Defining a carbon-neutral area helps cities and municipalities in their climate work

2023-12-15 Ella Lahtinen ja Roosa Roisko

Several Finnish cities and municipalities have set climate targets for themselves. Climate work is driven by regulation, but also by a genuine desire to reduce emissions, mitigate climate change, adapt to extreme weather events and create a safe and comfortable living space for residents. On the other hand, the regions are huge, complex entities, and the measurement and monitoring of their emission development has been varied. Uniform and comparable data is created when we use a shared definition for what we call carbon-neutral.

Calculation methods vary

In 2021, Green Building Council Finland mapped out the calculation tools in use for regional emissions calculation. It turned out that there are rather few uniform practices in the use of the tools and they have usually been selected on a case-by-case basis. Thus, the results of the calculations could not be compared to each other and their reliability was uncertain. Regional planning has a far-reaching role to play. With it, we create a framework for low-carbon living, regional energy systems and a low-carbon transport system. It is important that the assessment of the carbon footprint and climate benefits is uniform and therefore comparable.

Definition of a carbon-neutral area

In order to provide clarity in the assessment, we, together with representatives of the cities of Helsinki, Turku, Jyväskylä and Vantaa, as well as the largest consulting agencies, produced a definition of a carbon-neutral area. The definition of a carbon-neutral built-up area harmonises the assessment of the carbon footprint and climate benefits of regional construction and serves as a framework for making a carbon neutrality claim.

The carbon footprint of a built-up area consists of the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions arising from the construction, use and decommissioning of the area. The emissions from the construction of the area are divided into emissions from buildings, the construction site and infrastructure. Emissions from buildings and the construction site are calculated separately, and other structures in the area are calculated in connection with the emissions from infrastructure construction. Emissions from the use of the area include the area's energy use, material changes, emissions from traffic and vehicle manufacturing, and emissions from the maintenance of infrastructure. Emissions from the demolition of buildings and all structures are included in the decommissioning of the area.

Help for planners, regional developers and builders

In addition to harmonising calculations, the purpose of the definition is to help planners, regional developers and builders in identifying the factors affecting the region's carbon footprint and climate benefits and steering the region's carbon neutrality.

The definition complements the publication series started by the definitions of Carbon-Neutral Building and Carbon-Neutral Energy Use. The definition has been written by Roosa Roisko from A-Insinöörit Rakennuttaminen and Ella Lahtinen from Green Building Council Finland, under the guidance of a ten-person working group of the FIGBC Regions committee.


Ready-made template speeds up work

The scope of the factors covered by the definition is noteworthy. Implementing a calculation according to the definition will probably require the skills of several experts. To help with the implementation of the calculations, emission factors have already been compiled in the appendix to the now published definition.

In addition to the carbon footprint of buildings, the emissions of infrastructure and traffic are evaluated. Acceptable climate benefits for an area were defined as energy recycling, technical carbon stocks and new green areas. On the other hand, there is the recycling of construction materials after use, organic carbon stocks and concrete carbonation.

We will achieve important climate targets when we can more easily understand the issue at hand as a whole. The assessment of the carbon footprint and climate benefits of regional construction must be uniform, comparable and transparent. The objective of the definition of a carbon-neutral area, produced by Green Building Council Finland, is to facilitate the climate work of cities and municipalities, so that the discussion can focus on assessing the best ways to reduce emissions.

Written by


Ella Lahtinen
Green Building Council Finland

Roosa Roisko
A-Insinöörit Rakennuttaminen Oy

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