Adjusting to climate change refers to the means of reducing the detrimental effects of climate change and utilising the benefits. According to the City Strategy, "Helsinki is a functioning, safe and comfortable city". Part of the safety is preparedness for the effects of climate change.

Helsinki has surveyed the weather and climate risks pertaining to the city. According to the evaluation report, the city’s key climate risks are storm water floods caused by heavy rain, inland floods, slipperiness, extreme and abnormal winter conditions, depression symptoms caused by prolonged darkness, heat waves, drought and the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea.

One key climate risk management programme is Helsinki’s climate change adaptation policies 2019–2025, which were approved by the City Board in May 2019. The measures required for attaining the adaptation vision of ‘Climate-proof Helsinki in 2050’ are divided into four themes in the policies: preparedness, integration, development, and overall economy and business opportunities. The measures will be included in the City’s planning and guidance, for example in city planning, preparation and preparedness planning, the Storm Water Management Programme, the Flood Strategy, and the programmes for green area development and nature conservation and management.

Helsinki joined the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy climate initiative in December 2018. Committing to the initiative requires cities to create a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) within two years of joining. Helsinki has all the programmes required for the commitment, the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 action plan and Helsinki’s climate change adaptation policies 2019–2025, as well as climate risk and vulnerability assessments. The SECAP action plan will be prepared by the end of 2020.

The City’s detailed planning requires the use of the green factor tool whenever possible. The green factor can be used to ensure that the plot has enough green infrastructure. The Virtual Verdure project involved trying out the regional green factor developed in Sweden in the planning of the Kyläsaari area. The instructions for and the worksheet of the regional green factor have been translated into Finnish, and they will also be published on the new ‘Helsinki’s climate actions’ online pages.

In 2019, the climate network of the mayors of the six largest cities approved an initiative regarding preparing for risks caused by climate change in urban areas. The initiative proposed that cities carry out climate risk surveys and modelling when preparing for the increasing risk of urban floods and intermittent heat waves. Additionally, the cities are planning how to create a toolset for planners and different planning situations based on the aforementioned.

People spending time in a lush, green park.
Photo: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio Oy

In 2019, Helsinki was involved as a partner in the Adaptation of European Landscapes to Climate Change (AELCLIC) project coordinated by Aalto University. The project involved co-operation with local stakeholders to develop principles and content for a local adaptation plan in the Malmi Centre area. The results of the work have been utilised in planning the Malmi Centre vision.

In 2019, principles of climate-proof shoreline construction were created for Isosaari and the Vartiokylä bay. The goal has been to find out what factors and procedures could affect the ability to plan and build shore areas in a manner that is as climate-proof as possible and that takes the environment into consideration.

The Social Services and Health Care Division had solar protection installed in the Laakso Hospital buildings and their effects on the indoor temperatures monitored. Additionally, transportable cooling devices were acquired for critical locations. The locations and solutions were selected based on the 2019 survey Ilmastonmuutokseen sopeutuminen sosiaali- ja terveystoimialalla (‘Adapting to climate change in social services and health care’).

Helsinki’s Storm Water Management Plan promotes systematic and sustainable overall storm water management in the long term and also helps with preparations for the future by taking the impacts of climate change, the denser structure of the city and the changing legislation into account. Storm water is the rain and melted water in constructed areas that is led away from the ground, roofs of buildings or other such surfaces.

The Storm Water Management Plan works as an integrated programme, meaning that its procedures are implemented and developed as part of the City’s planning and construction and their various related processes. The Storm Water Management Plan features 37 procedures, some of which are continuous operations, such as space reservations for storm water structures in street planning and zoning and using the green factor as a tool to determine the green efficiency of block areas. Some of the procedures are project-based tasks. One of the projects started in 2019 was the HUTI project, which develops storm water-related information management and knowledge. The project is coordinated by HSY, and representatives of Helsinki are involved in its steering and project groups. Development of the City’s storm water management operating model has started. In 2019, the storm water groups of the Helsinki metropolitan area held two shared training courses that focused on storm water management in street areas and quality issues related to storm water. Development work on the Storm Water Management in Detailed Planning Tool was started, and a working group consisting of experts from the Urban Environment Division was formed for it.

A filtration container was built in Taivallahti to purify the dirty storm waters of street areas. The filtration container was built in the Smart & Clean solution project for controlling storm water, which was funded by the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council. The filtration container was connected to the network in May, whereupon the monitoring of storm water quality with constantly operating gauges began. The monitoring could only be carried out for a short time within the project time frame, so the results obtained cannot yet be considered very reliable. WSP Finland and Aalto University conducted an internationally unique survey on microplastics in storm water and how well the filtration container captures them for the City. Planning work for further monitoring of the filtration container’s operation was started near the end of the year. In 2020, the hope is to begin long-term monitoring that would indicate how effective the filtration container is as a purifier and where else it should be applied.

Eyes on the future:

Nature-based solutions and conserving existing green structures and soil in construction locations promote climate change adaptation and produce other ecosystem services. They also promote climate change mitigation by conserving carbon reserves and strengthening carbon sinks. In addition to synergies, building a denser and growing city can create conflicts between mitigation and adaptation. They must be assessed and solutions to them must be developed. The City must already be built to meet the requirements of the changing climate.