Its development and construction will place special emphasis on sustainability and the quality of indoor climate
Interview with Minna Arve, mayor of Turku, Finland
Minna Arve has served as mayor of Turku since 2017. Previously she has acted as Chairman of the Turku City Council between 2010 and 2014 as well as managing director of the Turku Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Arve holds a Master's degree in economics from the Turku School of Economics and places a special emphasis on making the city climate-neutral, environmentally friendly and socially just.
Mayor Arve, please tell us a bit more about the city of Turku. What makes the city special and what makes it stand out?
Turku is Finland’s oldest city and a global frontrunner for climate action and circular economy. We value nature high and Turku is surrounded by the wonderful Archipelago and serves as a gateway to it. We are proud of our active universities and the heritage of high education that originates from the middle ages. We appreciate research and scientific knowledge – and we listen to science and act accordingly!
We have already radically cut our greenhouse-gas-emissions – halved them from the level of 1990. At the same time, our economy has grown steadily and become greener. By 2029, the City of Turku will be officially 800 years old and one of the first Climate-positive areas in the world.
You and your administration have set for yourselves a very ambitious goal – namely achieving carbon neutrality by 2029 and climate positivity after that. In fact, it is precisely these ambitions that make Turku a trailblazer and earn the support of other Daring Cities. What are the key pillars of your plan to accomplish these tasks?
Turku is implementing an ambitious Climate Plan, adopted unanimously by the City Council. The goal is to become a Climate-positive area by 2029, to prepare for the impacts of Climate Change and to promote the circular economy. This transition utilizes the best available scientific knowledge and co-creation with partners and seeks to mobilize the whole civic society.
One of the keys is that we have worked with climate change systematically over several years and through this managed to raise the ambition level and commitment of different actors. As per reduction emissions specifically, we have and will reduce the emissions by investing in:
- A carbon-neutral energy system, for instance with a target of no fossil coal from 2025 onwards and more share on biobased fuels, geothermal energy and heat recovery plus continued improvement of energy-efficiency.
- A low-carbon transport system where we have been focusing on turning public transportation into a carbon-neutral service by 2029 for instance with electric busses. Additionally, the city centre will be made more friendly for walkers and bikers and all-year-round biking conditions are improved.
- Sustainable urban development with long term development plans in the city and with neighbouring towns. The key is to focus on functionality over the whole region, and therefore we work together with the 13 surrounding towns to provide the regional structural model for functional and sustainable urban planning.
- Municipality-wide actions, such as circular economy transition, investments and climate actions of the city group.
- Strengthening carbon sinks in the city green areas and the surrounding environment.
Turku is also committed to Covenant of Mayors, reports annually through CDP, is an active member of ICLEI and contributes to several international sustainable development projects, partnerships and events, including UN Climate and Environment conferences.
It is your belief that circularity and climate neutrality go hand-in-hand. What steps have you taken to implement the principles of circularity into daily life in Turku?
That is absolutely true: climate action needs circularity. We are the first city linking circular economy to our climate plan to help address greenhouse gas emissions in a systemic manner and beyond our jurisdictional boundaries. The circular economy is also an efficient tool to address hidden emissions, such as consumption-based emissions, because it targets the design of products and aims at reducing resource extraction as early in the supply chain as possible.
We are currently in the process of co-creating a circular economy roadmap for the Turku area with local actors, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and ICLEI, and identifying city-led interventions that support a transition to zero-emission and zero waste.
We have noticed that approaching circularity both from industrial and citizens’ point of view at the same time enables us to address the big underlying infrastructural changes needed in the society and to introduce solutions such as sharing economy that help our residents to lead their lives better every day.
Achieving climate neutrality must not come at the expense of the most vulnerable. How are you addressing the issue of a just transition?
This is a very important question – as if we are unable to ensure a transition that includes everyone we have failed in our job.
Few points to mention are firstly that it is stated in our Climate plan that everyone has the right to take part in building carbon neutral Turku. It also acknowledges that a step to a climate proof society is strengthening the sense of the local community here in Turku. These are the starting points of our work.
In the Circular Economy roadmap, one focus is social equity. We approach it through matching the suggested actions with three dimensions of social equity: access, participation and opportunities. This way we manage to map systematically how the actions affect the residents here and identify areas that need improvement.
In some cases, the actions done here in Turku, such as our textiles refining pilot plant tackling not only recycling but the quality of produced materials and overconsumption, have the potential to impact the global value chains and through it improve social equity in places far from Turku.
Additionally, as Turku is already reporting the voluntary UN Sustainable Development Goals we include the results and challenges acknowledged in this work to our circular economy transition.
As social equity is a complex and nuanced issue, we hope to both take necessary actions and to raise interest that social equity will become everyone’s business -not a task just for specific sectors of the city.
With 2029 fast approaching Turku has already implemented a series of projects meant to protect the environment. Can you tell us a bit more about some of them?
Firstly, investments to ‘Kakola’ our joint wastewater treatment facility of 14 municipalities increased the efficiency of the nutrient recovery from wastewater. It led to an 83 percent decrease in phosphorus load in the Turku marine area and drastically improved the surrounding marine area.
On top of that, we are producing biogas for cars from the waste sludge – leading to less need for fossil-based fuels. Furthermore, we are collecting the excess heat from the waste-waters and producing 10 percent of our district heat from it.
Secondly, to protect nature and its function as a carbon sink, we have started to develop a local compensation model where we want to enable the protection of local forest and land areas.
We are including the carbon sinks of the City of Turku (for example forests owned by the city) and private landowners so that persons can take part and benefit economically. We also include projects that aim to improve biodiversity and research into carbon sequestration innovations.
By combining these, we want to create a carbon business model where regional companies, stakeholders and communities can take part either by selling or buying local compensation or creating new innovations in storing carbon- an initiative that combines nature conservation with economic benefits.
Thirdly, we are currently preparing a citywide biodiversity programme to maintain and secure the values of our nature. The city has a significant land property including forests and other green areas, and it is our responsibility to manage both natural environments and urban, constructed environments in a way that the biodiversity and ecosystem services are secured.
The diversity of green environments also increases the well-being and health of citizens. In city planning we use novel tools and nature-based solutions, e.g. blue-green factor and open ditch networks, to manage stormwater and to increase biodiversity at the same time. Citizens are encouraged to participate by proposing biodiversity actions via open hearings and digital platform (Kerro kantasi) and by actively increasing biodiversity their own estates and gardens.
One of the city’s landmark projects is the 1.5 Degree Life campaign. What makes it tick?
The 1.5 degree life campaign is inviting our youth to tell us through performance – may it be a dance, poem, rap, song or something else – what their sustainable life is all about. We hope to inspire and provide space for residents to show what is important to them and what inspires them in aspiring towards sustainable everyday life. The participants will submit a short video and there will be public voting for the winner later this year.
We aim to take an approach that can create. We have also invited other cities from Finland and Japan to join us – and Nagano city will also have their own 1.5 life campaign. This is one way for us to show leadership and inspire other actors to join in a way that serves them.
Turku is full of ambition and has its sights set on the future. What can we expect from you and your city in the coming years?
As the carbon neutrality target comes closer, we must actually push the accelerator even more, as one could say that we have already used the easy options. So, even more innovation, collaboration and thinking outside of the box will be needed, not just from the city but also from everyone in Turku.
After achieving carbon neutrality, becoming a resource-wise society of no emissions, no waste and sustainable use of natural resources is our next step. Circularity and collaboration are our main tools of achieving it, and much more is still to be done to meet that target.
As we are living in a global society, we aim to learn from others and showcase what has worked here to help others do their work better. We have been very pleased for instance with working with ICLEI as it has provided us with excellent peer-learning opportunities and a way to tell our story. We hope to strengthen our collaboration globally with anyone who is inspired to work with us.
We also hope to support our citizens even more in the future that they can find their own, meaningful ways to lead sustainable lives. We are continuing to find pathways for 1.5-degree lives that suit different types of lifestyles, so that everyone could do their share easier and in a way that is natural to them, and would feel included and proud of living in Turku.
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