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"Forest marchers" urge government to safeguard biodiversity and carbon sinks

Last year, for the first time, Finland's land use sector – which includes forestry – produced more greenhouse emissions than it stored.

An estimated 1,000-2,000 people took part in the Helsinki forest protest. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Environmental groups staged marches in cities around Finland on Saturday, demanding that the government do more to preserve forest biodiversity and carbon sinks.

Demonstrators gathered in Helsinki, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Oulu, Joensuu and Karjaa in Raasepori.

In Helsinki, police said that 1,000-2,000 people took part in the demonstration, and that it had proceeded peacefully. The procession went from Senate Square along Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie to the Parliament building.

In Tampere, Sorsapuisto Park filled with demonstrators, who listened to a panel discussion on forest use and protection.

Speakers included Sakari Suuriniemi, Global Forest Affairs manager at forest products company UPM, Mikko Kriikku, Forestry Advisor at the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), Professor Emeritus Erkki Lähde and Sampo Manninen of the Silva Association of Continuous Forest Growth.

In Joensuu, eastern Finland, about 100 people took part in a two-kilometre march along the shore of the Pielisjoki river.

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Protesters Jenna Savander and Leo Repo on the steps of Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral with a placard reading "Stop forest loss". Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

5-point list of demands

The events were co-organised by 13 NGOs, including the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, the Finnish Nature League, Greenpeace, Climate Move and Elokapina, the Finnish branch of Extinction Rebellion.

In a five-point joint statement, they called on the government to do more to protect old-growth forests on state lands, to secure funding for the voluntary protection of privately owned forests, to protect 30 percent of Finland's forests in line with the EU biodiversity strategy, to introduce a deforestation fee to secure carbon sinks and to significantly reduce logging on public lands.

With just over five months left in the parliamentary term, though, it is unlikely that the centre-left cabinet will launch any major new legislation ahead of April's election, although funding adjustments might be possible.

Forest use goes from carbon sink to net emitter

Last year, for the first time, Finland's land use sector – which includes forestry – produced more greenhouse emissions than it stored.

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Spruce forest with a clear-cut area in Ikaalinen in the Pirkanmaa region. Image: Janne Langen / Yle

Markku Ollikainen, chair of the Finnish Climate Change Panel, told Yle that the change of the land use sector from being a carbon sink to a net source of emissions is a significant turning point.

It could also result in a big bill for taxpayers if the net sink target set by the EU for the land use sector is not reached, in which case carbon sink units would have to be purchased on the EU's internal market.

According to the climate panel, based on last year's figures, Finland will not reach the net sink target for the land use sector set by the EU.

According to a Taloustutkimus survey published by Yle last May, 80 percent of people in Finland support an expansion of protected wild areas.

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