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Finnish Parliament passes "unambitious" climate act

The new law was praised by the current and past environment ministers, questioned by a top environmental economist – and rejected outright by the populist Finns Party.

Kokoomuksen varapuheenjohtaja Sanni Grahn-Laasonen A- Talkissa 5.2.2014.
Image: Yle

As part of its eleventh-hour flurry of legislation, the outgoing Finnish Parliament has approved the long-debated Climate Act.

The law will not bring any direct changes into Finns’ daily lives. The act does not specify how or how fast emissions must be reduced, but simply directs the state and its agencies to draw up plans for combating climate change.

The act was ratified by a vote of 150-33 on Friday afternoon, with just a week left in the four-year legislative term.

The plans under the Climate Act only cover sectors of the economy not included in the EU’s emissions trading system. These include transport, agriculture and housing.

Finland’s emissions requirements are largely determined by the EU. It declares that most energy production and energy-intensive industry must lower emissions by 2020 so that they are 21 percent lower than in 2005.

The new Climate Act’s only addition to this is a target whereby 2050 emissions should be 80 percent lower than in 1990. This covers all emissions, including those under the trading scheme.

"Amazed by Finns Party disregard"

“The law is a signal that Finland is a pioneer this year as we prepare for the UN’s Paris climate conference,” said Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, a National Coalition deputy chair who took over as environment minister less than six months ago.

The only one of the main parties to oppose the law was the opposition Finns Party.

**“**I’m amazed by the Finns Party’s disregard for future generations,” said Grahn-Laasonen.

Economist: Modest but significant

The chair of the Finnish Climate Panel, Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics Markku Ollikainen, describes the act as unambitious.

“The law is modest in terms of emissions targets,” he says. However he does not see it as insignificant.

“If officials use the law’s reporting requirements to come to sensible, proactive conclusions regarding the development of national climate policy, then it may be very useful,” the Helsinki University professor told Yle on Friday.

Greens chair: "Biggest effort of my career"

Grahn-Laasonen's predecessor, Greens chair Ville Niinistö, was responsible for most of the preparations for the law. He expressed satisfaction that the law had been passed and defended the final wording.

“We’ve taken a big step forward in climate protection and I’m happy about that. It was the biggest effort of my own political career to get the bill approved in the cabinet,” he noted.

Niinistö said he understands Ollikainen’s criticism and acknowledges that the final text was a compromise.

“The parties came a long way compared with what they originally thought about the Climate Act. I would have wanted to include binding sector-specific carbon budgets. As it is, though, the law gives us the framework to become forerunners in climate protection,” said Niinistö.

He added that he was particularly pleased that the act was approved by the Centre Party, which leads opinion polls ahead of next month’s election. The Greens quit the government last year to protest approval of a revised nuclear power plant application.

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