How do small countries like Finland manage to export products in these highly competitive global markets?
Just think about the challenges facing business and government:
- Most of the country is covered in snow and ice for 4 to 5 months and the temperature from November to April is cold and often well below minus 10C.
- Heating homes and building is expensive as are keeping roads and rails open every day of the year.
- Geographically Finland is the 6th largest European country with a small population of just 5,5 million people around one-tenth of Spain or France.
The answer lies in education and strategic planning – success can only be achieved with systematic policies where civil society agrees to implement policies that save energy and work in a cost efficient way.
You may note that the word civil society is used rather than government. Traditionally civil society has meant “community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity”. It can be understood as a third sector of society, distinct from government and business – something that includes the family and the private sphere.
Working together for the benefit of the community requires knowledge and skills – so Finns have invested in education at schools, vocational colleges and at universities. It is not surprising that we do well in the OECD PISA rankings – it is a deliberate policy to invest in education for all. We have invested in libraries and have a good honest media as well as an excellent public broadcaster.
The next step is to invest in sustainable building with proper insulation and cost efficient heating to handle almost six months of cold and really cold weather. The building regulations demand double and triple glazing, carefully planned and installed insulation in the floors, walls and ceilings and roofs.
Finland has made decisions on energy with a strong emphasis on climate and the environment. Finnish energy industry works for sustainable energy generation with as low emissions as possible:
The price of electricity and district heat in Finland is among the lowest in Europe when taking into account purchasing power.
District heating is the norm in all cities and covers some 55% of all homes.
Heat from coal and peat is still around 30% and that will be reduced to zero in the coming decade, but emissions have already fallen dramatically during the last decades:
Public transport is a third area of community activity – comfortable rail, buses, and trams are the norm in all large cities and a reasonable network of roads and motorways connect the whole country together. Public transport accounts for the vast majority of commuter traffic during the working week, and the levels of traffic congestion is extremely low compared to any other European country.
Even though more could be done with regard to phasing out fossil fuels for transport, heat and power, much more has been achieved when compared to most European countries. Like all of the other Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) Finland is a front runner in climate change politics and that will continue because this has been part of our DNA for decades.