Finland starts targeting emissions in the Construction Sectors

Publish date: May 5, 2020

On 4th May, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment announced that together with four cities authorities they seek a voluntary agreement to reduce emissions from construction sites.

They called it Finnish Green Deal. With dozen of construction machinery running for hours, construction sites can last months, contributing to air and noise pollution in urban centres. So how to end these emissions we usually forget about?

On 4th May, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment has announced that together with city authorities they are seeking a voluntary agreement to reduce emissions from construction sites. “Emissions need to be reduced in all sectors so that our society is carbon neutral by 2035 at the latest” said Krista Mikkonen, Minister of the Environment and Climate . “It is great that cities want to be responsible leaders and take voluntary action to reduce emissions.” she continued.

In the past weeks cities have demonstrated that concrete actions can be taken to keep low emissions after lockdown. As a couple of examples, Milan announced a scheme to reduce car use after lockdown, while the city of Brussels limits speed to 20km/h and increases its bicycles paths. However it is not just the transport sector that produces air pollution within cities. As lockdown measures are lowered, the construction sector is one of the first industries to start their activities again , keeping business as usual. The global construction industry accounts for 23% of the world’s CO2 emissions across its entire supply chain. Out of them, 5.5% is attributed to activities happening on construction sites, mainly due to the machineries which combust fossil fuels.

Finland start its own Green Deal

The Green Deal agreement supports the achievement of the emission reduction targets of the Finnish burden-sharing sector and is integrated into the social commitment to sustainable development.  The Green Deal aims at 100% fossil free construction sites from 2025, 20% of which using electricity, biogas or hydrogen as an energy source. From 2030 the government will want 50% of them to be electricity, biogas or hydrogen.

This inclusion is a win and a push for electricity and hydrogen to be taken into account as possible energy source in the sector.”We’re not saying that every construction site needs to be zero-emissions now, but it’s important to start thinking and initiating the learning process that will lead to that.” said Christian Eriksen, Head of Policy and Research at The Bellona Foundation. A transition phase is as well needed to learn from doing:  “For us that’s a win especially because in that way one can monitor and have a like-for-like comparison between traditional and electric machines and see on the site which one is performing better.” added Mark Preston Aragonès, Mobility Policy Advisor at Bellona Europa.

Solutions via cooperation

The cities of Espoo, Helsinki, Vantaa and Turku will start working together to find a common working ground. Today Bellona supports eight cities across Europe which are part of the European Commission’s funded project Big Buyers Initiatives aiming at finding ways to implement greener public procurements within the construction sector. “By working together, and pooling their resources, cities and other major public procurers involved can maximise their market power and impact.” said  Rafael Hirt – Sustainable Economy and Procurement Officer at ICLEI which coordinate the Big Buyers Initiative. Helsinki is one of the cities making the most progress, which led us to present them the most updated list of electric machineries and to explain the health, economical and environmental benefits of utilising and electric fleet. In our research and database we have identified electric alternatives for 8 different types of machines, complemented by microgrids and portable batteries to support the electric revolution.

The city launched its firsts 10 mln Euro tenders for fossil-free construction site in April, and their deadlines are 15th and 29th of May. The pilot projects will start by Summer 2020 and last until Summer 2022 and their experience can set an example for the other three Finnish cities.

Cities over Commission?

Local and regional authorities across the continent are hearing our advice and rapidly greening their procurement. In the coming months we can expect new pilots from the city of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels and Vienna. Are local authorities more powerful than the European Commission?

Currently at the EU level, CO2 emissions from construction machineries (NRMM) are unregulated. On January 1st 2019, the NRMM Regulation entered into its final phase for construction machinery. The regulation however only applies to new machines entering the market, and machines last at least 15 years, hence business as usual could be continuing for another decade. On 30th of April 2020 we aknowledged that the European Commission do not seem to be inteded to modify the regulation favouring the electrification of the sector.

In some way it seems that cities are more powerful in addressing enviornmental concern and pushing the market toward a change. “European equipment manufacturers should take note of this window of opportunity to be global leaders in a sector which will inevitably need to decarbonise.” said Aragonès. Bellona continues its work supporting cities in finding ways to green their public procurements and advocating for   higher standards at the EU level. “In the context of the European Green Deal, electrification offers a huge opportunity for the construction industry to positively contribute towards Europe’s transition to a sustainable economy.” concluded Aragonès.