By signing the Paris agreement nations around the world agreed, that in order to maintain a livable planet for future generations, we need jointly agreed, clear climate targets. The shared goal is not to exceed 1,5 degrees warming. Should temperatures rise above that, our entire human civilisation is at risk.

What needs to be remembered, is that this target is the absolute minimum in order to get back on a sustainable track, but even this is considered as unbelievably ambitious and very hard to achieve. The IPCC-report states that as a natural, science-based phenomena, the man-made climate change can be tackled, but just by scratching the surface of what needs to be done, it is easy to come to a conclusion that we are dealing with the most complicated challenge in human history.

The Paris agreement addressed national targets but we also need to look at cities as game changing venues of action. Global urbanisation is rapidly accelerating at the same time as the climate crisis worsens. Therefore, we are to think of of urbanisation and climate change as requiring the same critical solutions.

Tuning cities closer to planetary boundaries requires an enormous variety of actions. It is important to be aware, that each city has its own climate performance, its own strengths as well as weaknesses. For example, Nordic cities have a long track record of finding good climate solutions regarding transport-based emissions. The Nordic cities typically have an efficient and integrated public transport system, enabling the city core and other key centres to be easily accessible by public transport. Cities, like Copenhagen, have also been able to implement a highly effective and climate friendly cycling infrastructure.

Traffic isn’t everything, though. In Helsinki, for example, approximately half of the city’s climate emissions are caused by the energy sector. Heating, in cities with cold climates, is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Even Helsinki, with the worlds’ most energy efficient energy production, needs to still find ways to be even more energy efficient, in order to achieve carbon neutral energy production.

Helsinki now has an approved Climate Action Plan, entitled Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2035. This details 143 actions that enable Helsinki to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. This is an ambitious target, speeding up the goal by 15 years from the earlier target year of 2050. Helsinki wants to be in the first row of cities, which will achieve this target and sets an example for other cities to follow.

What are the actions required by us city planners then? As Helsinki grows rapidly, we need to find ways to direct growth so that it weaves into the existing city fabric, where people are close to services, public transport and high-quality walking and cycling environments. The approved Helsinki City Plan states that we need smart density close to existing centres, transport hubs and turn the inner city high way corridors into city boulevards with housing and light railways and we need to connect the Helsinki region horizontally to increase the attractiveness of locations, which are currently not as well connected. We also need to look at how to increase the energy efficiency of the existing building stock and pilot carbon free project areas. Progress in implementing these strategies into actions is well on its way.

The good thing is that cities can learn from each other and share best practices. This is especially relieving when talking about the climate crisis. Quite simply, we don’t have time to think in silos and seek our separate solutions for reducing our carbon footprints to fit inside the planetary boundaries. Thus, we need to boost co-operation between the cities and take on global leadership in benchmarking good practice.

The Helsinki Impact Conference offers a great platform for this. Let’s have a conference full of climate wisdom where stealing the best ideas from each other is highly recommended!

Alpo Tani
Urban Planner, Helsinki Urban Environment
Alpo Tani
Urban Planner, Helsinki Urban Environment