We do environmental work for the sake of the planet, but also to make Lahti a more comfortable and pleasant place to live”, says Environmental Coordinator Aino Kulonen.
Climate change does not just mean impacts somewhere far away. The shift can also be seen in Lahti: based on long-term measurements, the average annual temperature has already risen by about two degrees since 1961.
An increase in rainfall, hotter summers, increase in invasive alien species or loss of biodiversity affect Lahti as they do other areas on the globe.
“We can already see that the winters here are rainier and snowier. This poses new challenges in terms of clearing snow from the streets and the volume and control of stormwater in the spring. Possible long periods of hot weather must also be taken into account, as our buildings do not have the capacity to be kept cool”, says the city’s Environmental Coordinator Aino Kulonen.
One example of changes in Lahti is the severe damage caused by spruce bark beetles in the city’s spruce trees.
To slow down climate change, the efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions must be continued with determination. The key actions include – both in Lahti and everywhere else – replacing fossil fuels with renewables or solar energy, improving energy efficiency, and increasingly, influencing people’s consumption habits.
Lahti is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2025. It is an ambitious and tough project.
“The goal is becoming more and more challenging, but achieving it is still possible. However, this requires yet new measures”, Kulonen says.
Emissions from energy production have decreased
Lahti’s carbon dioxide emissions have already fallen by about 70% since 1990. A giant step was taken in 2019 when the city-owned Lahti Energy abandoned the use of coal. Taking strides of the same magnitude with a single action is no longer possible; instead, reductions must be accumulated from small streams going forward.
“Still, things like, for example, Lahti Energy’s plan for a hydrogen economy hub could eliminate the remaining emissions of district heating if realized. District heating emissions would then be recovered and combined with hydrogen to produce fuel for heavy transport.”
With energy production under control and emissions from industry also shrinking, the biggest concern among emission sources is transport – the emissions of which have not significantly decreased. Going forward, the reduction efforts will comprise two large aspects. One relates to the modal shift in transport and the other to the transition to electric transport.
“The modal shift means replacing private car use with more sustainable alternatives, such as public transport, walking, cycling or electric city bikes. It is long-term work and requires a major overhaul of transport and urban planning as well”, Kulonen says.
Electric transport to the rescue
The second main focus is the transition from cars using fossil fuels to electric ones. This requires the charging infrastructure to be improved as well.
“The building of public charging infrastructure is a job for commercial operators. However, we are thinking about whether the city could take at least a coordinating role so that we would be ready for the growing number of electric cars”, Kulonen says.
Ultimately, residents have a lot of power in reducing transport emissions.
“It is significant to choose cycling or walking instead of a car whenever possible. If we could reduce everyday driving by one-third, it would already have a big impact.”
Kulonen stresses that no one is coming to take your car away by force.
“You do not have to give up your car. But you can think about which trips you can travel in more sustainable ways.”
Research shows that sustainable choices are also the best for one’s health and well-being.Read more about Lahti’s ambitious climate work
Environmental Coordinator Aino Kulonen
Climate work promotes public health and brings financial savings, but it also contributes to a better quality of life for all of us.
A hundred things on the list
To achieve carbon neutrality, the city has a list of measures with more than a hundred items. Local emission reductions are sought through energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste treatment and transport solutions. The list will be updated during the autumn of 2022, with actions that are to be particularly focused on selected from among the items.
In addition to transport, Kulonen raises a couple of examples from the list. One is more careful planning of land use.
“This means that the various impacts are assessed in the zoning phase: whether carbon-sequestering forest will have to be cut down to make room for the construction, what kinds of building materials will be used in the area, whether public transport connections can be arranged or whether the area is dependent on private cars.”
The Carbon Neutral Construction Development Center established in Lahti plays an important role, as the construction and real estate sectors are responsible for almost 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. The center is looking for development and pilot sites and creating a business around carbon-neutral construction.
“There is potential for exporting this kind of know-how all over Europe. The center’s expertise also benefits us as we develop more efficient ways to save energy.”
Further boost from the circular economy
The city lives what it teaches, and its own properties are heated with carbon-neutral district heating, among other things. The city also received an honourable mention in a competition for the best circular economy actions of municipalities. One of the grounds for the award was that in the renovation of the City Hall, 99% of the construction waste was recovered.
The circular economy is one of the key trends in mitigating climate change. Lahti is preparing a circular economy roadmap that looks for ways in which the city can promote the circular economy in its operations and at the same time offer business opportunities to companies.
In a circular economy, one person’s waste is a valuable raw material that someone else can use in their operations and production. As a local example, Kulonen mentions the side streams of the forest industry, which can be utilized in heat production and the ashes further for fertilization.
“Fazer’s new xylitol factory also uses oat hulls, which have previously been just fuel, as an innovative raw material. The xylitol factory has also received a circular economy award.”
Every Lahti resident can make decisions that have an impact on climate efforts: car or bike, what kind of heating for the house, how to use energy more sensibly.
The Green Capital year 2021 brought Lahti a lot of international visibility. In a resident survey, more than 70% responded that they considered the year significant or very significant. More than half of the residents felt that the Green Capital year had changed the city’s image in a positive direction. However, many skeptics criticized the spending of money and doubted the benefits of the theme year. According to Aino Kulonen, a lot was learned from the year and there is a demand for Lahti’s environmental expertise – although it is impossible to always demonstrate all the benefits in a manner that is watertight and quick.
She points out that the goal of carbon neutrality is not just top-level talk.
“This is being done for the sake of the planet, but also for better everyday life. This work aims to make Lahti a more comfortable and pleasant place to live. Climate work promotes public health and brings financial savings, but it also contributes to a better quality of life, for all of us.”
Text: Sami Turunen
Photo: Lassi Häkkinen