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Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
Home NATIONALHelsinki pushes emission reduction targets despite slow global progress
Thu, 01 Jan, 2015 12:00:13 AM
FTimes- Xinhua Report by Denise Wall , Jan. 01
File Photo Lehtikuva.
Following recently-concluded climate talks in Peru, environmental groups have expressed disappointment with the relative sluggishness of world leaders to commit to emission reduction targets.
One environmental official at the Finnish capital Helsinki says large cities may have to take the lead curbing emissions.
"Climate change is now creating an economic threat and the cost of climate adaptation will become unbearable. Large cities that stand to suffer may create pressure on states to act. It's in their interest to reduce emissions," observed Irma Karjalainen, a director of Helsinki's environmental services authority HSY.
The latest round of climate change talks ended in mid-December in Lima, Peru with 194 United Nations member states agreeing to submit national pledges on emissions reductions to the UN's climate change summit to take place in Paris, France at the end of 2015. That huddle will seek to reach a global and binding climate deal - the first of its kind.
"China and the U.S. were willing to go further. The EU should have shown stronger commitment even if it took a longer time," Karjalainen said, referring to a pre-conference deal announced by China and the United States aimed at capping carbon emissions starting in 2025.
The European Union has itself rolled out a series of progressive climate action targets, aimed at becoming an energy-efficient, low-carbon economic region and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the order of 80-95 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
In an interview with Xinhua, Karjalainen pointed out that city authorities responsible for mitigating the effects of flooding or relocating residents dislocated by extreme weather, are best-placed to understand the implications - and costs - of ignoring climate change.
Helsinki city officials have rolled out a climate strategy to reduce the city's carbon footprint and to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990; and further, to become a carbon-neutral city by the year 2050.
These programs target the main emitters of greenhouse gases, including district heating (43 percent), electricity consumption (28 percent) and transportation (23 percent).
According to Karjalainen, Helsinki's regional transport authority - Helsinki City Transport or HSL - is currently relying heavily on green energy to power public transportation.
"Up to 49 percent of public transportation trips in Helsinki are completely CO2-free. The city's goal is that 30 percent of buses will use green energy by 2025," she said.
It is also one of the goals of the Helsinki Metropolitan region to increase biking and give priority to bikers and walkers in city planning, Karjalainen added.
In terms of electricity usage, city officials saw an encouraging three-percent drop in consumption between 2012 and 2013. This was partly the result of milder winters, but also due to long-term energy saving programs throughout the metropolitan area.
Achieving efficiency in electricity consumption and heating has also meant focusing on these factors in approving new construction projects. This has meant exacting specifications for new builds, often incorporating the use of solar energy. Older buildings are also being retrofitted to ensure they meet new environmental standards.
"We need action on many fronts to achieve our goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050. We also need to solve how to promote clean tech as a sector," said Karjalainen.
As a result of these and a slew of other awareness-building campaigns aimed at changing the behavior of residents, the city recently reported that greenhouse gas emissions had declined 3 percent in 2013 compared to one year earlier.
Although the reduction is encouraging, Karjalainen and other city officials say the current pace of change is too slow to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Even the interim goal of a 20 percent reduction in emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 appears to be increasingly challenging to achieve.
The city has concluded that getting within reach of these goals would require using low-emission fuels for district heating production as well as new solutions for mass transit. According to Karjalainen, these challenges will create rich opportunities for companies that see the advantage of investing in a green economy.
Apart from cities, she added, the corporate sector and large state players such as the military can push the rest of the system to follow suit - once they change the game by making the switch to carbon-free options.
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