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Third Voluntary Local Review 2023

The City of Helsinki is committed to promoting and assessing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its City Strategy 2021–2025: A Place of Growth. Helsinki has carried out Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) in 2019 and 2021. This is the City’s third review and continues and deepens the assessment of the key themes, building on the development work based on the 2021 report. In 2023, the Voluntary Local Review is part of the mid-term review of the City Strategy.

The objectives of the review are the following:

  • to provide an overall picture and understanding of Helsinki’s status and progress towards the SDGs
  • to openly highlight Helsinki’s successes and areas for development
  • to develop and deepen the assessment and measurement of key sustainability themes.

The report assesses Helsinki’s development from the perspective of the SDGs, emphasising concrete actions and, at the same time, identifying themes for development. The report is an expert review, consisting of a concise description of various themes, indicators measuring progress and examples of the City’s various activities in everyday life.

The report examines sustainable development from the point of view of ecological, social, cultural and economic sustainability. The report’s breakdown remains more or less the same as in the 2021 review, but cultural sustainability has been added as a new thematic area. The themes and indicators have also remained largely unchanged to allow for longer-term comparative and trajectory analysis, but some new indicators have also been introduced. The stories and examples collected in this third review focus on issues that contribute to the Leave No One Behind principle of Agenda 2030.

Identification of conflicts and boundary conditions

Although the global goals of Agenda 2030 as an overall reference framework are also well suited to the promotion of sustainable development at the local level, many of the targets under the SDGs are not directly appropriate for the local level and especially not for an advanced and prosperous city such as Helsinki. Therefore, efforts have been made to open up and describe the global SDGs from the perspective of Helsinki’s operations.

Helsinki’s interpretation of the SDGs has sought to incorporate the core ideas of ecological planetary boundary conditions and a social foundation. Growth and wellbeing should be built in a way that does not jeopardise ecological sustainability or leave poorer countries behind. This challenge has also been highlighted in the Roadmap of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development, which identifies six areas requiring societal change where Finland must act in order to achieve all the Agenda 2030 goals and ensure the sustainable wellbeing of Finns within Earth’s carrying capacity. In Helsinki, the aim has been to assess sustainable development within these boundary conditions and highlight the conflicts and synergies between them.

This is also about a sustainability transition, a change in the mindset and operating culture of the City organisation, which requires long-term action, goals and decision-making.

A changing operating environment

Helsinki, like the rest of Europe, has been going through a period of uncertainty and crises. First the COVID-19 crisis and then, in 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the energy crisis and inflation. The COVID-19 crisis has affected the wellbeing of both young and senior citizen. The challenges affecting the wellbeing and growth environment of children and young people have increased; for example, there has been a marked rise in loneliness experienced by young people and anxiety among girls. The war in Europe is causing great concern and has increased the importance of safety issues and preparedness.

In terms of demographic development, Helsinki’s pull has been strong in recent years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new uncertainties to population growth. Helsinki’s neighbourhoods are diverse and pleasant, but at the same time there are clear social differences between them. Housing costs and space constraints may affect the attractiveness of Helsinki. Helsinki’s population is also becoming more diverse. The diversity of languages and cultures and the number of older people in Helsinki are growing.

Since the pandemic, the employment situation has developed positively, but there are still more unemployed people than before the pandemic in 2019. Investments in research and development are on the rise. However, rising prices and interest rates are challenging people’s finances and purchasing power. The City’s finances and tax base have remained strong, but the future is uncertain. The renewal of the City Group, changes in working life and digitalisation are affecting the City’s activities in many ways. The availability of labour is a challenge, particularly in early childhood education and the Social Services and Health Care Division.

Review implementation

The sustainable development assessment work was coordinated by a City-level working group on sustainable development, with representatives from all of the City’s divisions and enterprises, as well as other key experts. The working group contributed to the report through data collection, writing, setting indicators and commenting on the report. The compilation of the report was led by the Strategy Department. In addition to the working group, several other experts from the City organisation participated in writing and commenting on the report.

The conceptual and theoretical framework of the review is based on the UN 2030 Agenda framework. The Helsinki situational picture assessments, suggestions for measures and indicators are based on the City’s key theme reports, programmes and situational picture analyses. The indicators, statistics and key figures are based on statistics and key figures produced and maintained by Helsinki’s Urban Research and Statistics Unit, Statistics Finland, Helsinki Region Environmental Services (HSY), Helsinki Police Department, Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) and Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), among others.

After the 2019 sustainable development report, the City of Helsinki decided to produce a new sustainability review every two years, in the middle and at the end of the strategy period. The 2023 review is part of the mid-term review of the strategy period. The SDG indicators were compared and developed in relation to the City’s other key operating environment and development indicators during the review process.