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Helsinki's Climate Moonshot

Helsinki deserves credit for modeling not only how to set an innovative climate goal, but also how to craft a novel process to achieve it. More cities will likely explore the moonshot route taken by the Finnish capital as they seek to pursue bolder sustainability policies.

BOSTON – Among the many misleading beliefs about climate change, one in particular has too often gone unchallenged. This is the idea that temperature increases will negatively affect only warmer regions, while making polar climates milder and more pleasant. In fact, extreme weather and rising sea levels in colder countries will far outweigh the benefits of warmer winters.

Northern European cities are well aware of this. According to a 2021 study by the World Economic Forum, nine of the ten leading countries in the transition to sustainability are in Europe, and almost all of them are at high latitudes. For example, Nordic cities are competing with one another to see which can cut its emissions the most through various measures related to mobility, raw material consumption, and energy production. Copenhagen wants to become the first “carbon-neutral capital” as early as 2025, while Stockholm aims to be fossil fuel-free by 2040.

But the case of Helsinki is perhaps the most interesting. Finland has placed the sustainability imperative alongside its other pillars of postwar national development: a democracy premised on equality for all citizens, an economic culture based on a healthy work-life balance, and cities living in harmony with nature. These attributes have allowed a relatively peripheral and sparsely populated country to excel consistently in rankings of the world’s happiest countries.

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