04/10/2017 – News / Environment / Helsinki / Finland / Carbon Neutral

Helsinki seeks to be carbon neutral by 2035

Last week, Helsinki City Council voted unanimously to pass a proposal for a new city strategy including the goal to render Helsinki carbon neutral by 2035. The vote accelerated the achievement of carbon neutrality in Helsinki by 15 years from the earlier target set for 2050.


Leading to 2035, Helsinki seeks a 60-per-cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions over the period from 1990 to 2030.


In his address presenting the strategy proposal to the City Council, Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori declared that Finland’s capital city should assume a globally pioneering role in confronting the biggest challenges of our times. “Helsinki should be a forerunner in finding local solutions for climate action,” he said.


“Helsinki's new climate goals mean that we will have to start applying totally new measures to cut emissions compared with those undertaken up until now,” said Helsinki climate expert Jari Viinanen, pointing out that the current measures enable Helsinki to far exceed its target for 2020 to cut emissions by 30 per cent and would have enabled an up to 50 per cent cut by 2030.


Helsinki envisions making the biggest strides toward 2030 in the transportation sector, reducing emissions by 55 per cent with the help of sharp increases in electric vehicles and biofuels. For example, Helsinki aims to make public transportation emissions-free by 2020, as well as being a keen promoter of walking, cycling, and public transportation by rail.


Other measures to be implemented by 2030 include increasing renewable energy production and energy efficiency. The energy efficiency of the old building stock is to improve by 15 per cent with retrofits and that of new construction projects by 65 per cent compared with the current building average.


To achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, Helsinki intends to cut emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 and to compensate for the remaining emissions. A programme of measures leading to 2035 will be completed in February 2018.


Carbon neutrality by 2035 will require Helsinki first to abandon coal from its energy portfolio and possibly to abandon natural gas at a later stage. The move would be in line with the government’s plan to make Finland the first nation in the world to ban the burning of coal for energy.


The combined district heat and power (CHP) process of the Helsinki energy company Helen is half fuelled by coal and one-third fuelled by natural gas. Helen envisions that the path from fossil fuels to carbon-neutral energy production will go via an interim stage of a bio-based economy.


“In addition to renewable energy sources, replacements to fossil fuels can come from smart energy solutions, such as energy recycling by the utilisation of waste heat by heat pumps,” Mr Viinanen envisions. In one such example, Helen’s Katri Vala heat pump plant generates district heat by recovering heat from purified sewage water and from district cooling water after it has been heated in the cooling process. Helen will complement Katri Vala with a second heat pump plant in 2018. Helen has also pioneered data centres where the heat produced by servers is recovered and used as district heat.


Helsinki's climate goals are in line with those of other Nordic capitals and markedly exceed the goals set by the EU, which seeks 40 per cent cuts in member countries by 2030 and 80-95 per cent cuts by 2050 from 1990 levels.


Helsinki's new strategy seeks to make Helsinki the world's most functional city, to ensure sustainable growth, and to provide good everyday life for all residents.

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