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Environmental Report 2021: New strategy boosts Helsinki’s climate and environment efforts

In autumn 2021, Helsinki was given a new city strategy, the aim of which is sustainable growth that is in harmony with the ecological preconditions. According to the strategy, the city shall become even more committed to climate and environment efforts. 

‘2021 was a significant year for Helsinki’s climate and environment. We decided on a new city strategy that will enhance our carbon neutrality targets, set an ambitious guideline for the protection of biodiversity, and require us to be increasingly more sensitive when reconciling residential construction and nature values. According to the strategy, Helsinki brought forward its carbon neutrality target from 2035 to 2030. The new city strategy also stated that the city’s zero-carbon target will be set for 2040. The decisions we make during this council term are crucial for achieving the targets,’ says Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment Anni Sinnemäki. 

The Carbon-Neutral Helsinki action plan will be updated to correspond to the 2030 carbon neutrality target. The plan will focus on the construction, transport and energy consumption actions that affect the achievement of the emission target the most. 

In 2021, Helsinki’s greenhouse gas emissions remained on the same level as in the year previous. Even though the emissions from other sectors were reduced, the emissions from district heating increased. The increase in emissions is partially explained by the fuel distribution of Helen Oy. The relative share of natural gas decreased and the share of coal and oil increased. The total emissions of Helsinki were approximately 33% lower than in 1990. 

In 2021, Helen made the decision to close the Hanasaari power plant and end production by spring 2023 and to stop burning coal in the Salmisaari power plant in spring 2024. With these decisions, Helen will stop using coal over five years earlier than planned. 

New action plan for securing biodiversity 

One of the key targets of the plan is the reconciliation of nature values and urban growth. City of Helsinki Biodiversity Action Plan (LUMO programme) 2021–2028 was approved. 

‘The key objective of the LUMO programme is to improve taking biodiversity into account in all city operations. By the end of 2021, 66 per cent of the programme’s actions had been started,’ says Head of Environmental Affairs Esa Nikunen. 

In 2021, The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment established in Helsinki three new nature reserves, all of which are bird islets. Pitkäouri, Tiirakari, and Ulko-Hattu which was established at the initiative of the association Lauttasaari-Seura. The state also established two nature reserves, Vallisaari and Kapellviken, in its lands located in Helsinki. 

In 2021, 3.8% of all land area in Helsinki consisted of nature reserves. The figure grew by 0.6 per cent from the year previous. 

Pandemic’s effect still visible in transport 

In 2021, the amount of motor vehicle traffic increased from the year previous, but remained smaller than in the pre-pandemic autumn of 2019. The passenger numbers of public transport remained lower than before the pandemic. 

As Helsinki’s population grows and land use becomes more dense, it is increasingly important that people start using sustainable forms of transport. In the renovation completed in 2021, Hämeentie was redeveloped into a pedestrian, cycling and public transport street. The redevelopment will increase pedestrian and cycling safety, speed up public transport and improve air quality. 

In 2021, the number of electric cars increased considerably when compared to the previous year. Rechargeable cars’ share of all cars in use was about 8.4 per cent, while in 2020 it was 3.4 per cent. 

Environment investments grew by almost a third from the previous year 

The city’s environmental investments added up to 210.4 million euros, which is 27.8 per cent of the total capital expenditure of the city. Environmental investments grew by 29.6 per cent from the previous year. The largest investments were related to the promotion of climate and environmentally friendly transport – including HKL’s investments in public transport (85.5%) – and the restoration of contaminated soil (7.3%). 

The environmental costs of the City of Helsinki were 77.7 million euros last year. The largest expense items were the sanitation and waste management of the areas (26.6%) and promoting climate-friendly and environmentally friendly transport (26%). 

Helsinki City Council discussed the Environmental Report at its meeting on 15 June 2022.