• Lahti in Finland wants to be carbon neutral by 2025 – far sooner than many other towns and cities.
  • Cleaner sources of energy are a major part of its plan.
  • Residents are involved in a range of sustainable projects – and even their symphony orchestra has joined in.

In the south of Finland, the small city of Lahti became the winner of the 2021 European Green Capital competition in recognition of its environmental ambitions. It plans to be carbon neutral by 2025 – that’s 10 years ahead of Finland’s national goal to achieve the same status.

One way it is going about this is the adoption of more sustainable power generation. The city has two new power stations. Kymijärvi II, which is described as the world’s first gasification plant, is run on the city’s waste. Kymijärvi III is a biomass power plant. It takes waste from the timber industry and wood from certified, local forests.

Building them cost approximately $217 million over a five-year period, and received funding from the EU. The EU has already made progress driving down emissions levels across Europe.

a graph of annual total emissions by world region, showing how Europe’s CO2 emissions have started to dip.
Europe’s CO2 emissions have started to dip.
Image: Our World in Data

A serious commitment

“We take the environment seriously and we were willing to invest in new technology,” said Esa Tepponen, project manager at Lahti Energia, the company behind the power plants. “We gave up coal as the source of our fuel and replaced it with clean biomass,” he told the news service Enex.

The switch to more sustainable fuel sources means a reduction in CO2 emissions that is equivalent to the amount produced by 60,000 Finns each year.

This green outlook has spread to the Lahti Symphony Orchestra – which calls itself the world’s first carbon neutral symphony orchestra due to its commitment to eliminating its carbon footprint. Plus, citizens of Lahti can measure how much carbon they are responsible for using a smartphone app, and earn points for sustainable behaviour.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Global goals

From Amsterdam to Yokohama, the number of cities around the world taking steps to achieve carbon neutrality is growing. One of the catalysts for change is the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA), which describes itself as “a collaboration of leading global cities working to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 – the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets undertaken anywhere, by any city”.

Its membership, made up of 22 global cities, works on a range of initiatives around funding, leadership and communication in order to prioritize hitting their ambitious climate goals. Between 2015 and 2019, the CNCA Innovation Fund invested $3,255,496 million – and helped secure an additional $43,550,706m in funding from other sources. The funds were directed toward supporting innovation in transport, energy-supply, buildings and waste.