Everybody is familiar with the concept of sustainable development, introduced by the Brundtland Commission already in 1987. Sustainable development has not yet been achieved in the world, quite the contrary; this is why the UN has set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030. The goal of Agenda 2030 is to ensure sustainable development in ecological, financial and social terms so that nobody is left behind.
In Espoo, sustainable development is coordinated by the Sustainable Espoo programme whose aim is to find new ways to promote sustainable development together with residents, companies and other partners. The 17 SDG goals set by the UN are the foundation of the sustainable development work carried out in Espoo.
The EU highlights a shift to a low-carbon, climate-neutral, resource-efficient and diversified economy. With the sustainable development goals, Europe has the possibility to undergo a fundamental economic, ecological and social change. To accomplish this change, we need to engage European regions and cities, even though this aspect was missing from the Commission’s discussion paper.
Finland’s presidency of the EU is currently underway. Finland’s Government Programme states: “The climate change, globalisation, urbanisation, ageing population and technological development are transforming Europe and the world faster than ever before. The change brings about great opportunities for developing Europe.” These words apply to Espoo as well. The population of Espoo is growing, rail traffic increases the density of the urban structure and the ageing of the population forces us to seek new technological solutions to secure welfare.
In Europe as well as Espoo, we must increasingly focus on a transition to a low-carbon, climate-neutral, resource-efficient and diversified economy. This requires courage from the European Commission and Parliament to make difficult decisions. The second largest city of the holder of the EU presidency, Espoo, is facing the same challenges.
To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we need to act now, just like young people rightly demand from us. International agreements are implemented in cities, also here in Espoo. Municipalities and cities are responsible for implementing approximately 65 percent of the goals for sustainable development; this is why we need to set local goals as well as indicators to monitor progress.
Circular economy should be at the heart of the transition towards sustainable development within the EU. It enables us to retain the value of materials in the economic circuit while creating new opportunities for work and investment. The Kera area is Espoo’s answer to the new kind of regional development carried out on the terms of circular economy.
Education, science, research and innovation also play key roles in our transition towards a sustainable Espoo and Europe. The change is boosted by task-driven innovation that focuses on sustainable solutions. Many European cities and regions are pioneers in sustainable development, just like my home town Espoo. Espoo is a pioneer in developing solutions for sustainable development, particularly in collaboration with various partners. We started our Sustainable Espoo development programme six years ago, and I am the Chair of the programme. The development programme focuses on finding new solutions which will make carbon-neutrality a reality in the city by 2025. This programme helps promote the development of emission-free district heating and smart energy solutions, for example. Recently, Espoo was recognised for its long-term sustainable development work, particularly with regard to energy collaboration, in the Energy Globe World Award event.
Espoo also participates in the UN’s sustainable development leadership programme as one of the 25 pioneering cities. Pioneering cities can serve as an example to others and share experiences and best practices.
Cities and regions are responsible for approximately 65 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority of the measures aimed at mitigating climate change and adapting to it are implemented at a local level. In order to reach the goals set in the convention, we need to engage cities and regions in the implementation process. People of Espoo – residents, companies as well as organisations – are the most important pioneers and main strength on our journey towards a carbon-neutral future.
Chair of the Sustainable Espoo programme
Member of the European Committee of the Regions