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Transport Ministry chief: Taxes the fastest way to slash transport emissions

Finland aims to cut transport emissions in half within the next decade, so time is tight, says the permanent secretary.

Harri Pursiainen
Harri Pursiainen has been the ministry's top civil servant for nearly a decade and a half. Image: Tomi Parkkonen / LVM

The head of Finland's Transport Ministry says that the push to cut the country's transport emissions will focus on private cars, as this is the area where technological changes are easiest to make.

"For instance aviation, shipping or heavy transport are much more difficult to electrify," Harri Pursiainen said on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu current events show on Saturday.

Pursiainen has been the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Communications since 2006.

The government has pledged to cut transport emissions in half within the next decade, so time is tight, says the ministry's top civil servant.

"And the later we start, the more drastic moves will be needed," he says.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin says that the decisions on how to reach this ambitious target will be agreed on next autumn.

At the moment ministry bureaucrats are carrying out impact studies of various measures. The most effective ones will be put together in a package and considered as a whole, he says.

"Then everyone will be able to see that that others will also have to take part in paying for this shift," he says.

Carrots and sticks

Pursiainen says there are already carrots as well as sticks, including 2,000 euro state rebates on the purchase of an electric vehicle and improvements in mass transit services.

However the main approach will be through taxes, he says.

"The most effective method and ultimately the easiest and fastest, is on the tax side, including carrots and sticks," Pursiainen says.

A Finance Ministry panel is now working on a complete overhaul of transport taxes. Pursiainen says that the current system of emissions-based taxation has not succeeded in lowering traffic emissions. Meanwhile automotive taxes in general have led to a situation where cars on the road in Finland older on average than in many other Western European countries.

Besides taxes, he says that subsidies will be needed, particularly if there is an emissions trading system. That could place an undue burden on low-income people, families with children and those who have no alternative for getting around besides private cars. Such people would have to somehow be compensated for the extra costs, Pursiainen says.

Housing groups may be forced to install chargers

The shift to electric cars will require building up the charging network, which remains scantly beyond urban areas in southern Finland. There is plenty for the state to do in that area, he says.

Housing associations could also be required to install charging points, he adds. As it is, they are eligible for support from the Housing Finance and Development Centre (ARA) that covers roughly one third of the cost.

"This is normal development around the world. This is just made trickier by the fact that it must be done quickly," says Pursiainen.

Marin served as Minister of Transport and Communications until being sworn in as prime minister a month ago. Taking over the portfolio is fellow Social Democrat Timo Harakka, who was labour minister in the short-lived previous cabinet.

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