Forest growth rates in have started to drop, according to a report from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).
The last time anything but an increasing trend was observed in the 100-year history of Luke's forest growth reports was 60 years ago.
Forest growth is a significant contributor to climate efforts and a decline may considerably hamper efforts to reach EU targets. Finland's goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2035 is dependent on forests' ability to absorb at least one-third — or about 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide — of Finland's total climate emissions.
According to the institute's figures, tree growth has decreased by a total of 4.3 million cubic metres year on year. The report's findings were unexpected, according to a leading expert at Luke, Kari Korhonen.
"Around 4 million cubic metres is a considerable drop, especially considering the brief time period during which it has taken place," Korhonen told Yle.
Various factors behind trend
Researchers say that the reasons behind the shift could be both nature and human activity-related. On one hand, weather variations such as dry summers may significantly impact the growth of pine trees, for instance.
However, other factors to blame include intensive forestry (reforestation), tree breeding and the drainage of Finnish peat land, which has in turn caused further environmental degradation and greenhouse emissions.
Reports revealed that over the next 50 years, industrial felling could account for the destruction of almost half of bio-diverse forest areas that have not yet received a protected status.
Minister of the Environment Emma Kari (Greens) said at a press conference on Wednesday that a working group will be set up to protect old and primary forests.
"Stopping the loss of biodiversity requires precisely the protection of valuable natural forests," Kari said, adding that "open felling is not the only way to (financially) benefit from the forest."
The minister also hailed the government-proposed METSO program which could encourage landowners to protect forests by offering compensation for conservation efforts.
"It has been considered a good programme by scientists and conservationists as well as landowners," Kari said during the presser.
Luke is set to publish more data during the early part of next year, examining whether the recent decline in growth might become a more permanent trend.