Climate protection

According to the City Strategy 2017–2021, Helsinki will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 60% by 2030. In December 2018, the City Board approved the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 action plan, the implementation and monitoring of which began in full force in 2019. Even closer co-operation on climate matters was built both within the City and with other important stakeholders, with a focus on openness and transparency.

Near the end of the year, Helsinki’s Climate Watch service, with which anyone can monitor how the City is proceeding in its climate goals and procedures, was launched. A contact person has been appointed for each of the 147 Carbon-neutral Helsinki procedures. The contact persons will compile information about their procedures and their progress into Climate Watch on a regular basis. All the underlying assumptions and calculations, based on which the emissions are estimated, will also be made public in the future. Climate Watch describes the magnitude and effectiveness of each measure in achieving carbon neutrality. The service can also be used to search through and view Helsinki’s climate actions according to theme and operator. Political decision-makers can use Climate Watch when assessing whether the procedures are progressing as agreed. Thanks to open data, researchers can assess the impact of the measures, as well as the assumptions and calculations behind the actions. Climate Watch has generated plenty of interest in other cities, both in Finland and internationally. A civic group called the Helsinki Climate Guard Dogs has also formed around the service. Climate Watch is open source code and can be freely used by other cities as well. In addition to the City of Helsinki, it has been funded by the EIT Climate-KIC programme.

Emission situation in Helsinki, kt CO₂e

Helsinki will have to reduce its emissions by 1909 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent from 2019 to 2035 in order to achieve carbon neutrality, ie an 80% reduction compared to 1990.

Over the course of 2019, Helsinki prepared a key Carbon-neutral Helsinki procedure called the Energy Renaissance programme, the purpose of which is to expedite energy renovations carried out in privately owned buildings. The goal is to decrease the amount of heating energy by tens of per cent in Helsinki’s entire building stock by 2035. Among other things, Helsinki develops energy renovation implementation advice services for residents and businesses and designs its city districts increasingly in accordance with the carbon neutrality objective.

State of Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 procedures

State of Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 procedures on 30 April 2020

The majority of the Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2035 measures progressed on time in the spring of 2020.

Helsinki is piloting the formation of regional housing company networks in the Myllypuro area. This trial is being incrementally expanded to cover the entire city. Helsinki has also participated in extensive energy audits focused on buildings typical of their age, and the information obtained from these audits can be used to recommend energy efficiency renovations to similar housing companies. The Energy Renaissance programme will be completed in 2020.

In the Climate-smart Housing Companies project coordinated by Helsinki, solutions are sought to improve the energy efficiency of apartment buildings using digital services and solutions based on housing company data. Since the spring of 2019, temperatures, air humidity and carbon dioxide concentrations have been measured in a total of seven housing companies in Helsinki and Vantaa. As a trial over the course of the spring of 2020, the measured data and other housing company information will be shared and utilised through a data hub developed in the project.

As part of the project, in February 2020, HSY published an energy-themed online course intended for housing companies. The goal of the course is to increase residents’ and board members’ awareness of the energy consumption of their respective housing companies.

Based on information obtained from the project, a digital guide for housing companies will be published in the spring of 2020. The guide will provide information such as the benefits and requirements of digitalisation, as well as practical instructions for implementing various digital solutions in housing companies. The duration of the project will be from 9/2018 to 12/2020.

In accordance with the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 action plan, the energy consumption of new buildings in the Helsinki area must decrease significantly, local renewable energy production must increase and emissions from centralised energy production must decrease considerably. The City carried out an extensive investigation into the emission of and cost effects of the new area in the Malmi Airport area. As a basis for designing the energy system of the area and in order to meet the carbon neutrality goals, an energy survey was carried out concerning the carbon-neutral Malmi Airport area. The survey contains various scenarios, based on which the design and energy solutions of the area can be guided and developed. The survey focused in particular on the energy consumption of new buildings in the area, the emission-free state of regional energy production and the life cycle costs of different solution alternatives. The survey was first started with a focus on zoned areas (Nallenrinne and Lentoasemankorttelit), but the solutions presented can be scaled over the entire planning area, which will be built in stages. The goal is to implement a carbon-neutral energy system in the Malmi Airport area that provides energy that is as low-emissions as possible from the start of the construction. According to the survey, instead of a conventional district heating solution, the area should feature a system that better utilises renewable energy and waste heat in order to reduce emissions from energy use. As a result of the survey, the best alternative turned out to be geothermal heat utilised in heating that is connected to the heating network of the area. In this alternative, the emissions and life cycle costs were the lowest. Additionally, the survey indicates that heat recovery from sewage plays a significant role in emission reductions. Matters to be taken into consideration in further planning include but are not limited to having a low-heat regional heating distribution network, possible locations for geothermal heat production in areas such as parks, and feasibility assessments. The City of Helsinki and Helen will develop the energy system of the area in co-operation in 2020.

In addition to regional energy systems, the City’s key control measures in planning a carbon-neutral city are zoning, plot conveyance terms and land use agreements. The City’s plot reservation conditions were tightened in 2019, making them the strictest in Finland, the A2018 energy efficiency level became obligatory in quality and price competitions, and carbon neutrality supports plot reservation on other plots as well.

In December 2019, Helsinki joined the World Green Building Council’s zero-carbon construction commitment. The City commits to ensuring that energy use on all properties under its own control will be carbon-neutral by 2030 and that the City will develop its construction guidelines towards carbon-neutral buildings by 2030.

In 2019, six new projects were approved to be part of the ‘Evolving block of flats’ programme, all of which have sustainable construction as their development theme. The projects will be carried out on the City’s land. In Oulunkylä, three buildings will be built in the same block: Kestävä kerrostalo (‘Sustainable Apartment Building’), Elävä talo (‘Living House’) and Tulevaisuuden puukerrostalo (‘Wooden Aparment Building of the Future’). The main themes of Kestävä kerrostalo are massive brick construction and gravity-based ventilation. In Elävä talo, the goal is to create a long-lasting building stock that serves the residents’ diversifying needs. Tulevaisuuden puukerrostalo is a project that compares three wooden apartment buildings implemented with different construction technologies. In Kalasatama, construction will begin on an EXCESS plus energy apartment building, and Jätkäsaari will feature a circular economy block that is planned, built and occupied in accordance with the ten principles of sustainable urban living (CO-10). Jätkäsaari will also house the Village Co-Living + LiM project, the development themes of which include comprehensive sustainability measurement. As the projects are completed, final and follow-up reports will be written on them.

In Helsinki, developers have been encouraged towards energy-efficient construction for several years by being offered an opportunity to receive a 30% discount on the building permit fee of a residential building project if the building is designed to have a low energy level. In 2019, a policy was also created to remove the permit fee for smaller geothermal heating systems drilled less than 300 metres deep.

In 2019, the Urban Environment Division and Stara carried out a joint survey on making their operations carbon-neutral. The goal was to establish the costs and procedures that would facilitate achieving carbon neutrality before 2035. The results of the survey support decision-making by describing the efficiency and the costs of the procedures.

When assessing the effects of climate change mitigation procedures, in addition to emission reductions, it is essential to also assess the impacts on health, nature and society, as well as direct and indirect economic impacts.Such perspectives are important in terms of decision-making. Finland’s six largest cities, HSY, the Ministry of the Environment and the Finnish Environment Institute joined forces in the KILTOVA project to survey how impact assessments that also cover aspects other than greenhouse gas emissions could be carried out on cities’ climate programmes while also specifying greenhouse gas emission assessments. The project involved surveying what kind of methods and tools for assessing the impacts of various important aspects are available and how they could potentially be combined into a tool for versatile impact assessments. The final report on the project was published in the Finnish Environment Institute’s publication series. Additionally, there are plans for a follow-up survey in which individual but representative example procedures by cities will undergo a comprehensive impact assessment.

New apartment buildings under construction.
Photo: Jussi Hellsten

Together with other Nordic and Finnish cities, Helsinki has begun to develop a concept for emission-free worksites. The objective is to reduce construction machinery’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their negative impact on the comfort and health of local residents, passers-by and workers. The most important methods for reducing emissions are the electrification of machinery and switching to renewable fuels. The emission-free worksite concept is being piloted in the Carbon-neutral and Resource-wise Industrial Areas project coordinated by the City of Helsinki on the City’s infrastructure worksites and in their bidding competitions. The project also involves surveying the current state of the climate work of businesses in the Port of Helsinki area and the potential for reducing the emissions of heavy machinery, among other things. The duration of the project is from May 2019 to February 2021.

The mySMARTLife project, which approaches climate protection through the themes of smart urban development, continued development work on energy-efficient properties, decentralised energy production and the electrification of traffic. Monitoring of the heating control system utilising smart thermostats, which was installed in 2018, was continued in Merihaka, at the residential property located on Haapaniemenkatu 12. Based on the energy efficiency surveys carried out on the two housing companies in the area and the entire area in 2018, information exchange was continued with the housing companies in the area, as was surveying the possibility of utilising sea thermal energy as recommended in the energy efficiency survey. The possibilities of building a sea thermal energy plant in Merihaka will open up as the infrastructure work carried out in the area is completed in 5–7 years.

The mySMARTLife project is part of the Horizon 2020 programme, which tries out new innovative and smart city energy solutions and promotes their entrance onto the market. The operations are aimed at enhancing the energy efficiency and comfort of living in the existing and new building stock, increasing the percentage of renewable energy production, developing the City of Helsinki energy grid and electricity storage for renewable energy, as well as upgrading electric transport and electric public transport. The cross-sectional theme is the integration of open data and smart information and communication technology in the operations. The goal in the target areas is to reduce energy consumption by 10–20%.

The Kansalaiskide project involved co-operation with Open Knowledge Finland to develop ways to structure discussions concerning difficult questions into so-called knowledge crystals. The project involved testing different methods that enabled the participants to better understand the facts and values related to the questions, as well as their relevance and truthfulness. One subject was the Carbon-neutral Helsinki action plan, with a particular focus on questions related to sustainable transportation. In several workshops, participants got to test a newly developed online tool for structuring discussions. The Kansalaiskide project made it to the final round of the esteemed Uutisraivaaja Media Innovation Challenge of the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation. In the future, the plan is to introduce a discussion tool into Climate Watch for topical questions.

The City of Helsinki Service Centre’s remote care service and transportation conveyance service promote wiser and environmentally friendlier transportation. Helsingin Matkapalvelu’s transport conveyance service for the elderly and the disabled has been rationalised so that customers travelling in the same direction at the same time are transported in the same vehicle where possible. In 2019, a total of more than 2,100,000 driving kilometres were saved thanks to combining transports and the remote care service.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Total greenhouse gas emissions of Helsinki in 2019 were 2,611,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

In 2019, greenhouse gas emissions from Helsinki’s residents, services and industry amounted to 2,611,000 t CO2e, increasing by two per cent from the previous year. The increased emissions are explained primarily by a 5% increase in district heating emissions, as the proportion of coal increased while the proportion of natural gas decreased. Emissions from industry, machinery fuels and waste processing also increased slightly. In other sectors, emissions decreased. In particular, emissions from electricity consumption (-6%) and electric heating (-7%) decreased as nationally produced electricity continued to become cleaner. Traffic emissions also decreased as fuel consumption decreased (-2%). The total emissions of Helsinki were approximately 26% lower than in 1990. The emissions calculated per capita increased by 1% to four tonnes, ending up being 44% lower than in 1990. 

Renewable energy accounted for 12% of the energy produced by Helen in 2019. Energy was produced with hydropower, wood pellets, wind power and solar power, as well as with heat pumps by using various surplus energy flows. 

In 2019, energy consumption in the entire Helsinki urban area grew by 0.5%, which is explained by an increase in the population, as energy consumption per capita decreased by 0.6%. Per sector, electricity consumption (+2%) increased, as did the electricity consumption of industry and machinery (+51%). There are major statistical fluctuations in the fuel consumption of industry and machinery every year, but the large number of construction projects is likely to have increased the fuel consumption of machinery. Warm winters and improved energy efficiency have decreased the consumption of oil heating (-3%) and electric heating (-5%). A highly positive development is the continued decrease in the energy consumption of traffic (-2%) in a city with a growing population, which is an indication of the popularity of sustainable modes of transport and the improved energy efficiency of vehicles.

In 2019, the global temperature was the second-highest ever measured, and June was the warmest in 140 years (Source: NOAA). The past five years have been the warmest, while 2010–2019 was the warmest decade. In Kaisaniemi, Helsinki, the annual average temperature was 7.4 degrees, which is 1.5 degrees higher than the temperatures in the comparison period of 1981–2010. The record for the highest temperature measured at the Kaisaniemi measurement station was broken on 28 July, when the temperature rose to 33.2 degrees.

Eyes on the future:

Having been prepared in 2019, the international Helsinki Energy Challenge competition will close in March 2021. The goal of the competition is to find new innovations, technologies and solutions with which the coal used in Helsinki’s heating can be replaced in an ecologically and economically sustainable way. The winner will be selected by an international, impartial jury of experts, and the prize is one million euros. Helsinki Energy Challenge seeks solutions not only to Helsinki’s heating challenge, but to the energy question on a global scale as well. Accordingly, Helsinki has committed to openly sharing the results of the competition.