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Experts detect big differences in party stances on climate change

The Greens and Left Alliance promise a carbon neutral Finland by the year 2030, the SDP 2035, and the Centre Party 2045. Three parties have pledged no targets.

Climate demonstrators in front of the Parliament House on 6 March. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

The news agency STT approached several environmental organisations and specialists about how Finland's main political parties differ in the pre-election solutions they are offering to tackle climate change.

The experts agree that none of the parliamentary parties seem to understand how quickly new policies must be enacted in order to avoid dire consequences.

The panel advises voters that are concerned about climate change to first compare the parties' goals for achieving carbon neutrality in Finland. Attaining a net zero carbon footprint would require lowering overall carbon dioxide emission levels to equal carbon removal capacity. Finland's vast forests already provide a sizeable carbon sink, but other measures such as carbon offsetting and increased renewable energy are also important in this effort.

Different carbon neutral target dates

STT's experts say the parties' projected carbon neutral dates are a good indicator of their willingness to forsake fossil fuels and peat, for example.

The Greens pledge that they want Finland to be carbon neutral by 2030, while the Social Democrats (SDP) and the Swedish People's Party (SPP) have set a target of 2035.

The centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) says it wants to make fossil fuels a thing of the past "sometime in the 2030s", while the Centre Party has set a target date of 2045.

The Left Alliance is also ambitious, saying that they want to "make Finland carbon-negative by the early 2030s".

Carbon neutrality target dates are conspicuously missing in the election platforms of the Christian Democrats, the Blue Reform and the Finns Party.

Few clear plans and exact percentages

Environmental rights researcher Heta Heiskanen of the University of Tampere says a second important target for eco-conscious citizens to analyse is the emission reduction percentage that political parties state in their manifestos.

For example, the Greens call for 60 percent reductions, while the NCP calls for an increase in the 2030 EU emissions reduction target to 55 percent from its current 40 percent, compared with 1990 levels. Many of the remaining parties, like the SDP, Centre and the Left Alliance, pledge that they would like to see emission reduction percentages increased, but without stating specific numbers.

Another thing the experts say voters can follow is whether the parties have clear plans in place to make attainment of these targets possible.

"Ask yourself whether they are speaking of larger entities and significant political policies, or if they seem bogged down in discussions of the little details," says project manager Janne Peljo of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

Lack of understanding about the means towards the end

Before Christmas, eight of the nine parliamentary parties in Finland sat down to compose a joint statement that said the country must play its part in limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. However, according to the experts that spoke with STT, the parties do not necessarily understand the means required to make good on this commitment.

Mia Rahunen, a climate expert at WWF Finland, points out that this promise can't be kept without eliminating the use of fossil fuels. She too feels that none of the party manifestos seem to reveal a sufficient understanding of the seriousness of the situation.

The parties show clear differences when it comes to laying out specific courses of action, the STT experts say. For example, the Greens, Left Alliance, SPP and SDP each have clear action points to tackle climate change in their election manifestos, while the NCP and Centre Party sections on the environment raise many questions.

"When it comes to the former government coalition parties in particular, it is tough [to understand their climate goals]. They seem to say one thing and do another," says Olli Tiainen, climate and energy campaigner and project leader at Greenpeace Nordic.

Tampere University's Heiskanen agrees that it is difficult to ascertain the NCP stance from their pre-election platform.

"It's hard to figure out how much of the work will be left to volunteer organizations, and how much they will be effectively pushing things forward themselves," she says.

Climate expert Hanna Aho from the development NGO umbrella group Fingo says that she too has sensed a conflict within the NCP. She says that the party has presented several concrete initiatives to combat climate change, and several MPs have made important contributions, but that she found many of their campaign slogans to be in some part antagonistic to the cause.

Aho also says it is also valuable to examine party messages for their consistency. For example, a political party might have outlined ambitious climate goals, but at the same time be in support of subsidies that are harmful to the environment.

Next government will have a major climate impact

After the 14 April elections, the future government will define climate policy for the next four years. The experts in the STT poll predict several divisive issues may come up in negotiations to form the new coalition. For example, there are clear dividing lines between the parties on the issue of using peat for energy, the area of business subsidies, and the extent to which a climate action plan should be built on the back of Finland's electricity supply.

Heiskanen estimates that potential coalition partners will have an easier time agreeing on such things as support for the circular economy and funding for research and development.

WWF's Rahunen says it is unclear how big a priority climate issues will be in the government formation talks, as none of the nine parliamentary parties have indicated whether certain climate measures would be potential red lines in the sand when it comes to cooperation.

Fingo's Aho comments that the ideal situation would be a future government made up of parties with mutually reinforcing environmental aims.

"But if, for example, the SDP and the NCP end up in the same coalition, with no Green or Left Alliance input, then it's really hard for me to see that at the end of the day, sufficient climate action would be taken," she says.

Heiskanen says she was also surprised by how little mention the parties made of legislation in the climate sections of their pre-election manifestos.

"Only the Swedish People's Party had nicely declared that climate considerations should be taken into account in the drafting of all future laws."