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Officials' leaked climate action list ignored by government

Finland's government has declared it wants the country to be carbon neutral by 2035, but has not said how that will be achieved. 

From left: Agriculture Minister Jari Leppä (Centre), Transport Minister Timo Harakka (SDP) and Environment Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green) at a press conference on Friday 10 September held to discuss climate change related decisions made in the Finnish state budget for 2022. Image: Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva

On Thursday Finland's government announced that it had agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 14-15 million tonnes, but experts have criticised the measures announced as insufficient.

Marita Laukkanen of the VATT Institute for Economic Research told Yle that "the climate measures lack substance", and that "the government is too reliant on the hope of electrifying transport".

"There is talk of measures, but in reality there are just reports and working groups," said Laukkanen. "There is a desire to reduce emissions, but it's not stated how [that will happen]."

Yle went through the climate measures announced in the budget and compared them to a memo obtained by Yle that was prepared before budget talks began.

Officials in the Environment Ministry in August suggested several measures to the government's climate and energy policy ministerial working group.

Some of the measures made it into the package announced on Thursday, but many of them — especially those relating to transport — did not.

Some of the measures proposed by officials but left out of the final package by politicians included:

  • Higher taxes on heating fuels, to be raised in stages by 2030. This would have resulted in a 0.5 megatonne reduction in emissions, with 0.15 of a megatonne of that coming from industry and other emissions, 0.1 Mt from industrial machinery and 0.15 Mt from the heating of buildings.
  • Several changes to taxation related to driving, including a switch away from vehicle tax towards taxes on petrol and diesel (producing a 0.1-0.5 Mt cut in emissions), removing tax breaks on diesel (0.1-0.9 Mt) and index increases in petrol taxation (0.2-0.9 Mt).
  • Road tax switching to a usage-based model based on kilometres driven and road classification, or to a national carbon trading scheme. The trading scheme would involve distributors of fuels purchasing rights to sell fossil fuels from the government, thus increasing their cost.
  • A clearing charge, to be paid when forests are cut down for agriculture or construction.
  • Withdrawal in stages of a tax break for energy use by farmers.

Measures on the table during 'budget barn'

According to Yle's sources, the Greens and the Left Alliance proposed the officials' suggestions during the budget talks, but they were rejected by the other parties. The Centre Party in particular was a strident opponent of new taxes on petrol.

The Greens and Leftists wanted to create a mechanism whereby these measures would automatically be enacted if emissions did not fall in line with Finland's targets.

That mechanism was discussed on Wednesday in meetings between the Greens and Centre, the two main protagonists in the dispute.

National emissions trading and road tax adjustments were both part of the government's roadmap to a fossil fuel-free future, which was published at the start of the year. The roadmap, however, only talks of preparatory work on such measures, rather than a timetable for their introduction.

The Centre Party, meanwhile, proposed soft loans for low-income families to switch away from oil heating systems, as well as bigger tax breaks for work done to switch away from oil-based domestic heating systems.

In the end Prime Minister Sanna Marin's (SDP) proposal included a promise to look again at emission reductions in March 2022, with a cross-party working group established in parliament to agree measures.

Centre Party sources told Yle on Thursday they were surprised that the promise was sufficient to get agreement from the Green party, as it does not include any concrete measures via which emission reductions would be achieved.

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The Centre Party preferred to talk about livestock feed than petrol taxes. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Green sources meanwhile said that the inclusion of expert evaluation from the Finnish Climate Panel made the commitment significant for them.

"In practice this means decisions on tax increases and emissions trading, if the current measures are not enough," a green source told Yle.

The centre has been resistant to exactly those measures, however. SDP sources told Yle that in practice the can had been kicked down the road, and that wrangling would continue until next March.

At a press conference on Friday, Environment Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green) claimed that the package agreed this week could mean Finland becomes a net carbon sink.

"We have agreed on a package that makes it possible to become carbon neutral or even carbon negative by 2035," said Mikkonen.

Speaking at the same press conference, Transport Minister Timo Harakka (SDP) said that private motorists had 'nothing to fear', before Agriculture Minister Jari Leppä (Centre) said that he was aiming to ensure Finnish farmers produced feed for Finnish livestock.

"A soya-free Finland is a significant thing when we talk about the climate impacts of livestock feed," said Leppä.

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