Professor of Practice in Green Transition Matti Vainio: “What’s good for the climate can be good for the economy too”

In April 2024, Matti Vainio, DSc (Econ), assumed the role of Professor of Practice in Green Transition at the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR). He encourages researchers to examine how much the public is willing to pay for a better environment and better health.

Matti Vainio is a nationally and internationally recognised public official, researcher and expert, who has worked with climate and air quality issues as well as chemical risks. He has conducted economic analyses of climate change and air pollution for the European Commission, headed a unit at the European Chemicals Agency and served as an economist for the UN Conference on Trade and Development. He has also worked for the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, consultancies, as a UN volunteer in Zimbabwe, and as a researcher at Aalto University. 

In his new position, Vainio would like to use his extensive experience and networks and learn something new himself. 

“I have experience, in particular, of how curbing the EU’s climate, air quality and chemical risks can help Finland in its efforts towards a more sustainable and green economy. I also hope my experience of cooperation in Africa and elsewhere will prove beneficial,” he says.

Vainio’s strengths include the ability to combine crossdisciplinary approaches with cost–benefit analyses, and to conduct and develop impact assessment. He brings a European and global perspective to examining climate, air quality and chemical risks in Finland.  

“I’ve already been involved in developing new specialisation programme in  climate expertise and will establish a new multidisciplinary master’s level course in EU climate and environmental regulation,” he notes.  

What value do people place on the environment?

Vainio urges the University of Helsinki and other higher education institutions to investigate how people value the natural environment and health. One way to do so is to conduct studies on willingness to pay.

“Information about the value people place on the environment is necessary for us to be able to allocate the costs of promoting climate and environmental goals based on what people see as the most beneficial. Otherwise climate and environmental policy will focus only on spending rather than taking into account the benefits of a better environment. This is crucial for a green transition,” he stresses.

Vainio, who also holds a Master of Social Sciences degree from the University of Helsinki, emphasises the importance of collaboration between higher education institutions. 

“Research and teaching in climate issues involve extensive, multidisciplinary challenges. This is why I’d like to develop the expertise of the University of Helsinki in collaboration with other Finnish and European universities with knowledge of climate affairs, including my alma mater, Aalto University.”

Vainio completed his doctoral degree in environmental economics in 1995 at Aalto University, and now works as a consultant alongside his role as professor of practice. He is also a member of the UK REACH Independent Scientific Expert Pool.