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Finland torches more coal, overshoots emissions cap by a million tons

Finland has emerged as one of the EU's worst carbon emitters in recent years, with coal, steel and oil plants pumping out more CO2.

Naantalin uusi monipolttovoimalaitos
A new multi-fuel power plant opened in Naantali on Friday. Image: Andy Ödman / Yle

Last year, Finland's greenhouse gas emissions rose by six percent to nearly 60 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to revised figures released by Statistics Finland on Friday.

That is still lower than the peak year of 2003, when they soared to 88.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. They are also more than 12 million tons lower than in the baseline year of 1990.

The main reasons for the rise in the emissions were more coal consumption and a lower proportion of biofuels used in transport.

Emissions from the non-emissions trading sector were six percent higher than in 2015, exceeding the annual emission allocation set by the EU by 1.1 million tons of CO2. Meanwhile removals of land use, land-use change and forestry sector (LULUCF) dipped by six percent to 27 million tonnes of CO2. This sector is not covered by the EU's emissions trading scheme or reduction targets.

The figures are based on a report to be submitted to the European Commission in January.

Lower-emission plant opens in Naantali

In May the EU's Eurostat data base said that Finland increased its CO2 emissions more than any other EU country in 2016. While the EU's 27 member states overall managed to slightly reduce their emissions, Finland stuck out with emissions increase of more than eight percent.

That was mostly due to a rise in the use of coal power plants, with consumption shooting up by 31 percent to the same level as 2014. In 2015, consumption dropped by 30 percent.

The coal power plant with the highest emissions was one in Naantali owned by the Turku regional energy company. It pumped 1.4 million tons of carbon into the air. Further up the west coast, the Meri-Pori coal plant more than doubled its emission to 800,000 tons.

On Friday, Turku energy inaugurated a new power plant in Naantali, which it estimates will cut emissions by around 30 percent. Renewable energy in the form of wood chips will at first account for half of its fuel, with that figure to be raised to 60-70 next year.

The old Naantali coal plant was not the worst single polluter, though.

The SSAB steel plant in Raahe, also on the west coast, churned out 4.1 million tons of CO2 while Neste's oil refinery in Porvoo produced 2.9 million tons.

Besides SSAB, the largest CO2 emitter was the Helsingin Energia utility. It has scored much publicity with its solar energy projects and set a target of cutting its emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Last year, though, the city utility's emissions climbed by 12 percent to 3.3 million tons.

Renewables hit new high

According to Eurostat's figures, Finland's energy consumption rose by four percent from 2015 to 2016. Electricity consumption also went up by four percent.

Renewable energy sources gained two percent, to hit a record high. They accounted for 34 percent of overall energy consumption and nearly 39 percent of end use. However fossil fuel consumption increased even faster, by seven percent.

At the Bonn climate conference last month, Finland was one of 19 countries signing a pledge to phase out coal by 2030, calling themselves the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

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