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Sustainable Helsinki

Despite challenging conditions, Helsinki has been able to implement sustainable development objectives in its strategy. However, there is still plenty left to do. Read Mayor Juhana Vartiainen’s foreword for the 2023 Voluntary Local Review here.

Cities shape a sustainable future. Helsinki wants to be a city at the forefront of sustainable development, now and in the future, and is strongly committed to sustainability – including social, ecological, economic and cultural sustainability.

For each of these, we want to take concrete action to demonstrate our will and ambition to do better.

Almost eight years ago, 193 countries in the UN General Assembly voted to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The purpose of this joint commitment has been to ensure the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The reporting of progress at a national level was identified as the main way to monitor global progress and performance. However, it soon became apparent that the potential for action to achieve the objectives at the national level was limited. Issues such as taxation and regulation are of course critical, but most of the SDGs require strong local implementation, without which the desired impact cannot be achieved.

In 2018, Helsinki became the second city in the world and the first in Europe to commit to assess and report on its progress towards the SDGs at the local level.
Today, our united front includes many cities around the world.

Helsinki has a long tradition in sustainable development and good measures. Many long-term solutions are already integrated into our basic services. Helsinki adopted its first local action plan for sustainable development as far back as 20 years ago. This is something to be proud of.

This is already the third report on the implementation of the SDGs for Helsinki. Of course, the review is just a tool to monitor and analyse our progress in relation to the global goals and our own strategy. The review will help us develop Helsinki’s sustainable development indicators and knowledge-based management. At the same time, the report allows us to assess the effectiveness of our actions and identify any conflicting goals.

The world has seemed to be exceptionally unstable in recent years. First, the whole world was challenged in an unprecedented way by the COVID-19 pandemic, immediately followed in Europe by the brutal war waged by Russia in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is threatening democracy across Europe. It is our duty to support Ukraine and Ukrainians, while defending Western democracy.

These events also show that unexpected and unforeseen changes can occur in our operating environment. Despite this, and indeed precisely because of this, we must continue to pursue and implement sustainable development measures with determination. The direction must be clear, even if we cannot foresee everything.

Yet concrete actions set an example. In Helsinki, we closed a large coal power plant this spring. The fact that we were able to move forward with the closure of a major coal power plant with determination, even in this global situation, is a strong demonstration of our will. This is just one example, but I think that it gives a good idea of the scale we are aiming for. The decision will reduce the city’s overall emissions by around 20%. This is one way for cities to lead the global shift towards clean energy and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

During this strategy period, Helsinki has tightened its carbon neutrality goal by five years, setting a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. We know this is an ambitious goal, but it is achievable if we have the courage to take strong and effective action at a local level.

Building a sustainable future is the most critical issue of our time. Sustainable cities and communities play a key role in promoting peace, prosperity and stability at the local level.

To tackle the climate crisis and safeguard biodiversity, we must be able to act quickly and effectively. A sustainable future is also fundamentally linked to ensuring wellbeing and social sustainability. Above all, we must nurture the wellbeing of our children and young people, and society as a whole, through concrete actions that give hope for the future.

Of particular concern in recent years have been differences in wellbeing between population groups and the mental wellbeing of children and young people. Therefore, special attention must be paid to combating regional segregation and promoting the wellbeing of children and young people.

It is important for cities around the world to be able to successfully implement sustainable solutions. Helsinki wants to be a trailblazer and pioneer.

For this third review, cultural sustainability has rightly been identified as one of the main themes. We wanted to highlight cultural sustainability as a separate issue, as it often seems to be forgotten when talking about sustainability. After all, Helsinki has a long tradition of supporting culture, and our cultural services are of the highest quality by international standards.

At the core of cultural sustainability are creativity, cultural heritage, knowledge and diversity. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will also require a cultural shift in many of the ways of thinking and acting that we have grown up with, that shape our lives and that we pass on to younger generations. Culture and art give us the tools and opportunities to deal with change and find creative ways to address the challenges that change brings.

Helsinki has also made culture one of its priorities in its City Strategy. We aptly state that art and culture are enablers of a good life. Helsinki wants to build the city’s distinctiveness, make it more attractive to tourists, promote the inclusion of its residents, increase cultural understanding, reduce segregation and foster the residents’ commitment to Helsinki. In this review, Helsinki has focused on three aspects of cultural sustainability: cultural services, design and cultural heritage.

The conclusions of the review show that Finland and Helsinki are pioneers in implementing sustainable development in many areas and we perform well in international comparisons. At the same time, however, the review shows that much work remains to be done. It is increasingly clear that we need to do more and more to reconcile conflicting goals and take action to achieve our carbon neutrality target. However, I am glad that the majority of Helsinki residents feel that their quality of life and health is good. This is a good basis to build on.

We have also succeeded in making the promotion of cultural equality an important priority, improving neighbourhood comfort through the suburban regeneration model, and developing mental health service chains and training. We have also invested in supporting physical activity.

Helsinki wants to encourage cities around the world to embrace sustainability work and take concrete action. Cities have a duty to spur the national level and demand ambitious and unrelenting action by setting an example. The coming years and decade will determine the direction humanity takes. That is why we must act now, and we must act together. I believe that our common determination will also guide the strength of our cooperation. We still have a long way to go, but fortunately we are heading in the right direction.

Juhana Vartiainen
Mayor of Helsinki