E&M Author and editor Maria Taskinen reflects on Finland’s last month’s election result and its impact on the country’s ambitious climate targets.
As a supporter of ambitious climate governance, the last four years of policymaking in Finland have been promising to look at.
With Sanna Marin’s left-leaning so-called “punamulta” government in office (formed by the party’s ex-chair Antti Rinne), consisting of Social Democrats, the Centre Party, the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People’s Party, the country’s climate agenda has been in relatively good hands when it comes to self-initiated and motivated action. At least the will and ambition have seemed pretty high with the government program itself starting with the word “climate change.”
And yes, in fact, Marin’s government has shown some high-flying engagement in creating new climate measures. The government’s policy program legally adhered to making Finland carbon neutral by 2035, which as a courageous goal, also gained positive attention internationally and was followed by several other countries announcing their targets.
To follow through with its program, the government provided a diligent plan to cut emissions and directed substantial financial contributions to advance green transitioning. It also created the “Finnish Climate Fund” to accelerate the reduction of industry emissions. Industry electricity tax was dropped to the EU minimum, and citizens were incentivised to purchase electric cars and cut down on oil heating. It was all looking promising.
However, when you look at the terminology of carbon neutrality there are few things to point out. As a term it refers to the “balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks”. More specifically, the act of removing carbon oxide from the atmosphere and storing it is called carbon sequestration. Thus, technically aiming for carbon neutrality does not mean reaching zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Rather, it means getting as close to zero greenhouse gas emissions with the remaining emissions counterbalanced by carbon sequestration.
And this is where (as many Finns following the national news for the past months maybe know) the previous government has had some serious trouble. Namely, the increase in logging in recent years due to the boom in demand for Finnish pulp and slowing of tree growth, have led to substantial collapse of Finland’s forest carbon sinks. And while strengthening carbon sinks and climate action in the land use were mentioned as part of the government’s climate policy planning system, the government drastically failed to comply with them due to the disagreements between the Centre Party and the Green League.
The same disagreements had a degenerative impact on several other climate legislation reforms; particularly to the ones crucial regarding the safeguarding of biodiversity. For instance, the implementation of the long-prepared national biodiversity strategy aiming to stop loss of biodiversity by 2030 was not reached. Moreover, in the end of last year, the parliamentary vote on the new environmental protection law almost dissolved the government, when Centre Party decided last-minute to stab the government in the back and vote in line with the opposition. While maybe a good call from Marin not to dissolve government in the middle of the war, energy crisis and Finland’s NATO discussions, Centre Party’s behaviour certainly had a watering-down effect on the bill, especially on the parts regarding the protection of forests and other habitats.
“But why to point out the failures of a government whose climate policymaking was still praised even by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation as “the best of the millennium”?”
So just as usually ends up happening in party politics, Marin’s left-leaning government and its climate ambition got stuck in an ideological scuffle. But why to point out the failures of a government whose climate policymaking was still praised even by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation as “the best of the millennium”?
The reason is the change of watch in the government office. Last month’s national elections were held in the practical absence of climate discussion and its outcome has led to government formation talks being held with the parties known to push back in any serious climate measure. Namely, with the winning party, the liberal right-wing National Coalition Party, potentially interested in teaming up with the populist right-wing Finns Party, who has rejected Finland’s 2035 carbon neutrality target and called climate measures “expensive”, it is somewhat anxiety-lifting to think how the new government will start tackling Marin government’s undone work.
For instance, by the time next government finishes its turn, it will be year 2027 meaning that there are only thee years left until loss of biodiversity should be stopped. And given the gridlock of the previous government parties, the biodiversity strategy’s implementation is now the responsibility of the new government. Moreover, by the end of this government’s turn only eight years remain to become fully carbon neutral, making it crucial for carbon sinks to increase by then and emissions to decrease.
Of course, as the upcoming prime minister and the leader of the National Coalition Party, Petteri Orpo, likes to point out also technology gives tools to tackle climate change. It can help to improve energy efficiency, provide new energy sources and storage CO2 emissions. But what it cannot do is bring back forests and biodiversity. The next government therefore must come up with some serious regulation regarding logging and the forest carbon sinks and increase the funding of environmental protection or else the targets of 2035 will simply not be reached.
All this said, with Finland’s government about to change colors from red to blue, I keep wondering how much will there be green in the blue? I surely would hope to be surprised of how much.
Photo: Avik Dey (Unsplash)