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New research reveals municipal climate network’s positive impacts on local level climate work

Press release 2021-02-05 at 11:17
© Bruno Figueiredo / Unsplash

Joining the Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities (Hinku) network has led to lower greenhouse gas emission levels in member municipalities in Finland. The majority of Hinku municipalities found that network membership has also improved the effectiveness of local climate work, according to a recent study by the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE.

The innovative study combined quantitative and qualitative research approaches, and was recently published in a high quality scientific journal, Global Environmental Change.

Finland’s ambitious commitment to strive for carbon neutrality by 2035 has been supported by many of its cities and municipalities, whose roles in catalysing emission reductions are crucial. Local governments have set highly ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets on a strategic level, which in some cases have been influenced by intermediary networks. Hinku, a climate mitigation network for Finnish forerunner municipalities, involves committing to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 80 per cent from 2007 levels by 2030. The network was established in 2008 and now covers over a third of the Finnish population.

A unique opportunity for unprecedented analysis

Until now, the quantitative impacts of climate strategies or the sharing of best practices on emissions have remained largely unknown. This novel research took the first step towards being able to quantify impacts of a climate network on greenhouse gas emissions at the local level. So far, the ability to quantify the impacts of climate actions, networks or other local level climate initiatives on the local scale has been hindered by a lack of appropriate data.

“Our recent work on municipal greenhouse gas emission calculation enabled us to utilise a suitable indicator in identifying the impact of a climate network on local level emissions in Finland. A similar approach to the evaluation of the effectiveness of local climate work could also be replicated elsewhere, provided that such a detailed indicator can first be developed,” says Researcher Santtu Karhinen from SYKE.

According to the econometric analyses, the emissions of Hinku member municipalities were 3.1 per cent lower than they would have been without the network. Other factors that affect emissions such as infrastructure, demographics and weather conditions were taken into account, so as not to skew the results.

Municipalities recognise multiple benefits of network membership

Most (80%) of the representatives of Hinku municipalities interviewed found that joining the network has had some impact on municipal climate work. According to the interviews, joining the network has directly catalysed the implementation of concrete emission reduction measures in around 60 per cent of the municipalities.

The interviewed representatives highlighted measures relating to energy production, energy efficiency in buildings, transport and solar power investments as the most important measures taken by their municipality to reduce emissions. According to the statistical analysis, Hinku membership has reduced emissions fairly evenly across different emission sectors, but a significant impact of network membership can be seen in the emissions from electricity consumption, for example.

In many municipalities, joining the Hinku network has fostered cooperation across different sectors and strengthened the municipality’s resolve to implement the measures. Membership may also have influenced decision-making within the municipality or ameliorated attitudes towards climate work. Being able to refer to Hinku membership as grounds for taking action has also facilitated the approval of climate related investments within the municipalities.

“At least half of the interviewed municipalities valued the expert support received through Hinku. The network has also provided peer support, motivation, inspiration, media visibility and communications support”, says Senior Research Scientist Laura Saikku from SYKE. “The network, which is rather unique, could serve as a framework to be applied in other countries as well,” Saikku continues.

Successful climate work requires sufficient resource allocation

There are significant differences in the planning and implementation of climate work between municipalities. “Our analysis showed that an above average economic situation promotes emission reductions both in Hinku and other municipalities. The Hinku network allows member municipalities access to receive highly refined information about effective emission reduction measures, that might otherwise not have been implemented due to a lack of resources,” Karhinen suggests.

The financial situation of local governments is a crucial factor affecting municipalities’ emissions. Therefore, national and supranational policies need to ensure that municipalities are granted sufficient funding in their pursuit of carbon neutrality. Local governments need to be able to allocate scarce financial resources within their local contexts, and at best, climate networks can offer the information, tools and capacities for optimising these allocations.

The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) investigated the Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities (Hinku) network’s impact on municipal emissions and measures for mitigating climate change. The rapidly growing network, currently consisting of 77 municipal members, brings together experts, municipalities, businesses and citizens to plan and carry out solutions to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions. The study is based on interviews carried out in 2019 of 40 municipalities that joined the Hinku network between 2008–2018, as well as a statistical modelling of the connection between Hinku membership and member municipalities’ emission trends. The statistical model included all 38 municipalities that had joined the Hinku network before 2018. The study was carried out as part of the Canemure (Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities and Regions) project, coordinated by the Finnish Environment Institute and funded by the EU Life programme.

More information

  • Senior Research Scientist Laura Saikku, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 29 525 1140, firstname.lastname@syke.fi
  • Researcher Santtu Karhinen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 29 525 1889, firstname.lastname@syke.fi
  • Coordinator Venla Riekkinen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE. tel. +358 29 525 1942, firstname.lastname@syke.fi

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