The city of Lappeenranta in Eastern Finland intends to increase its air traffic by half a million passengers in the next decade. Critics say the plans are at odds with Lappeenranta's image as an ecological city and its long-term carbon neutral targets.
Environmental organisation WWF named Lappeenranta as one of the runners-up in its Earth Hour City Challenge in both 2014 and 2016, praising the city for its varied efforts to curb emissions. The challenge "invites cities to report ambitious commitments and big win climate actions, in terms of [greenhouse gas] reductions as well as the co-benefits they provide in relation to food, water and energy security challenges."
Lappeenranta markets itself heavily as Finland's "climate capital", listing policies such as efficient waste management and its university's Green Campus initiative online. However, commercial flights produce high amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that become trapped in the Earth's atmosphere.
"Air traffic is not about to be halted globally, and it is an important mode of transportation in Finland, too," city manager Kimmo Jarva said. "That's why it's good that we have a local airport, which services the whole of south-east Finland."
The city currently spends some 500,000 euros on its airport each year.
Greens level critique
Lappenranta's climate strategy includes ambitious targets, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from the 2007 level by 2030 and making the city completely carbon neutral and zero-waste by 2050.
Green Party city councilor Kimmo Klemola says that Lappeenranta's new proposal to increase its air traffic is "entirely inconsistent" with the city's environmental aims.
"The city council's passenger increase target would double Lappeenranta's traffic sector emissions," Klemola said. "Climate change response measures and more airplane trips cannot fit in the same strategy."
Klemola also says that the added traffic would not even boost tourism. The small airport mainly services local and Russian travelers.
City manager Jarva replied by saying that Lappenranta's climate goals can still be reached by making its airport one of the world's most energy efficient using a special emissions programme currently in development.