Climate protection

In the City Strategy for the 2021–2025 council period of office, Helsinki brought its carbon neutrality target forward to 2030. The Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan was updated to meet the new target year and will focus on the most effective actions in construction, transport and energy solutions, in accordance with the City Strategy and the emissions reduction target. The Strategy also states that the City will have an ambitious zero-carbon objective for 2040.

The implementation of the first period of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan progressed well, and many of the actions have been completed. Some of the actions have been integrated into normal public service. Those actions that are still underway and would benefit from the programming, the actions have been transferred to other plans and programmes, such as the roadmap for circular and sharing economy.

Total greenhouse gas emissions remained at the level of the previous year

Globally, 2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record. The past six years have been the warmest, while 2011–2020 was the warmest decade. In Finland, 2021 ended up being at an ordinary temperature range, even though June was the hottest on record in Southern and Central Europe and July was also very warm.

The total greenhouse gas emissions generated by residents, services and industry in Helsinki in 2021 amounted to 2,345 kt CO₂e, remaining at the same level as in the previous year. This is due to the emissions from district heating increasing, even as emissions from other sectors decreased. The increase in emissions from district heating is mainly explained by Helen Ltd’s fuel distribution: the relative proportion of natural gas decreased, while the proportion of coal and oil increased. Compared to 1990, the total emissions of Helsinki were 33% lower. Emission per capita also remained at the previous year’s level. Emissions per capita were 3.6 t CO₂e, which is 50% lower than in 1990.

Renewable energy accounted for 16% of the energy produced by Helen in 2021. Energy was produced with hydropower, wood pellets, wind power and solar power, as well as with heat pumps by using various surplus energy flows.

Image 1. Total greenhouse gas emissions in Helsinki in 2021 amounted to 2,345 kt CO2e.

Towards carbon-neutral energy production

Helen aims to reach carbon neutrality in energy production in 2030. In 2022, Helen will prepare a new carbon neutrality plan in accordance with this objective of having entirely carbon-neutral energy production in 2030. In 2021, Helen made the decision to close the Hanasaari Coal Power Plant and end production there by spring 2023. It was also decided that the burning of coal would stop at Salmisaari Power Plant in spring 2024. With these decisions, Helen will stop using coal over five years earlier than planned. The closing of Hanasaari Power Plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2023 by almost 50% from the 1990 level. The production will be replaced with heat recovery, bioheat, solar and wind power and energy storage. Similarly, the closing of Salmisaari Power Plant will reduce emissions by a minimum of 60% in 2024 and accelerate the move towards a decentralised heating production and energy system. By 2030, the carbon dioxide emissions from energy production will decrease by 85% from the 1990 level. The remaining emissions will be compensated for.

Many development projects underway in building construction

The Re-thinking Urban Housing programme is in charge of the development needs of designing and constructing blocks of flats. In the past few years, the programme has seen several projects that pay special attention to climate change. In 2021, Re-thinking Urban Housing included two new projects, the 0-CO2 and Urban Wooden Block projects. In the 0-CO2 Block project in Kalasatama aims to create an operating model that will help achieve a fully carbon-neutral residential block. The Urban Wooden Block project in Pohjois-Pasila is based on a plan that won the Asuntoreformi (‘Housing Reform’) architectural competition in 2018. The project aims to develop a type of a wooden block of flats in an urban enclosed block, study a feeling of communality at various scales and highlight new solutions for housing design. Of the projects in the programme, the ones that were completed were the Lifecycle Block in Koskela, the SunZEB block in Kalasatama, the Energy-efficient and Bright Residential Building in Jätkäsaari and the Group Rental project in Kruunuvuorenranta. 

The development of a national emissions database for infrastructure construction continued in 2021, led by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency. In the first stage, the database will focus on road construction but also pay attention to other characteristics of urban infrastructure construction as extensively as possible. The interviews and data collection carried out in 2021 resulted in an initial database that will be tested in spring 2022. At the same time, reviews and development work on the harmonisation of the methods started. 

The work to update the lifecycle management model, which directs the City’s own housing construction and compiles the objectives and instructions related to eco-sustainable construction, continued in 2021. The latest version was published at the turn of 2021 and 2022, at which point the management model was renamed the ‘objectives of eco-sustainable construction’ regarding the service building projects. In housing production, the lifecycle management model was develop to suit housing construction and piloted in various projects. After having piloted it early in the year, it was decided that the lifecycle management model would be adopted for all projects to be launched. 

In 2021, the City’s projects for both service buildings and housing production adopted the environmental documentation for worksites, the goal of which is to direct the implementation of construction so that the environmental impact of construction can be prevented, reduced and mitigated. The document includes, for example, the Green Deal on zero-emission worksites and the first-stage requirements for contractors. 

The lifecycle carbon footprint for a building will be calculated for all new construction projects of the City and, subject to discretion, also for renovation projects. The calculations are used to steer operations towards a lower-emission direction, and information about them is compiled to set a threshold value for the carbon footprint. The carbon footprint has also been used as the minimum requirement and quality criterion in the City’s lifecycle, rental and design–build projects. 

In addition to this, the Canemure project piloted carbon footprint calculations as a part of the renovation planning for the Hämeentie street space. Through climate-smart and resource-smart design, technical solutions and material choices, almost a third of a project’s emissions can be reduced. More details about the Canemure project are in the Procurements chapter.

Climate taken into account in planning

The planning of wooden construction areas progressed in 2021 as the Karhunkaataja detailed plan (50,000 floor m2 of wooden residential buildings) and the Koivusaari detailed plan (27,100 floor m2 of wooden residential buildings) were completed and moved to decision-making. The detailed plans for Hermanninranta and Länsi-Haaga were also prepared. In addition to this, minor detailed plans on wooden construction were at varying stages in Malmi, Tapanila, Pihlajamäki, Patola and Kumpula. 

The possibilities and preparation of regional geothermal heating were studied in connection with the plan for Karhunkaataja and the planning of Hermanninranta and Länsi-Haaga. In Koivusaari, the utilisation of seawater heat was also studied. The circular economy perspective was implemented by the plan regulations and conversions regarding the mass balance of the Koivusaari detailed plan and promotion of solutions that preserve old elements, such as the educational building on Onnentie and the Kätilöopisto Hospital. The perspective of the carbon footprint was present in the planning principles for central Malmi, which were approved by the Urban Environment Committee in 2021.

Through the assessment method for the low-carbon qualities of Helsinki detailed plans (the HAVA method), the lifecycle carbon footprint and handprint of Helsinki detailed plans can be reviewed. The purpose of HAVA is to become a clear, easy-to-use and updateable method that will visualise climate impact. It can be used to direct operators to low-carbon and even carbon-positive solutions. The results yielded by HAVA can be used as a part of assessing a plan’s impact, for example in the comparisons within a planning project (wooden construction vs concrete construction, demolitions vs preservation, underground parking vs carpark). Through HAVA, the factors that are significant for carbon emissions can be identified from the plans and also influenced. 

Winner selected in the Verkkosaari Low-carbon Green Block plot conveyance competition

In the Verkkosaari Low-carbon Green Block plot conveyance competition, launched to promote low-carbon construction in Helsinki, a 50-% emphasis was placed on the carbon footprint, E-value and green factor. Through a plot conveyance competition with a good location, it can be assessed how high the criteria-based targets can be set, and how these essential criteria on carbon neutrality can be achieved at the same time. The competition had 12 ambitious entries, of which ‘Grün in der Mitte’ by the construction company Hartela was selected as the winner. The architecture in the entry was by Arkkitehtitoimisto Anttinen Oiva arkkitehdit Oy. Much like all the best proposals, the innovative and low-carbon proposal managed to integrate climate-friendly solutions into an architecturally sound solution. Based on the best entries, a market dialogue event was also held in spring 2022 between companies and City expert, as a part of the Embodied Carbon project of the CNCA network. 

Traffic emissions reduced by many means

The City Strategy aims for the City of Helsinki’s work on carbon neutrality to focus on the electrification of the transport system and the promotion of sustainable and smart transport solutions. In accordance with the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2030 Action Plan, the transport sector is pursuing a 69% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (2005–2030).

The emission reductions of traffic are being 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. For more information on the promotion of sustainable transport and mobility, see the chapter ‘Transport’ in this report. 

Projects speed up development work

The City of Helsinki coordinated the 6Aika Carbon-neutral And Resource-wise Industrial Areas (CRIA) project that promoted work towards carbon neutrality in industrial areas and ended in 2021. The project sought means of reducing the emissions from machinery and making the use of materials more efficient. In addition to this, it coached companies on carbon neutrality. The CRIA project was active in the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Turku. In the infrastructure worksite pilot in Helsinki, procurement criteria and practices that promote the zero-emission operations of a worksite were tested. The Vuosaari Harbour piloted joint collection of plastic waste and the potential of the plastic value chain in its industrial area, while also preparing a review and roadmap for 2021–2035 to reduce the emissions from harbour machinery. The emissions calculation model for harbour machinery, along with its tutorial videos, is also suitable for the calculations for other types of machinery. These and other results of the project can be seen on the website. 

The mySMARTLife project, included in the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, tested innovative and smart urban energy solutions and aimed to improve their entry to the market. In addition to the sub-project in Helsinki, pilots that largely focused on smart technology were carried out in Hamburg and Nantes, and lessons learned have been shared with several European cities. The project, which started in 2016, was extended from late 2021 to September 2022. The project that focused on reducing the emissions from traffic and energy, in particular, is now at the monitoring and reporting stage, and a shared European publication on the results, lessons and development of the actions is being planned. 

Eyes on the future

The Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan focuses on increasingly impactful actions, as specified in the City Strategy. In order to rapidly handling factors that influence technological development, political and other types of guidance and other emissions, the actions will be updated annually, moving forward. The City will also continue other work related to climate change mitigation which will be monitored as a part of the operation of the climate and environment network. The role of subsidiary communities in climate work will be expanded as a part of the process where all subsidiary communities prepare their own carbon neutrality plans. 

Emissions situation in Helsinki, kt CO2e

Image 2. Helsinki must reduce its emissions by 1,643 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent from 2021 to 2030 in order to achieve carbon neutrality, an 80% reduction compared to the year 1990.