Transitioning to holistic economic systems that support the 1.5 °C target is key for cities. The Circular Turku Roadmap is an excellent example of radical institutional support in favour of circular production and consumption systems. By Marion Guénard from ICLEI
Turku, Finland, is one of the most ambitious cities in the world in terms of climate action. The city has already cut its emissions by half compared to 1990 levels, thanks to investments in renewable energy, decarbonising district heating and low-carbon transport. Turku is well on its way to achieving its ambitious goal to become carbon neutral by 2029.
As a port city and a central trade point in Europe, the history of Turku is rooted in the development and growth of its manufacturing and maritime industries. Becoming carbon positive after 2029 is a challenging task that requires transformation and innovation across the various industries and economic sectors in Turku. But circular economy offers useful pathways that help city administrations, businesses, and citizens alike to transition to consumption and production patterns that support the achievement of climate goals.
Through Circular Turku, Turku is the first city linking the circular economy to its climate plan to help address greenhouse gas emissions and protect biodiversity in a systemic manner and beyond its jurisdictional boundaries.
Kick-Starting Circularity With the Circular Turku Roadmap
To address indirect emissions, cities need to work closely with residents and businesses while at the same time implementing policies and measures that support the transition to a circular economy. Through the Circular Turku project, Turku has developed a roadmap that aims to lever city resources to do just that. From local businesses to research institutions, public companies to national and regional actors: more than 200 stakeholders were involved in consultations to define the circular economy interventions included in the roadmap, which will be released at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November.
The roadmap targets five key sectors (food, transport and logistics, buildings and construction, energy, and water) to identify interventions that would support a shift to zero-emission and zero-waste as well as support biodiversity protection. It builds on the different roles a city can play to support the transition to circular economy across the lifecycle of products and infrastructures, from the moment they are designed to their disposal. The Circular City Actions Framework was designed specifically by ICLEI to support cities in this process. The roadmap also focuses on multilevel collaboration, including interventions that demand joint action at the regional level.
Circular economy innovations are often linked to the promise of local employment – but without an assessment of the negative side effects they could trigger and a plan to address them, the benefits of these innovations might be unequally distributed. Thus, the Circular Turku roadmap is the first circular economy roadmap to include a social risk assessment for the planned interventions – to ensure the Circular Turku transition is fair and inclusive. It is also embedded into the city’s broader work to address indirect emissions.
Turku’s 1.5-Degree Life Campaign © City of Turku
Implementing the Roadmap on the Ground
The roadmap resulted in a broad range of projects and activities. Earlier this year, Turku led the 1.5-Degree Life Video Campaign, a global campaign that engaged youth groups from Turku, Yokohama, and Nagano, Japan, to raise awareness on the necessary lifestyle shifts to meet the 1.5 °C. Building on this, Turku released in collaboration with twenty local and regional partners the city-wide 1.5-Degree Life Campaign on 19 August 2021. The campaign emphasises the positive climate impacts of lifestyles shifts in key consumption categories, such as mobility, housing, and food.
Another example is the Turku Business Region, which is the most dynamic cluster of business and innovation activities in Finland and a hotspot for bio- and circular economy innovations. As part of this, Turku has been supporting the development of the Smart Chemistry Park (SCP) through the city-owned company Turku Science Park. The SCP is an industrial symbiosis initiative aimed at recycling industrial side-streams into high-value chemical products. Innovations at SCP, such as a technology increasing the recycling rate of e-vehicles’ lithium-ion batteries, have been transferred into large branches of industry in Finland.
In addition, Turku’s public waste management company Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy (LSJH) is developing innovative, high-value recycling innovations and raising awareness on sustainable consumption. One of the innovations LSJH supported is the development of infrared technology to identify the type of fibres present in textile waste and a mechanical fibre refinement line to facilitate their recovery and recycling into raw material for new textile products. These innovations are now used in one of the largest recycling plants in Europe for post-consumer and companies’ end-of-life textiles.
Going forward, Circular Turku will focus on strengthening the positive biodiversity impacts of the identified interventions through nature-based solutions. The city and ICLEI are currently working on exploring the links between circular economy and biodiversity protection and enhancement.
Through the city’s engagement in the ICLEI network, Turku also plays a strong role in raising global awareness on the role of cities and regions in localising circular economy. The city will showcase how the circular economy helps address the climate emergency at Daring Cities 2021 taking place on 4-8 October 2021. In the coming years, the city will be exchanging lessons learned with peers from all world regions through the ICLEI Circulars platform.