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Consumption emissions boost Finnish carbon footprint

So-called "import emissions" are keeping Finland’s carbon footprint high, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Most of Finland's outsourced carbon emissions come from Russia, with China a close second. Photo of factory in Rudong area, China. Image: Alex Plavevski / EPA
Yle News

As world leaders ponder carbon reduction measures at COP26 in Glasgow, it is worth noting that Finland's emissions have fallen by some measures — but risen by others.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year found that the carbon footprint of the average Finnish household is not getting any smaller, and so-called "import emissions" are a major reason why.

Some measures of emissions count sources within Finland, such as energy and food production, but exclude emissions associated with products imported to Finland but produced elsewhere.

The population of Finland acquires many consumer goods and other products from abroad, and the emissions generated by the manufacturing of these products may have actually increased Finland’s carbon footprint over the past 20 years.

While carbon emissions have been declining domestically, emissions generated abroad to service Finnish consumers have in part negated these reductions. Total emissions per capita, including those emissions abroad that relate to Finnish consumption, have hardly declined at all.

According to Finland's climate targets, carbon emissions are to be reduced annually until reaching net zero in 2035. In recent years, emissions have declined by about 4 percent a year.

However, these climate targets do not take into account what people wear, the transportation people use or and where industry and municipalities acquire their materials. These things also generate emissions.

Finland's consumer needs are largely met through imports, which nearly double the carbon footprint of people living in Finland when added to the Finland-specific emissions.

Consumption-based emissions on the rise

According to data supplied by the OECD (siirryt toiseen palveluun), the carbon emissions of Finnish households, excluding land use emissions, are at the same level as they were in 2000 and remain one of the highest in the world.

Finland is one of the few countries where about half of the nation’s carbon emissions are generated outside its borders, the OECD study found. The research also revealed that Sweden and Denmark have even larger shares of emissions coming from outside their own borders than Finland.

Consumption-based carbon emissions were not calculated in Finland prior to 2000, making it impossible to know whether the household carbon footprint has decreased since the 1990s.

According to official statistics, emissions in 1990 and 2000 were at around the same level, but only regional data is included in these figures, and not consumption-based emissions generated outside of Finland’s borders.

The most recent figures for household consumption are from 2019. At that time, 47 percent of household carbon emissions were generated abroad. According to information provided by Finland's government, emissions generated by the Finnish population have increased by 4 percent, if the increase in population from 2000 to 2019 is also taken into consideration.

"If we ignore international trade, we are fooling ourselves and blaming other countries for large regional emissions. We must remember why China produces and exports so much to different countries," said Hannu Savolainen, a researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute, who has compiled consumption-based statistics.

Story continues after photo.

Consumption-based emissions have not declined in 20 years. Most household emissions come from transportation and energy consumption.

Majority of Finland's import emissions come from Russia, China

Calculating consumption-based emissions is an inexact science. However, according to the OECD's estimate, most of Finland's outsourced carbon emissions come from Russia, with China a close second. Data from 2015 revealed that these two countries account for about a third, each, of the production-based emissions generated by Finnish households from outside of their own borders.

India and the United States account for about 5 percent each.

While the EU is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, China's goal is to reverse their emissions growth by that same year. The climate actions taken by Russia have also been criticised as inadequate.

"The emphasis on the consumer would not have to be heavy if all countries were striving for carbon neutrality. It is, however, still worth looking at the problem from the perspective of the consumer's carbon footprint, even after we reach our own carbon neutrality goal," said environmental adviser Jarmo Muurma from the Ministry of the Environment.

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