By their nature, cities are in a unique position to develop solutions to global problems. Partnerships between cities, where we can draw from a diversity of approaches to common problems, provide valuable insights and that’s why Helsinki is today sharing with London our
common experience of tackling climate change.
Cities have a key role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy.
In Helsinki we are inviting innovators from all around the world to use our city as a testbed to develop truly sustainable solutions for urban life.
This idea, of a city as a testbed, is fundamental to my strategy as mayor to make Helsinki the most functional city in the world.
In Helsinki this principle is being tested to new limits by some of the most ambitious targets for carbon emissions reduction of any city in
Our goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2035. This will involve cultural and behavioural change, but luckily we have the weight of public opinion on our side.
A major role for us as city leaders is to empower our citizens to make sustainable choices, and we’re already using our open data
services to place information in the public sphere and bring our citizens with us.
We also know that we can’t call on our citizens to act alone, and we as a city administration have to overcome a major challenge. We currently produce 53 per cent of our heating energy by burning coal and we have taken the decision to ban the use of coal from May 2029.
As a result, in February 2020 we launched the Helsinki Energy Challenge: a €1,000,000 prize that will be awarded to a game-changing, emissions-free solution or concept that will have a significant impact on our ability to stop burning coal and other carbon-emitting fuels by 2029.
The winning proposal could be a master plan that combines several solutions, technological and/or non-technological, or one single solution with a significant impact on our ability to stop using coal by 2029 and speeding up our journey of being carbon neutral by 2035. Solutions can range from ideas leveraging our current district heating system to those requiring system-level transformation.
Helsinki has taken the decision to be ambitious and tackle the challenge of climate change head-on. Of course, this comes with risk, but the scale of the damage that global climate change has the potential to cause justifies bold decision making.
Helsinki is committed to openly sharing the solutions and knowhow gathered from the challenge. Cities around the world, as well as the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and C40 City Solutions Platform, are already supporting the initiative and we look forward to seeing the results of the Energy Challenge in a year’s time.
The Helsinki Energy Challenge is a major international initiative, but it’s just one of 147 actions identified in the Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2035 plan that we’re taking to completely transform our economy, culture and built environment.
Other projects that are shaping our holistic approach to achieving carbon neutrality include the new art biennial — a new benchmark for sustainable cultural practice, and Think Sustainably, a digital service that makes it easy for citizens and visitors to make sustainable transport, food and purchase choices in daily life.
I also hope that the conversations begun in London today lead on to bigger discussions that will form part of the ongoing trade in ideas, policy and expertise that takes place between the cities of London and Helsinki.
Jan Vapaavuori is the mayor of Finnish capital Helsinki