Finland’s new right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, has released its programme “to build a strong and committed Finland”, in which it announces that it will be missing its 2025 Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) targets – and not by just a little. The likely – unimaginable – shortfall plunges the entire EU LULUCF carbon commitments into uncertainty. Yet, rather than scramble to clawback carbon sanity wherever possible, the measures that the programme proposes amount to little more than an executive shrug.
According to analysis published in December 2022, after compensations afforded to Finland, the scale of the deficit for just the first LULUCF commitment period amounts to between 50-80 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent, a colossal shortfall that jeopardises EU efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. Or as the Finnish programme notes: “Despite measures to counter this development […] Finland will inevitably accrue a significant amount of emission debt in the 2020s”. And so, by association, will the other EU Member States.
Finland’s land-use sector and its forests were already in serious trouble. It had shifted to a source of carbon dioxide in 2021 (FW 276), and Finland’s net sink was depleted to zero in 2022. Based on 2021-2022 figures, Finland’s deficit from managed forests stands at about 35 Mt, and if the current trend continues, even Finland’s forests may turn into sources of carbon dioxide by 2025.
Yet the Government does not approach the situation with anything resembling urgency. Their new programme includes certain positive provisions concerning sinks: longer rotation periods between harvests, continuous cover forestry, land use change payments, but the wording is so vague it is hard to know if such initiatives will come to anything. In a worrying precedent, Finland was one of only five countries not to support the Council position on the Nature Restoration Law.
Worryingly, the focus of climate action shifts here to unproven and controversial technologies such as BECCU (bioenergy with carbon capture and use, rather than BECCS, in which the ‘s’ stands for storage) instead of protecting and restoring natural carbon sinks and reducing transport emissions. The programme also foresees forest harvests on state-owned land staying at the current level, or even rising! This is absurd given the EU’s climate situation and the size of Finland’s deficit.
The programme contains no new limitations to burning wood and states that “the sustainable use of biofuels will not be restricted through taxation and legislation,” even though the Finnish Climate Change Panel has said that wood-burning should be taxed and the Finnish Ministry of Finance is in favour of examining this.
Greenpeace Nordic and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation brought a case against the Finnish Government for breach of obligations under Finland’s 2022 Climate Act. Although Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court found, 7 June 2023, that the case was inadmissible “at this stage” (inaction does not amount to an administrative decision that can be contested in court), it considered that the intersection of climate obligations and fundamental rights may in future require the right to appeal even where no administrative decision has been made. It stressed that “climate change is a question of humanity’s fate, which threatens the living conditions of current and future generations”.
Finland’s carbon neutrality goal was established in its 2022 Climate Change Act, and approved by a clear majority of the Finnish Parliament. New research has found that Finns value, and are willing to pay for stronger forest policy goals – especially those that support biodiversity. The Finnish Government must therefore find the courage to make the necessary emissions reductions and protect and restore sinks. For its part, the European Commission must take a strong stance on enforcing EU climate obligations, lest Finland drag us all towards climate collapse.