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Environmental Report 2020: Climate and environment issues have been promoted vigorously

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on traffic in the Helsinki region. The amount of motor vehicle traffic decreased, particularly after the COVID-19 restrictions came into force and remote work increased. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused changes in public transport passenger numbers. Just over half of the trips within Helsinki were made on foot. 

The exceptional year quietened the city, cleaned the air and reduced emissions 

In 2020, the air quality in Helsinki was good or satisfactory most of the time. Exhaust nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and street dust (PM10) concentrations were exceptionally low, which was due to weather conditions and reduced traffic. 

‘Emissions decreased considerably from the previous year, by as much as nine per cent. A part of this decrease is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that reduced travel, while another part is due to the decrease in coal combustion. In the future, we must ensure that emissions will continue to decrease sufficiently quickly when life starts to return to normal. The closing of the Hanasaari power plant, the results of the Energy Challenge competition, and our work on the emissions from buildings and worksites are promising signs that we will succeed,’ says Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki. 

In 2020, Helsinki’s total greenhouse gas emissions were around 33% lower than in 1990, so the City met its 2020 target of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases. The emissions calculated per capita fell to a record low of 3.6 tonnes, ending up being 50% lower than in 1990. 

Nature areas attracted visitors 

Recreational areas were in heavy use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the city residents sought out peaceful environments. Quiet or peaceful places are very important to the residents of Helsinki, as indicated by the results of the resident survey published in autumn 2020. In the survey, the respondents marked places that they found to be quiet and peaceful around the city. These included in particular large green areas and places near bodies of water.For example, Lammassaari island, which is surrounded by the bird wetland of Vanhakaupunki, was visited by approximately 200,000 visitors in 2020, which is approximately 45% more than the previous year. 

‘The increased interest in outdoor activity and nature reserves contributed to increased wear and littering. Fences were built and signage was increased in the most popular areas in order to guide people away from sensitive natural areas,’ says Head of Environmental Affairs Esa Nikunen. 

In 2020, a record number of new Park Pals signed up for the Park Pals activity, as residents want to get more involved in cleaning up their environment. 

In 2020, founding decisions and management and utilisation plans were approved for four nature reserves in Helsinki.The largest of these reserves is Haltialanmetsä with its 137 hectares.The rest of the new nature reserves were bird islets.Currently, 3.2% of all land area in Helsinki consists of nature reserves. 

The city’s small water bodies, biota and harmful substances were mapped

During 2020, the City launched a long-term effort to classify small water bodies and map their biota. The objective is to identify the creeks that require special protection. In addition to this, the occurrence of harmful substances in the marine areas of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area was mapped. Harmful substances are found on the seabed and in the biota, in particular. In early 2020, heavy rainfall caused several overflows of the wastewater system, which weakened the quality of coastal waters in places. 

The progress of Helsinki’s circular economy measures can be monitored online 

The City of Helsinki’s Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy was approved in spring 2020. The roadmap includes 31 concrete actions, the implementation of which can be monitored through the Kiertotalousvahti service. Measures related to demolition measures and procurements in particular were promoted in 2020. Furthermore, the mayor signed the European Circular Cities Declaration, which aims for a transition from a linear economy to a circular economy. 

In 2020, the City of Helsinki and Parish Union of Helsinki partnered to establish the Stadin safka food waste terminal, which allows the leftover food of the trade industry, wholesalers and the food industry to be utilised more efficiently, widely and professionally through food aid. 

Environmental investments grew by 20% from the previous year 

Environmental investments added up to 162 million euros, which is 18.8% of the total capital expenditure of the City. The City’s environmental investments increased by 20% from the previous year, and the largest investments were related to the promotion of climate and environmentally friendly transport – including HKL’s investments in public transport (81%) – and the restoration of contaminated soil (15%). The environmental costs of the City of Helsinki were 74 million euros last year. The City’s largest expense items were the costs of sanitation and waste management of the areas (29%) and promotion of climate and environmentally friendly transport (22%). 

More detailed indicator data on the condition of the environment and pollution can be found in the Helsinki environmental statistics at

Helsinki City Council discussed the Environmental Report at its meeting on 16 June 2021. 

Photo: Julia Kivelä.