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Photo: Minna Hemmilä

Published November 26, 2019

UN report calls for fivefold ambition in climate action – Nordic cities can lead the way

According to a new report carried out by the UN Environment Programme, continuing business as usual threatens to raise the global temperature by almost four degrees. At the same time, the international Green to Scale report shows that climate solutions from Nordic communities offer huge opportunities: 14 solutions would reduce emissions in the Nordic countries by almost 26 million carbon dioxide tonnes annually. This is equivalent to half of Finland’s emissions.

The annual Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme UNEP is being published simultaneously in Geneva and Helsinki today. The report examines the gap between states’ emission reduction obligations and the target of 1.5 degrees set by the Paris Agreement. The emissions gap is the difference between current development and the desired pathway; in other words, the reductions required in reality to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees.

The calculations in the report reveal that emissions should be cut globally by more than seven per cent every year if we want to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. This means that we have to increase our ambition fivefold.

“More and more reports show that states must essentially increase their climate actions – and they must do it immediately. Minor adjustments are no longer enough. What is required is changes at a system level: in the structures of society and the economy,” says Oras Tynkkynen, Senior Advisor at Sitra.

A multitude of solutions that must be implemented without delay

Although the situation depicted by the UN report makes for grim reading, the main message in the report is also this: it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“We should not delay things, as a great deal can be done to reduce emissions by scaling up existing climate solutions. This is where Finland and the other Nordic countries can act as pioneers,” says Sitra’s specialist Mariko Landström, who has studied the climate solutions implemented by Nordic communities.

The Nordic Green to Scale for Cities and Communities report published today in Finland by Sitra shows that by implementing 14 Nordic climate solutions, cities and communities in the Nordic countries could reduce their annual climate emissions by approximately 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The amount corresponds to approximately half of Finland’s annual emissions. Landström reminds us that, in addition to reducing emissions and improving air quality, the solutions would also save communities and households money. “According to our analysis, the savings would be up to 460 million euros every year,” Landström says.

Since 2015, the international Green to Scale project has in its different stages studied how much emissions could be reduced if the best solutions already used by pioneering cities and communities were implemented in other places.

Cities and communities are now the drivers of change

By far the largest amount of emissions in Nordic communities are generated by energy production and transport and most of the solutions looked at in this study concern these sectors. The Green to Scale analysis included solutions such as the recovery of waste heat from waste water in Turku’s district heating network, the use of geothermal heating in single-family houses in Stockholm and cycling in Copenhagen.

Many new interesting solutions were also identified in the study and they are currently being piloted in some communities. Examples include the production of renewable methanol as transport fuel in Grindavik in Iceland, the use of deep geothermal heat in Espoo in Finland and the renovation of old buildings into energy-plus buildings in Sandvika in Norway.

In December, the international climate negotiations will resume in Madrid. While we are still waiting for states to take sufficient measures to tackle climate change, cities and communities have started to act.

“Cities create the framework for a more sustainable everyday life for their residents. Cities and communities can take an active role in solving the climate crisis by putting words into action,” says Landström.

Sitra is one of the partners of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report. The results of the report will be presented by Takeshi Kuramochi, one of its main writers, in an event organised by Sitra in Helsinki this afternoon. The main results of the Nordic Green to Scale for Cities and Communities report and the Tracking Nordic Clean Energy Progress 2019 report will also be presented at the same event.

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