Climate protection

According to the City Strategy for 2017–2021, Helsinki will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 60% by 2030. The Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan was drawn up for the implementation of these targets. Climate protection is strongly associated with several themes of the Environmental Report, which is why it is also addressed in other chapters of this report.

Total greenhouse gas emissions decreased

2020 was the warmest year on record in Finland. In Kaisaniemi, Helsinki, the annual average temperature was 8.7 degrees Celsius, which is 2.8 degrees higher than the temperatures in the comparison period of 1981–2010.

The total greenhouse gas emissions generated by residents, services and industry in Helsinki in 2020 amounted to 2,360,000 t CO2e, decreasing by 9% from the previous year. The decrease in emissions is partly due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly reduced travel and the energy consumption of workplaces. The key factor, however, was the specific emissions from Helen’s district heat generation. They decreased significantly when the relative proportion of natural gas increased clearly while the use of coal decreased. This was for the most part due to a change in the prices of fuels, energy sold and emissions. The proportion of renewable district heat also increased as a result of investments. Compared to 1990, the total emissions in Helsinki were roughly 33% lower than in 1990. Calculated per capita, emissions decreased by 9%, reaching a record low of 3.6 tonnes, which is 50% lower than in 1990.

In 2020, the total consumption of energy in the entire urban area of Helsinki decreased by 2.5%, which is explained by the decrease in the amount of traffic and use of electricity during this exceptional year, as well as by the decrease in the energy consumption of oil heating.  

More than half of Helsinki’s direct emissions are generated from heating. Because of this, measures related to energy generation in particular are essential in climate change mitigation. Helen’s investments in renewable energy will start to affect emissions from heating significantly during the 2022–2023 heating season.

Picture 1. The total greenhouse gas emissions in Helsinki in 2020 amounted to 2,360,000 t CO2e.

Downward trend in energy production emissions 

In 2020, Helen Ltd was the first Finnish energy company to commit to the Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign of  the Science Based Targets project. The purpose of the campaign is to urge companies to set emission reduction targets that are in line with the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement.

Helen will stop using coal by 2029. With the measures in Helen’s investment plan, the specific emissions from district heating will be some 80 g CO2/kWh in 2025, approximately 40 g CO2/kWh in 2030 and some 35 g CO2/kWh in 2035. The current emission level has been approximately 200 g CO2/kWh. 

Renewable energy accounted for 14% of the energy produced by Helen in 2020. Energy was produced with hydropower, wood pellets, wind power and solar power, as well as with heat pumps by using various surplus energy flows. For more information on Helen’s other measures and investments aimed at reducing emissions from energy generation, see the chapter ‘Energy efficiency’ in this report.

The City looked for solutions to Helsinki’s heating challenge through a competition

In March 2020, the City launched the international Helsinki Energy Challenge competition. The goal of the competition was 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 competition received a total of 252 proposals from 35 countries. Ten interdisciplinary and international teams made it to the competition’s finals in November 2020. An international, independent jury of experts chose the competition’s winners, who were announced in March 2021. The elements highlighted in the winning teams included decentralised solutions based on renewable energy, heat pumps and the participation of new operators in heat generation. Helsinki Energy Challenge sought solutions not only to Helsinki’s heating challenge but to the energy issue on a global scale as well. Accordingly, Helsinki is committed to openly sharing the results of the competition.

Regional geothermal heat solutions are promoted

As part of the background materials for the update to Helsinki’s underground city plan, the City conducted a survey in 2020 on the principles of local geothermal heating solutions in land use planning and implementation. A local geothermal heating solution refers to the shared energy generation solution of several properties. The City wants to encourage the use of local geothermal heating solutions, as geothermal heating must be promoted by all means available in order to achieve the goal of geothermal heating accounting for 15% of all heat generation in Helsinki by 2035.

Climate targets for Helsinki’s building stock are implemented ambitiously

In addition to reducing emissions from heat generation, the absolute amount of heat consumption must be reduced. So far, energy efficiency measures have successfully cut the growth in consumption resulting from the growth of the city, but in the future it must be possible to cut consumption in a situation in which the city keeps growing.

The City has set an unprecedentedly strict energy programme for its own buildings, both new and existing ones. In addition to energy efficiency, local generation of renewable energy is also being increased in buildings. For more information on the targets and measures for the City’s own building stock, see the chapter ‘Energy efficiency’ in this report.

Plot conveyance terms can be used to influence the energy efficiency of new buildings and promote their energy conservation and generation. Helsinki has long been using energy efficiency requirements stricter than the national standard in the plot conveyance terms concerning apartment building plots. In 2020, the plot conveyance terms were tightened further, requiring apartment building plots to meet the requirements set for energy efficiency class A2018 in such a way that the E value is equal to or below 75 kWhE/(m2 year).

In privately owned buildings, the plan is to expedite energy renovations with the Energy Renaissance operating model, which is one of the key measures of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan. Completed in 2020, the Energy Renaissance operating model is aimed at reducing the amount of heating energy by several dozen per cent in Helsinki’s entire building stock by 2035. At the start of 2021, an Energy Renaissance team started working in the City’s Building Control Services. It provides housing companies with information on various energy solutions or helps them put surveys out to tender, for example.

The ‘Energy-efficient housing companies through local cooperation’ project is a joint project for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area that is coordinated by Helsinki and focuses on improving the energy efficiency of housing companies. The project establishes local cooperation forums, called housing company clubs, for housing companies in the cities. The areas of Helsinki participating in the project include Lauttasaari, Myllypuro, Mellunmäki, Pihlajisto and Kannelmäki. The project is funded by the Ministry of the Environment as part of the municipal climate change solutions programme. The experiences gained from the project will be utilised in Energy Renaissance activities.

In the Climate-friendly Housing Companies project coordinated by Helsinki, solutions were sought to improve the energy efficiency of apartment buildings using digital services and solutions based on housing company data. Based on information obtained from the project, a digital guide for housing companies was published in the spring of 2020. The guide provides information on topics 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 was from September 2018 to December 2020.

Low-carbon principles are also taken into account in area construction

To promote low-carbon construction, Helsinki launched the ‘Verkkosaari low-carbon green block’ plot conveyance competition, in which the carbon footprint, E value and green factor are weighted at 50% of the plot conveyance criteria. The competition entries were submitted in April 2021. A plot conveyance competition in a good location can be used to assess how high the targets related to the criteria can be set in the future and how these key criteria affecting carbon neutrality can be realised at the same time.

In the planning of the Western Boulevard City (Vihdintie) of Helsinki, ways to build the new city structure in a climate-smart manner are being looked into. In addition to the energy efficiency of the buildings and the generation of renewable energy, the planning will take into account emissions from construction and materials as well as the carbon reserved in the materials. The plan is to require approximately half of the residential blocks to be wood-framed. Conducted by Granlund Oy, a survey was commissioned about the area’s carbon-neutral energy system. According to the survey, a significant proportion of the energy required in the area could be generated with renewable energy and by utilising waste heat. Building a low-temperature heat network in the area would improve their profitability. The survey results will be utilised in further planning of the area.

Efforts to reduce emissions from ground preparation prior to construction

There are several significant construction projects underway in Helsinki, and low-carbon construction has been set as the target level for area construction in Kuninkaantammi and the former Malmi airport, among other areas. In these areas, special attention has been paid to climate-smart approaches in the planning of ground preparation and foundation engineering. In spring 2020, a stabilisation test was carried out in Kuninkaantammi on binders that are based on recycled materials as part of the UUMA3 project. The emissions from the binders used in the stabilisation test in Kuninkaantammi were found to be 15–36% of the CO2e emissions generated by a traditionally used lime-cement binder mixture. It has been estimated that approximately 95% of the emissions from the foundation structures and foundation reinforcements of the infrastructure in the area of the former Malmi airport are generated by the manufacturing and transport of deep stabilisation binders if a traditional lime-cement binder mixture is used. In order to reduce emissions from ground preparation, the City launched a survey to find lower-emission and more cost-effective solutions for ground preparation in the Malmi airport area. With alternative solutions, the carbon emissions may even be less than a third of the level mentioned above.

Worksites are becoming emission-free

The City of Helsinki is very determined to reduce the negative impacts of construction sites on city residents. The machinery used at construction sites and heavy transport vehicles related to construction generate emissions that account for a considerable proportion of the carbon dioxide emissions of cities and municipalities, and they also generate noise, dust and local emissions that worsen air quality and are harmful to health. The negative effects of worksites are highlighted in a densely built environment. Reductions in emissions are particularly sought by trying to increase the use of emission-free and low-emission machinery and transport vehicles in construction projects.

In 2020, these efforts progressed considerably when the first low-emission infrastructure construction site pilots were launched in the summer, and in September Helsinki and six other public procurers signed a voluntary Green Deal agreement on reducing emissions from worksites.

The objective of the Green Deal agreement on emission-free construction sites is for worksites to abandon fossil fuels entirely by 2025. Additionally, at least 50% of the machinery used at worksites and worksite transport vehicles will be powered by electricity, biogas or hydrogen by 2030. Worksite emissions covered by the agreement include emissions from machinery, electricity and heating as well as transport vehicles in stages.

In 2020, Stara managed to gather experiences from several low-emission infrastructure contracts, and it has been decided that the criteria for low-emission worksites will continue to be applied to all street projects in the city in the future. The City-level execution of the Green Deal agreement was started by preparing interim targets for each contract type for the coming years. Closer criteria work will also be continued in the form of Green Deal cooperation in the building construction and maintenance working groups.

Emission-free worksites were also promoted in  the Ecosystem for Zero Emission Construction Sites (E-ZEMCONS) project funded by EIT Climate-KIC with the help of cooperation and market dialogue between European cities. The duration of the project was from January 2020 to December 2020.

Many development projects are underway in building construction

In 2020 and at the start of 2021, the Re-thinking Urban Housing working group supported the addition of seven projects to the Re-thinking Urban Housing programme. These projects implement the City Strategy and the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan in particular. They will be launched once the City Board has decided on the plot. The themes of the projects include various wood construction techniques, the visibility of wood on the interior surfaces of buildings, increasing natural values in wood construction, new urban infill solutions and the adaptability of dwellings, as well as the lifecycle, among other things. At the start of 2021, one new project of the Re-thinking Urban Housing programme, called 0-CO2 Block, received a plot in Kalasatama. The project’s theme is carbon neutrality and comfort of living. According to a follow-up report completed about the ‘Comparison of wood and concrete construction’ project, the carbon footprint of a wood-framed apartment building was smaller than that of a concrete-framed apartment building in all phases, including the design and construction phase and after the buildings were put into service.

Two different projects in Kalasatama in Helsinki are trying to achieve a positive energy level. A positive energy level means that the properties generate more energy than they need. In the innovative project by Helsinki’s housing production, radiant heat from the sun is captured and stored in a district cooling network or utilised directly on the property with the help of a heat pump. Geothermal heat is utilised alongside district heating, and electrical energy is generated with solar panels. Additionally, the building’s stairwells are installed with smart glass that allows the amount of cooling and heating energy needed to be adjusted.

The second project is Helsinki’s EXCESS building, which is part of a larger European project that seeks solutions for different climate zones. The project receives funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The project combines existing individual technologies and local renewable energy generation, in addition to developing new products and integrating them into a full system.

Helsinki has encouraged builders to practice energy-efficient construction and renewable energy generation by giving discounts on permit fees. Solar panels and the pipes of heat recovery systems have also been released from the obligation to apply for a permit in many respects.

Traffic emissions are reduced by many means

In accordance with the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan, the transport sector is pursuing a 69% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (2005–2035).

The emission reductions of traffic are realised by means such as increasing the popularity of cycling and walking and by increasing the percentage of electric cars, electric buses and rail-based public transport. The Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan includes 30 measures pertaining to transport and traffic. For more information on the promotion of sustainable transport and mobility, see the chapter ‘Transport’ in this report.

Projects speed up development work

The mySMARTLife project moved on to the project monitoring phase and the implementation of lessons learned. The Helsinki sub-project and its partners saw the pilot containing an autonomous bus trial through to the end and assessed its potential for achieving the carbon neutrality target in the transport sector. In addition to gathering indicators of energy and traffic emissions, the project carried out an assessment by means of an interview survey with the participants in the Merihaka sub-project. Additionally, the project developed an open energy data interface for properties and took part in finishing the Energy Renaissance operating model. The duration of the project is from December 2016 to November 2021. The mySMARTLife project is part of the Horizon 2020 programme, which tries out new innovative and smart city energy solutions and promotes their entry into the market. The cross-cutting theme is the integration of open data and smart information and communications technology into the measures. The goal in the target areas is to reduce energy consumption by 10–20%.

The objective of the Six City Strategy project ‘Carbon neutral and resource-wise industrial areas’ (HNRY), coordinated by the City of Helsinki, is to develop the industrial areas and worksites of the Cities of Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Turku to be carbon-neutral. Conceptualisation and piloting of operations in the project’s target areas promotes methods of reducing emissions from machinery and heavy traffic, enhancing the utilisation of materials and speeding up carbon-neutral business by companies. The lessons learned and operating models created as a result of cooperation between companies, cities and research institutes will be extensively offered for utilisation by various operators through the project’s final output. The duration of the project is from May 2019 to May 2021. Helsinki has two focus areas in the project: participation in the conceptualisation of emission-free worksites and the climate work at Vuosaari Harbour.

Indirect emissions roughly double Helsinki’s emissions

In addition to the emissions generated in the Helsinki area, it is important to examine the area’s indirect emissions, as they roughly double Helsinki’s emissions. Indirect emissions refer to the emissions generated from the creation of services and products that are used in Helsinki but produced elsewhere. The greatest sources of emissions are construction materials and food production. The City has reduced emissions from food production by means such as setting the goal for food services that the City organisation must reduce the amount of meat and dairy products it offers by half and reduce food waste. Efforts are being made to reduce emissions from construction materials by means such as examining opportunities to regulate carbon emissions from construction products or favouring recycled materials. One key method of reducing indirect emissions from construction is to favour wood construction. There are opportunities available for reducing indirect emissions systematically and effectively in public procurement, for example.

Climate Watch has proven to be a functional tool

Helsinki’s Climate Watch service, which is based on open source code and used to monitor the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan, expanded to several Finnish cities, such as Lahti and Tampere. The platform developed for Climate Watch was also utilised in other programmes of the City, such as the Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy (Kiertotalousvahti (Circular Economy Watch)) and the Exercise and Mobility Scheme Project (Liikkumisvahti (Physical Activity Watch)). In relation to the scenario tool being developed as part of Climate Watch, a quick trial was carried out in June in cooperation with Siemens Oy and Kausal Oy on the impact of the pricing of parking facilities and the promotion of electric cars on achieving the emissions target.

Eyes on the future

The plan is to update the Carbon-Neutral Helsinki Action Plan during the City Council’s next period of office. The updating process is intended to start when the new City Council takes up its duties.

As a continuation to the Helsinki Energy Challenge, the City has set out to prepare an energy vision for the City. This work will also involve external experts.

Additionally, the monitoring of emission reductions will continue to be developed in the future. The aim is to establish a clearer connection between the measures and their effects on emissions and develop their visualisation. Through monitoring, the aim is to gain a better big picture of the extent to which the measures are sufficient in relation to the carbon neutrality target.

Emission situation in Helsinki, kt CO2e

Picture 2. Helsinki must reduce its emissions by 1658 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent from 2020 to 2035 in order to achieve carbon neutrality, an 80% reduction compared to the year 1990.

State of Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 procedures on 30 April 2021

Picture 3. The majority of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 measures progressed on time in spring 2021, and 20 measures had already been completed.
An infographic of the status of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan’s measures. In 2020, measures related to energy-efficient construction, transport and heating in particular were promoted.
Picture 4. Measures of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan that are related to energy-efficient construction, transport and heating in particular were promoted in 2020.