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Climate Act reform draws mixed response: "Partly successful, partly just frustrating"

The government proposal is a step in the right direction, but falls short in many respects, experts say.

The plan was published as Finland and other northern countries experience another summer of record-breaking heat (file photo). Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

The government has unveiled its plan to revise the 2015 Climate Act. On Friday it sent the draft out for a round of comment from various agencies and local authorities, as well as from the public.

The new legislation would enshrine Finland's target of carbon neutrality by 2035 in law. According to the centre-left cabinet, this is in line with the country's obligations under EU and other international climate goals.

The new wording also requires future governments to work toward the 2035 goal.

The updated Climate Act is to be expanded with targets for reducing carbon emissions for 2030 and 2040. The 2050 target is to be updated. The goals are based on recommendations by the Finnish Climate Change Panel, an independent board of scientists.

The draft sets out a carbon neutrality path to slash emissions according to the agreed timetable. It also adds targets for land use and the bolstering of carbon sinks.

Youth and indigenous voices "have been heard"

The government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) plans to present the bill to Parliament for ratification this autumn and wrap up the process by year's end.

The Environment Ministry notes that reform of the Climate Act began with extensive consultations in late 2019, gathering the views of citizens and stakeholders on the reform of the Climate Act.

"The views of the Sámi and young people in particular have been heard," the ministry said in a statement.

Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, a Member of the Sámi Parliament, noted in a tweet on Saturday that the plan calls for setting up a Sámi Climate Council, which she said "would strengthen the knowledge base and identify key issues for the promotion of [indigenous] culture in the preparation of plans."

FANC: "A step in the right direction but insufficient"

Since the draft was released on Friday, various groups and experts have weighed in on it.

The country's largest environmental NGO, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC), called the draft "a step in the right direction, but insufficient".

"The reform is one of the most important means for this government to combat global warming. This summer has seen serious signs, both domestically and globally, of the effects of the climate crisis, and reform of the climate law can no longer be delayed," the group said in a statement.

Last month was the hottest June in Finnish history, while last year brought the highest number of hot days ever recorded.

“It's good that the bill includes a carbon neutrality target in 2035 and carbon negativity thereafter. It's also good that the bill contains binding emission reduction targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050. In 2050, Finland's emissions must be significantly lower than its carbon sinks,” said FANC conservation expert Liisa Toopakka.

The association called for the bill to include more concrete, detailed means and goals, including a 2030 target for carbon sinks, which could lead to restrictions on logging, for instance.

It also demanded a larger role for the independent Finnish Climate Change Panel, stressing that climate policy and legislation must be science-based.

Tynkkynen: Weaker than 2008 UK law

Oras Tynkkynen, senior advisor on sustainability at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, former Green MP and Climate Policy Specialist in the Prime Minister’s Office, published a detailed response to the proposal in a series of tweets.

Asserting that original 2015 climate law was "very weak," He wrote that the update "seems partly successful, partly incomplete and partly just frustrating" and "only goes halfway in many respects".

"In many crucial respects, it falls far short in international comparisons. In fact, the UK's climate law was stronger back in 2008 than Finland's 2021 law," Tynkkynen said.

He compared the 2030 emissions target of at least a 60 percent cut from 1990 levels to more ambitious targets such as Germany's 65 percent, the UK's 68 percent, Denmark's 70 percent and Scotland's 75 percent.

In Tynkkynen's view, the reform should obligate local authorities to take responsibility for their own emissions, which Sitra says make up more than half of the national total.

Under the current wording, he said, "municipalities would still not need to set emission targets, let alone targets for carbon neutrality," nor would they be required to develop local climate strategies. According to a Sitra study published in May, one third of Finland's municipalities have yet to set any climate targets.

The proposed reform is open for public comment (siirryt toiseen palveluun) until 6 September.