Adapting 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 Adapting 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 this safety is preparedness for the direct and indirect effects of climate change.

Helsinki has assessed the weather and climate risks concerning the city. The city’s key climate risks are stormwater 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.

A summery stormwater structure in Honkasuo.
Picture 5. A stormwater structure in Honkasuo, photograph by Pertti Nisonen.

Climate change adaptation policies – a key climate risk management programme

One key programme in managing the city’s climate risks is Helsinki’s climate change adaptation policies 2019–2025, which were approved by the City Board in May 2019. The vision of the policies is ‘Climate-proof Helsinki in 2050’. The adaptation measures are included in the City’s planning and guidance, including city planning, preparation and preparedness planning, the Stormwater Management Programme and the programmes for green area development and nature conservation and management.

Progress of Helsinki’s climate change adaptation policies 2019–2025 in 2020

  • One of the key starting points of Helsinki’s Stormwater Management Programme is climate change adaptation. Several of the programme’s measures promote adaptation for their part. Among the measures that progressed in 2020 were the development of stormwater data management and planning tools and plan regulations concerning stormwater as well ascatchment area specific stormwater plans.
  • The green factor method is used to create green, comfortable and climate-proof plots in the increasingly dense urban structure, which also promotes the climate change adaptation of urban areas. A plot-specific green factor is used widely in detailed planning. Reviews of the regional green factor have been carried out in the areas of Hermanninranta and the centre of Malmi.
  • In 2020, the following surveys were conducted on the effects of climate change and preparedness for them: a survey on the cooling of buildings pertaining to the Social Services and Health Care Division and a survey commissioned by the Urban Environment Division on the effects of climate change on future snow conditions in Helsinki.
  • In autumn 2020, the dataset on the Helsinki Metropolitan Area land cover was completed. Its classification divides the land area of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and Kirkkonummi into impermeable surfaces, green surfaces, outcrops, bare soil and water areas.
  • Another survey completed in autumn was the joint survey on carbon sinks and reservoirs that was conducted in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area based on geographical information. The survey also compiled information on the region’s green structure.
  • The website ‘Helsinki’s climate actions’ was put into service. Adaptation has its own section on the website.
  • Projects:
    • The Virtual Verdure project ended in spring 2020. The project created new green infrastructure tools that allow the needs of the city and its residents to be reconciled in planning.
    • The B.Green project partly continues the work started in the Virtual Verdure project and also creates new green infrastructure solutions and digital tools related to these solutions to support city planning. The project will create a participatory city planning model that will help green infrastructure solutions to be applied widely.
    • The CHAMPS project will update the survey of climate-related social vulnerability that was carried out in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area in 2015. The project was launched in autumn 2020.
  • As part of Sitra Lab’s Nature-based Solutions Programme, a green retrofitting survey was carried out on two block yards of the Helsinki City Housing Company in Länsi-Pasila, and methods suitable for green retrofitting were mapped. Green retrofitting refers to the repair and improvement of existing block yards and residential areas with the help of green structure and natural solutions. The objective is to improve stormwater management and climate resilience and strengthen urban nature. One important part of this is increasing the comfort and well-being of the residents as well as communal spirit.

Helsinki is preparing a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan

Helsinki joined the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in December 2018. In relation to this climate initiative, Helsinki is preparing a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) by gathering the programmes required for this undertaking together: the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan, Helsinki’s climate change adaptation policies 2019–2025, as well as climate risk and vulnerability assessments. SECAP will be drafted by the end of March 2021.

Nature-based solutions yield many benefits

Helsinki promotes and adopts natural solutions in stormwater management and cooling of the city structure’s microclimate. The Kuninkaantammi area is a pilot site where stormwater is managed with nature-based solutions and the green structure creates a comfortable and climate-proof living environment. In addition to stormwater management and climate change adaptation, natural solutions also produce many other benefits, such as recreational opportunities and a more verdant living environment.

Helsinki’s Stormwater Management Programme promotes systematic and sustainable overall stormwater management. Stormwater is the rain and melted water in built areas that is led away from the ground, roofs of buildings or other such surfaces. The stormwater working group, which monitors the Stormwater Management Programme and comprises experts of the City, released its first report on the implementation of the programme in 2020. The report examined the measures completed between 2019 and 2020 and identified needs for development, such as quality control of stormwater and building an operating model for the City’s stormwater management. Stormwater carries harmful substances and nutrients with it to water bodies and the Baltic Sea. In 2020, planning was carried out for the implementation of quality monitoring of the stormwater channelled into the stormwater filtration structure located in Taivallahti and the treatment efficiency of the filtration structure. This monitoring will start in summer 2021.

Eyes on the future 

Monitoring climate change adaptation is important in order for the effectiveness of the measures to be assessed and the preparedness and adaptation measures to be targeted and prioritised. The vulnerability of residents and the environment to the consequences of climate change must be reduced, and understanding of and information on groups and habitats sensitive to climate change must be increased. The city must be built in such a way that it meets the requirements of the changing climate, and climate security must be strengthened.
Above all, this means preparing for extreme weather phenomena and adapting to a long-term climate change.