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Finland: Record drop in emissions, but still not on track for 2035 target

Finland's goal of carbon neutrality by 2035 won't be achieved unless new moves to cut emissions are quickly introduced in all sectors, the report says.

In order to reach the government's goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, emissions from areas such as transport must be cut more sharply. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

Finland's climate emissions fell to a record low last year, according to the Annual Climate Report prepared under the Environment Ministry. The report, issued on Wednesday, monitors the implementation of Finland's emission reduction targets.

The record reduction in emissions is largely due to the effects of the pandemic. For example, traffic decreased last year while carbon sequestration increased as a result of reduced logging.

In sectors covered by the EU's Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), emissions decreased by about 16 percent from the previous year, primarily due to less burning of coal and peat. Emissions trading covers the production of electricity and district heating, the pulp, paper, construction and chemical industries, and commercial aviation within the European Economic Area.

In areas outside the ETS, including transport, agriculture and heating of individual buildings, emissions decreased by three percent from the previous year.

According to the report, Finland's current measures to reduce emissions are insufficient. Finland's goal of being carbon neutral by 2035 will not be achieved unless new measures to reduce emissions are rapidly introduced in all sectors, the report indicates. According to the report, non-trading emissions in particular must be cut faster.

“We are going in the right direction, but new climate measures are needed. We are currently preparing our most important climate plans: the Medium-term Climate Change Policy Plan that extends until 2035, the Climate and Energy Strategy and the climate change plan for the land-use sector. In this work, we must find measures that will enable us to achieve Finland's goal of being carbon neutral in 2035. It is also important to ensure that the climate measures are implemented in a way that is fair,” Minister of the Environment and Climate Krista Mikkonen (Green) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Household carbon footprint must be cut by up to 70%

According to the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), emissions from household consumption shrank between 2010 and 2015, but have stayed roughly the same since then.

Emissions from consumption as a whole have increased by four percent since 2000. According to the Climate Change Panel's estimate, the carbon footprint of households must be slashed by as much as 70 percent in order for Finland to achieve its 2035 target. This includes housing, mobility, food and other goods and services.

Emissions from transport fell by six percent from the previous year, which is too slow a decline in relation to the target. A fifth of Finland's climate emissions are generated by transport, the report estimates.

The number of kilometres driven has started to decrease slightly in the heavily populated Helsinki region. Motorway driving decreased during the pandemic but is now on the rise again.

The number of electric cars is still small but growing, while the share of biofuels in transport fuel is increasing.

The biggest transport problem is that the phase-out of older, more polluting cars is slow, despite incentives for scrapping them and buying electric or other low-emission vehicles.

Emissions from buildings have been steadily declining, with last year’s emissions falling due to a mild winter. The main drivers of lower heating emissions are improved energy efficiency and the phaseout of oil heating, which is to be accelerated by new subsidies for residential properties.

No significant decline in farm emissions yet

Agricultural emissions meanwhile have remained fairly stable for years despite billions of euros in investments aimed at reductions in recent years. Last year, they accounted for 14 percent of Finland's emissions.

According to the report, a number of measures to reduce agricultural emissions are in place or will be introduced soon. These include perennial cultivation, afforestation and increased biogas production.

Some of this will be paid for out of EU rural development funds, of which 30 percent are to be earmarked for each member state's environmental and climate measures.

Meanwhile the EU's agricultural policy reform aims to direct 40 percent of EU agricultural funding toward climate action. It takes effect in 2023.

Finland is also planning measures to reduce food waste. In Finland, hundreds of millions of kilos of food are thrown in the trash every year, resulting in higher emissions.

Parliament is to discuss the report's recommendation after its summer recess. The Annual Climate Report is mandated by the Climate Change Act, which took effect in 2015.