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Finnair says it will halve emissions by 2025, reach carbon neutrality by 2045

Cutting emissions in half by 2025 is "a very rapid development but possible," says the Finnish Environment Institute.

Finnair's announcement came just before Parliament began considering an aviation tax proposal. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Finnair has announced a range of measures aimed at cutting its greenhouse gas emissions. On Thursday the national airline pledged to cut emissions in half by 2025, compared to its 2019 level. The carrier intends to be carbon-neutral by 2045.

As defined by the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), that means producing no more CO2 emissions than it can compensate for.

Finnair aims to lower its planes’ weight and fuel consumption, expand its use of renewable fuel, invest in new aircraft technology and offset CO2 emissions.

Less waste, more vegetarian food

It also plans to reduce the amount of plastic refuse and food waste. The latter is to be cut in half in catering operations by the end of 2022.

The flag carrier says it will replace plastic single-use utensils in economy class with more sustainable alternatives, shrinking its use of in-flight plastic by some 53,000 kilos annually.

Finnair also says it will offer more plant-based food options, in response to customers’ changing food preferences.

Yle's All Points North podcast looked at plans for a possible flight tax in Finland. You can listen to the programme via this embedded player, Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or your normal podcast player using the RSS feed (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

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Trolleys bearing tax-free items will also disappear from all flights within the EU by the end of next month, trimming aircraft weight by 50-100 kilos per flight. Food will still be sold on board, and products ordered in advance will still be delivered to passengers.

While the impact of such moves may be marginal, the company also intends to invest in new lower-emission planes, which it expects will cut CO2 emissions on European flights by 10-15 percent. Last November, Finnair said it would replace nearly all of its narrow-body fleet, including the Airbus A319s and A320s that ply its European routes. The estimated price tag is 3.5-4 billion euros over the next five years.

Teaming up with Neste

Finnair also announced on Thursday also that it will sign a deal with Finnish biofuels producer Neste to incrementally boost its use of biofuel to 10 million euros annually by the end of 2025.

The state owns just over half of Finnair and about 44 percent of Neste.

Finnair used biofuel on a commercial flight for the first time last August, flying from San Francisco to Helsinki with a 12 percent biofuel mix.

"The oil price has come down quite significantly just recently, as has the price of kerosene so at the moment biofuel is as much as four to five times more expensive than normal aviation kerosene, but this is an exceptional situation," Finnair CEO Topi Manner told reporters in Helsinki, referring to price cuts caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

In the past, Finnair passengers had an option to support climate goals by voluntarily supporting emissions reduction project in Mozambique or biofuel purchases. This week the firm ended the ‘Push for Change’ scheme after the National Police Board ruled that it violated fundraising regulations.

Instead the airline will begin offsetting the CO2 emissions of all flights bought through corporate contracts beginning in September. Private customers who want to cut their carbon footprint will be offered optional biofuel and carbon-offset tickets by the end of this year.

Syke: Targets possible

Ari Nissinen, Development Manager at the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), says that more details will be needed to determine how realistic the plan is.

"I think that halving emissions by 2025 is a very rapid development, and it’s good that it is not only by compensating, but also several different types of actions that affect their emissions," he says.

“I think the 2025 goal is possible. They’ve already figured out several measures that can decrease the emissions, and for the remaining decrease they will buy offsets, in other words compensate. And it’s very good to have the first target year so close, which means they already have realistic plans and actions now,” he tells Yle News.

“However, it will be interesting to see the planned decrease through each measure, and how much will need to be compensated for by 2025, for instance,” adds Nissinen.

He notes that the 2045 goal is generally in line with the EU goal of reaching it by 2050 but much slower than the Finnish government’s path to carbon neutrality by 2035.

“But for an airline it’s much better than the general Corsia agreement, which just freezes the emissions to the 2020 level, when compensations are taken into account. However, some other airline companies have also published much more effective emission plans than Corsia,” he explains.

For examples, EasyJet says it will reach net-zero carbon emissions through offsetting of its flights, and British Airways owner IAG has said it will carbon-offset its domestic flights.

Lund: Regrettable ruling

Peter Lund, Professor of New Energy Technologies, Aalto University Image: Aalto-yliopisto

Professor Peter Lund, an expert on energy transitions at Aalto University, says that the decision to prohibit voluntary off-setting was regrettable from the standpoint of climate change mitigation.

"Often good policies start with voluntary measures, which over time may become part of common policies. Voluntary measures increase awareness of climate change," he says.

"I think that Finnair’s revised plan to enable offsetting of emissions or biofuels when purchasing the ticket is good. Also, the strategy of better energy efficiency and more use of biofuels is going in the right direction. Combined, these three efforts are good steps forward in decreasing CO2 emissions," Lund tells Yle News.

Finnair’s share price closed down by more than five percent on Thursday in Helsinki, after gaining ground earlier in the day.

The flag carrier's announcement came just hours before the Finnish Parliament began considering a citizens' initiative calling for an aviation tax aimed at lowering emissions.