Finland’s Climate Change Policy – Ambitious Enough?

In a recent speech the Finnish PM produced quite a different picture of government policy compared to that of Australia, a country that still denies the scientific facts that climate change is happening. Finland is not sitting back and waiting for others to do their bit. Finns, unlike our Australian friends, can see an export opportunity here to be at the leading edge of carbon neutrality.

Finland aims to be climate neutral by 2035. The government adopted this ambitious goal based on scientific analyses by a national climate panel of top experts. To achieve climate neutrality emissions reduction measures are needed and our carbon sinks need to be expanded.

In concrete numbers, climate neutrality in 2035 means that:

  • We need to cut emissions by 35 million tons compared to current levels. This is 3 times the total of transport sector emissions in Finland.
  • And we must increase our carbon sinks by 3 million tons. This corresponds to almost half of the agriculture emissions in Finland.
  • Our climate policies are based on academic research and they are supported by the majority of Finns – our citizens, industry, civil society, business and political parties.
  • We must get rid of fossil fuels to build the world’s first fossil-free welfare society.
  • In electricity production, we have already taken important progress – in 2018, nearly 80% of Finland’s electricity production was based on carbon free energy sources with 46% of energy produced by renewables and 32% with nuclear power.
  • However, as a country with cold winters, heating is important. In 2018, 53% of district heat was produced with fossil fuels and peat. This is why our government is investing significantly in policy measures to decarbonize heat production. Finland has already banned the use of coal for energy by 2029 and we are providing energy companies with incentives for investments to replace coal already by 2025.
  • By 2030, we will halve the domestic use of imported mineral oil, like petrol, and phase out the use of fossil fuel oil in heating. In all public properties oil heating will end in 2024. The use of peat for energy will be at least halved by 2030.
  • Finland is promoting investments away from fossil fuels for other buildings towards sustainable options such as heat pumps and ground source heat. We are also developing new technological solutions and of course energy efficiency.
  • We are decarbonizing transportation that accounts for one fifth of all emissions. We will halve these emissions by 2030, but we will not stop there. In the autumn this year, we will publish a national roadmap to fossil-free transportation
  • Emissions reduction measures will include reducing the use of fossil fuels by increasing the blending obligation of biofuels from 15 % in 2018 to 30 % in 2029 and supporting digitalization and automation of the transport system. In the longer term, we see sustainably produced biofuels mainly as a tool for reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and aviation.
  • To promote more sustainable mobility, we will encourage cycling, walking and public transportation. We will take climate change mitigation more strongly into account in land use and urban planning.
  • In the future, petrol stations will be obliged to provide a certain number of charging points for electric cars. We will set a national obligation to build charging infrastructure for electric cars in residential areas and business premises.
  • We are developing sectoral low-carbon roadmaps together with our industries – including the chemical, technology, forest and energy industry. These roadmaps describe the actions industries can take to reduce their emissions.
  • The government is supporting industry in the transition. In early February, the Government decided to set up a new Climate Fund. The fund will focus on combatting climate change, promoting digitalization and boosting low carbon operations in manufacturing industries. The fund will be one way to channel investments in developing the circular economy, clean technology solutions and energy efficiency.
  • Public funding alone will not be enough to make the urgently needed transition to a climate neutral society happen. Fortunately, Finnish businesses and industries largely see investing in climate friendly, energy efficient circular solutions beneficial for their activities. They see that by being early adopters of new technology they will be in a better place to compete in the global markets.
  • Particularly in a country with broad swarths of forests and peatlands, land use plays a central role in achieving climate neutrality. The government’s climate policy focuses on reducing land use sector emissions and enhancing carbon sinks while protecting biodiversity. The government is developing a comprehensive climate program for the land use sector. The program will include a broad set of measures. We wish to safeguard the management, growth and health of our forests, promote afforestation and reduce deforestation. This way, we will increase our carbon sinks. The program will also include measures for reducing the emissions of swamps and peatlands, promoting climate-sustainable management of swamp forests and strengthening the carbon sequestration of agricultural land.
  • We must stop overconsuming our planet’s resources and do more with less. We need to make sure that whatever we produce is produced sustainably, resource-efficiently and can be repaired, remanufactured and in the end recycled. This is why Finland invests a lot in transforming our economy from the linear “make, use, dispose” model to a circular economy.
  • We are currently developing a long term, horizontal circular economy program to boost our efforts. The program’s focus areas include circular economy in the construction sector, the role of cities and regions, circularity in heavy industry and new technologies and business models. The program is prepared in cooperation with key stakeholders and will be completed this year.
  • Building and construction entails enormous potential for promoting the circular economy and cutting emissions. In 2017, Finland launched a low carbon roadmap for construction. It aims at including the carbon footprint of building materials in Finnish regulation for new buildings by 2025. This means that we will set threshold values for life cycle emissions of different building types.
  • And finally, we are putting our climate ambition into legislation. The Government will present its proposal for a new Climate Change Act in early 2021. The Finnish Climate Act has been in force since 2015 but now we want to strengthen it as a guiding instrument. Emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2040 will be added to the Act, in line with the path to climate neutrality and climate negativity. The land use sector and a target for strengthening carbon sinks will also be included in the Act.

In order for the climate transition to be fair and just, we need to engage citizens in active dialogue about climate policy. That is why we have just last week set up a new Climate Policy Roundtable, that includes representatives from local communities to the industry, the youth and the trade unions.

We also do concrete measures to implement a just transition. When we announced a raise in fuel taxes, we also lowered the income tax for the least earning citizens. Some areas of the country are affected disproportionately. This combined with urbanization can mean that negative effects pile up on just some communities.

A key enabler of a just transition is education. As I mentioned earlier, tuition at basic, vocational and even university education in Finland is free. Educational paths are designed in a way that allows for a smooth transition between different types and levels of studies at different stages of life.

In line with our government’s recently published climate roadmap, we set particular priority on continuous learning, employment services and on-the-job learning to enhance people’s security in the face of change. Without the social and the economical, the environmental transition is not possible.

This is where the Nordic model comes to play. I believe that open markets, robust social security and a good-quality public health care system are just as essential in tackling climate change, as are energy taxation and carbon pricing. These elements together with free education help to ensure that during challenging times one can focus on seeking new opportunities.

Ensuring a successful outcome at the COP26 in Glasgow this November is very important. The meeting will be an important political moment where countries are to think if their climate policy is enough. Ambitious targets and pledges to climate neutrality by mid-century are essential for the world to catch up with science.

The European Union wants to lead by example. Last year during the Finnish presidency of the European Union, the member states decided that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050. We are currently debating how to reach that target all across Europe with the Green Deal proposed by the European Commission.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge that countries are at different stages of development and their readiness to take climate change mitigation or adaptation measures differ.

Finland continues to be committed to contribute our fair share.

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