of heat consumed must also be lowered. Until now, energy efficiency measures have been enough to mitigate the increase in consumption caused by the city’s growth, but in the future, consumption must be reduced even though the city is growing.

An extremely strict energy programme now governs the City’s own building stock. New operating facilities must be built 30% below the national energy efficiency standard, the energy performance rating of all renovation work is to be cut by 30%, new-build housing units must conform to energy performance rating A and, if technically feasible, photovoltaic systems are to be installed in all new and renovated buildings.

In addition to that, the City has spent over €4 million on improving the energy efficiency of its existing buildings. Heat pumps are used as the main heating system in all new and renovated operating facilities and service buildings, whenever financially and technically possible.

In order to increase the energy efficiency of the City’s facilities during their use, energy consumption monitoring systems have been installed in all the City’s properties, and the next step is to focus on reducing energy consumption while the properties are in use.

Furthermore, plots are sold with the requirement that new private buildings conform to energy performance rating A. The City has initiated an Energy Renaissance operating model, the aim of which is to launch approximately 350 energy upgrade renovation projects annually in private housing companies.

More effective means required to reduce traffic emissions

The City has made significant investments in improving public transport, by expanding the metro network and building new tramways, for example. The City is also running a cycling promotion programme, which aims to increase the proportion of cycling out of all transport by improving the cycling conditions, among other measures.

Furthermore, the City will swap all the cars it currently uses for electric ones within the next five years, and HSL will systematically work towards acquiring an electric fleet In addition to that, the City’s plot sale terms and conditions are stricter than required by current legislation when it comes to the installation of vehicle charging points.

However, further measures and cooperation both locally and with the state are needed in order for the City to reach its traffic emission goal.

Helsinki’s climate actions

Helsinki will become a carbon-neutral city by 2035. Since 1990, the city has reduced its emissions by nearly one third, and this work will continue. If we are to achieve carbon neutrality, all of the city’s residents and businesses must join in. Helsinki wants to make sustainable options as easy as possible to choose. Read more about Helsinki’s climate objectives and monitoring on the Helsinki’s Climate Actions website.

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The significance of indirect emissions

In addition to the emissions generated locally, it is also important to assess the indirect emissions in the area, because they increase Helsinki’s overall emissions approximately twofold. Indirect emissions refer to emissions originating from the services and products used in Helsinki but provided and manufactured elsewhere.

The main sources of emissions include construction materials and food production. The City has reduced food production related emissions by setting its catering service providers a specific goal: they should halve the amount of meat and dairy served within the City organisation and reduce food waste.

The means to reduce construction material emissions include reviewing potential options for regulating the building products’ carbon emissions and favouring recycled materials, to name a few. The main way of reducing indirect construction emissions is to favour wood as a building material. In addition to that, indirect emissions can be reduced systematically and effectively through public procurement, for example.

Climate change causes concerns

At the end of 2018, the City carried out a safety survey, and 66% of the respondents stated concerns about climate change. The proportion of people feeling worried was significantly higher than in the previous survey conducted three years earlier.

A number of global and city-level concerns were highlighted in the responses, above any concerns on a more personal level. Furthermore, regardless of age, all the respondents shared the same concerns about climate change.

However, the biggest increase in the number of people stating concerns was amongst young people. A similar phenomenon occurred in the 2018 Youth Barometer, targeting all young people in the country, which showed a sharp increase in concerns about climate change.

Adaptation must be better integrated into planning

It is important to begin adapting to changing climate well in advance and to prepare for extreme weather phenomena and the global effects of climate change. These efforts must be integrated and linked ever more closely to all the City’s operations and planning work. Planning must focus on measures aiding preparation for the rising sea level, increasing amounts of rainwater run-off, heatwaves and storm flooding, in particular.

Green areas are highly significant in adaptation to climate change, and their ability to conform to various situations resulting from the climate must be ensured through planning. The city’s resilience, i.e. its ability to adapt to changes, will be improved by maintaining diverse nature, constructing various forms of green structures and safeguarding natural features, such as run-off solutions. As the city becomes more densely built, the amount of run-off water is predicted to increase, but through smart planning this water can be used to attract people to the city’s recreation areas and to increase biodiversity in parks that have been artificially constructed rather than occurring naturally.

Successes

  • The Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 programme is strongly integrated into the City’s operations, and the work has successfully focused on effective and strategically important elements.
  • The City has created an extremely strict energy programme to govern its own building stock, in order to increase the energy efficiency of both new and renovated properties systematically. In addition to that, the City’s own properties are investing heavily in using locally-generated renewable energy.
  • The City influences the energy efficiency of private properties with its plot sale terms and conditions, among other means.
  • The City has climate change adaptation policies and a run-off water programme, closely linked to its operations, in addition to which climate risks have been assessed.
  • The launch of the Energy Renaissance operating model is a big step towards improving the energy efficiency of housing companies.
  • The Helsinki Energy Challenge competition was a new and innovative approach to Helsinki’s big challenge with heating emissions.

Areas of improvement

  • The work must focus on the strategically most effective elements – as time is of the essence, the work must be effective.
  • Plenty of uncertainties still exist in the reduction of traffic emissions, and new and more effective measures must be identified.
  • The reduction of construction emissions must be achieved rapidly. The calculations and knowledge of potential means to reduce emissions are increasing rapidly, and these measures must be implemented as quickly as possible.
  • The City must be able to utilise land use planning and land acquisition methods more effectively and systematically in its emission reduction efforts.
  • The climate change adaptation policies must be transformed into concrete actions, and the implementation of the most effective ones must begin immediately.