A song for cities in extinction

10 August 2021

Do you live in Amsterdam, Liverpool, Genoa, Venice, Dublin or Helsinki? If so, you will be able to hear the musical piece ‘ICE’ performed by Lahti Symphony Orchestra – aiming to be the first carbon-neutral symphony orchestra in the world. If you live in Brussels, you won’t be able to, and you should count yourself lucky.

The composition ‘ICE’ is only accessible to people connecting from one of the 100 cities in the world threatened to disappear by the end of the century due to rising sea levels. “The piece shows the threat that climate change and the collapse of ecosystems pose to glaciers that have stood for thousands of years,” explains Composer Cecilia Damström. “Underpinning the composition is the Earth’s heartbeat, fighting for survival, and ultimately alarm signals take us back to the moment when it is still not too late to save our planet.”

Conscious art

The musical piece will also play in the background of the artwork installation ‘I.C.E.-Indisputable Case of Emergency*’ created by artists and craftspeople in Lahti. The art piece is now visible in Helsinki until 15 August.

The artwork consists of nine melting ice cubes that slowly erase the infographic on the ground that illustrates facts and details about the cities at risk and the impact of climate change. A wooden pavilion – showcasing Lahti’s woodworking skills – houses an exhibition of Lahti’s journey to becoming the European Green Capital 2021 and climate solutions developed by the city’s partners.

I.C.E. artwork viewed from above – Juha-Pekka Huotari, Lahden kaupunki

The artwork is a symbolic reminder of the dangers of climate change and the constantly rising sea level, and has been created with the environment in mind. The piece consists exclusively of natural materials, and the wooden pavilion will be repurposed so that nothing is wasted.

European Green Capital

I.C.E. shows the creativity and communication savvy of the city, which became the first Finnish city to win the European Green Capital Award and aims to become carbon neutral by 2025.

“The climate is in an undeniable state of emergency,” says Pekka Timonen, Mayor of Lahti. “Cities play an important role in halting climate change. As the Green Capital, Lahti is setting an example towards a more sustainable future by cutting emissions from energy production, transport, housing and other consumption to achieve its carbon-neutrality target for 2025.”

Not an obvious feat considering Lahti’s past. Until the 1970s, the city went through rapid growth and urbanisation that created manufacturing jobs. Lake Vesijärvi, north of the city, was an example of how this industrial past also burdened the environment, as it became one of the worst polluted lakes in Finland.

On track to becoming a no-waste town

The story of the lake is at the heart of Lahti’s journey towards becoming a green capital. Between 1987 and 1994, the lake’s ecosystem was restored. The expertise gained by this project and the foundation of the Department of Environmental Ecology brought the city a reputation for teaching and research. For example, Lahti’s treatment model has been used to restore more than a thousand Finnish water bodies.

More recently, Lahti can boast the development of the first regional roadmap for a circular economy. The city is a pioneer in the sector, and by 2018 it was already reusing 97% of its waste. One-third of the waste is recycled as raw material for new products, and the other two-thirds are used to produce energy.

“Lahti moved from coal-burning to almost entirely renewable energy sources as the Kymijärvi I plant was closed definitively,” says Sandor Luukkanen, Project Manager at the Kymijärvi III plant, Lahti Energia.

In particular, the city is now heated with recycled fuel and local certified wood thanks to the bioenergy plant that replaced the old coal-fired plant. The city’s goodbye to coal resulted in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 600,000 tonnes per year, which corresponds to the annual emissions of about 60,000 Finns.

The city is home to a modern waste treatment plant that processes biowaste and bioresidues into biogas, biofuel, compost and fertiliser. The landfill site produces methane, which is piped to a local brewery and soft drinks company whose heating station uses the landfill gas as process steam. The rest of the landfill gas is turned into electricity and heat. The amount of energy generated from waste in 2018 was equal to the amount of heating energy used by about 13,900 detached houses a year.

Setting the example

The city continues to raise the bar. As part of its European Green Capital objectives, by 2025, Lahti aims to become carbon neutral and to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels – the city has already achieved a 70% reduction. The city also wants to become a zero-waste circular economy by 2050 and is generally committed to protecting nature and valuable surface and groundwater areas.

“In addition to climate change, major challenges we face include the sustainability crisis and biodiversity loss,” says Aino Kulonen, Environmental Coordinator at the City of Lahti. “Carefully planned climate actions can impact many areas at once. In my work, I find joy in solutions that both protect the climate and improve the wellbeing of residents and the diversity of urban nature.”

Lahti encourages people to use sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling, public transportation, and skiing. For example, the city pioneered a model for personal carbon trading on mobility. CitiCAP is a carbon trading application that tracks in real-time one’s mobility carbon footprint. Citizens can use it to get various benefits in exchange for reducing their carbon footprint with their mobility choices.

“We provide an instrument for cities to engage their citizens to take action on climate change mitigation through their own everyday choices. Our citizens’ will be the first in Europe to get to trade their carbon emissions,” says Anna Huttunen, CitiCAP-Project Manager.

From its people to the municipality, Lahti is committed to setting an example for sustainability. Following the success of its orchestra, the city plans another world first: a carbon-free ice hockey team.

* The concept is designed by AOR Architects with lead designer Erkko Aarti, architect. 


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer