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Opening Remarks by Mayor Jan Vapaavuori, City of Helsinki

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You are cordially welcome to Helsinki, which has been ranked as the most popular congress city in the Nordics. Helsinki is the proud home town to the European Chemicals Agency ECHA since 2007 and the Chemicals Forum, which is organized for the 10th time.

REACH has now been in force for more than a decade. In everyday life, the significance of this prime example of EU level regulation can easily be forgotten and taken for granted. Nevertheless, everything consists of chemical substances. Many substances have contributed greatly to increased prosperity and wellbeing for humankind. However, some have also caused serious damage to people, animals and the environment, such as the side effects of DDT insecticide or the more recent case of glyphosate.

Indeed, researchers have found over 300 substances in human blood samples and breast milk, some of which can interfere with the hormone or nervous system. Over the past fifty years, the chemicals production in the world has increased more than fifty times over and many of the products we use every day contain and emit manufactured chemicals. Some substances do not degrade but accumulate in the bodies of human beings and animals; some are harmful in that they give rise to problems such as allergies or, at worst, cancer.

The exact number of chemicals on the market is still unknown, and many new ones are introduced each year. No wonder that the Eurobarometer study of almost 28 000 people in 28 countries shows that 65 % are concerned about being exposed to hazardous chemicals. Public trust in the chemicals sector is of great importance, as the industry is worth more than 500 billion euros a year in the EU alone, employing 1.2 million workers directly, and up to 3.6 million indirectly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

From the start, we have made a firm commitment to ensuring that ECHA can focus on its extremely important mission regarding chemicals safety and rely on that the city provides reliable and functional living and working environment.

This is also our overall philosophy in providing an attractive place to set up a company, establish a family – or organize a global conference. We strive to become the most functional city in the world. That may not sound very sexy, but we believe that this kind of strength will become increasingly significant in today’s world in turmoil.

When you can rely on the fact that your bus arrives promptly, that your street is safe and free from snow, that schools and day care are of high quality, then you can focus on truly relevant issues. Things like combating climate change, preparing for disruption from AI, or inventing and registering a new method, which will enable us to remove micro plastics from the sea – and spending quality time with your loved ones instead of a traffic jam.

Helsinki’s objective is to be one of Europe’s most captivating locations for both companies, agencies and entrepreneurs. It is easy to operate from Helsinki. We are located in the very heart of Eurasia and the optimal flight route from Europe to booming Asia actually goes through the rapidly growing Helsinki Airport, with the highest number of direct flight connections to Asia in Northern Europe.

Helsinki is an excellent location for research-intensive businesses. For a company needing to test their innovations Helsinki offers interesting advantages. It is also easy to co-operate with the excellent universities and academic institutions in Helsinki and the region. According to the World Economic Forum, Finland has the best availability of scientists and engineers as well as latest technology of more than 130 countries.

I like to say that Helsinki has the advantages of being big and small at the same time: big enough to be a place where innovation can be systemically tested and scalable in any other place in the world. At the same time, Helsinki is small enough to actually succeed in this.

That being said, tomorrow you have a particularly interesting and topical panel on micro plastics in the environment. Sustainability is a great concern for Helsinki, and all cities for that matter. One of the first major decisions during my mayoral term was to bring forward the target year for carbon neutrality by 15 years to 2035. A critical issue is also the state of the Baltic Sea. We want to see much less micro plastics as well as other hazardous chemicals in our shore waters and archipelago. We would welcome all new solutions to achieve this.

Thanks to one of the world’s most efficient wastewater treatment plants and international co-operation, Helsinki became the first phosphorous neutral city in the Baltic Sea Region. The efficient process also removes 99 percent of micro plastics. Only two weeks ago, we agreed with my counterpart in Tallinn to focus on plastic waste in the Baltic Sea within our environmental twin city co-operation. Last year, the Port of Helsinki initiated a trial with automated waste collectors aiming at reducing plastic waste in the sea together with Wärtsilä Corporation.

The coastal waters and the diverse islands constitute the foundation of our city’s identity. Helsinki has to consider the wellbeing of the marine environment as a competitiveness advantage that creates welfare to the city, its citizens, businesses and other actors dwelling here. Committed to be the most functional city in the world, liveliness is a critical factor, which in Helsinki essentially builds on our maritime character. We are finalizing a new marine strategy with a focus on developing services and infrastructure in the Helsinki archipelago.

Plastics, in general, is a question we have to tackle broadly. That includes reducing the production and use as well as replacing plastics increasingly with alternative, more sustainable materials. Stricter quality standards are needed as well. We need to make plastic recycling more efficient and attractive for citizens and companies. However, this is not achieved overnight, but through gradual improvements.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I firmly believe that cities are increasingly important in solving the most pressing global issues. Cities are exceedingly the trailblazers in putting solutions into action and finding practical answers to global questions like climate change – and chemicals safety. Helsinki’s quality of life stems from our clean urban environment and vision to become the most functional city in the world. This is accomplished by basic elements related to a good everyday life, such as the purest tap water in the world: 100 times cleaner than bottled water.

To conclude, I want to express my appreciation to my colleagues in the Advisory Board for their support and commitment to make the Forum a success. The Forum has been made possible through the co-operation of the Chemicals Forum Association, the European Chemicals Agency, the European Commission, the European Chemical Industry Council, the Finnish Government, the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland, the University of Helsinki and the City of Helsinki.

With these words, I wish you a successful forum with inspiring debates and encounters that make an impact. As always, we have done our utmost to ensure the best possible setting for your stay (including the beautiful weather). If not already, I wish you will fall in love with Helsinki.