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Sustainable development is part of Helsinki’s core activities

The global agenda for sustainable development for all UN member states, Agenda 2030, was adopted at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015. The joint action plan sets common goals for all countries for the next 15 years. Finland is strongly committed to the goals of the Agenda and has already published two national reports.

A significant part of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals takes place at local level. Therefore, cities play a significant role in the success of the goals. Especially in Finland, municipalities play an important role: they are responsible for many activities and services related to social, ecological and economic sustainability.

Helsinki is committed to the goals of Agenda 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs) and wants to promote the achievement of the SDGs and highlight the role of cities in their implementation. Helsinki published its first Voluntary Local Review in 2019 as the second city in the world.

Helsinki is doing well in comparisons 

Measured by many international indicators, Helsinki is doing well in the field of sustainable development. Among other things, Helsinki is in the top three in the comparison of European cities.

One of Helsinki’s strengths is the fact that the spirit of the SDGs of respecting the environment, well-being, equality and cooperation is already quite well reflected in the city’s values and actions. For example, the starting point for organising basic services is making the services open and accessible to all.

In many respects, sustainable development is part of the city’s core activities, and its connection to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is not always even thought about. Helsinki has a wealth of expertise, enthusiasm and ability to put the SDGs into practice, as indicated by many of the stories in this report about the city’s various activities.

From the perspective of sustainable development, some of Helsinki’s strengths are high-quality and equal learning opportunities, cultural and leisure services, good health care, well-functioning infrastructure and clean nature as well as the development of a functional and intelligent city.

Challenges include climate change and increased inequalities

Despite the good starting points, Helsinki still has a lot of work to do to achieve the SDGs, and the challenges are further accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, Helsinki’s challenges relate to combating climate change, consumption and safeguarding biodiversity.

In terms of social sustainability, the challenges relate to increased inequalities, health disparities between income groups and residential areas, and mental well-being. The challenges in economic sustainability include the increase of perceived income disparities and housing prices, the deteriorating employment situation and the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy.

In general, challenges in promoting sustainability are posed by the fragmentation of measures through operational and economic planning into a number of separate actions by the city’s different organisations. However, better coordination of strategic entities has been developed during the council term, for example, with regard to the comprehensive and cross-cutting well-being and health plan and the Carbon-neutral Helsinki Action Plan, as well as by strengthening the City Executive Office’s strategy department as a coordinating operator.