Brussels – European Union (EU) and Finnish NGOs have obtained a document produced by Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture which reveals that Finland is secretly attempting to renegotiate its way out of accounting for its deforestation. The document tarnishes the country’s carefully crafted green image.
The document, obtained by EU forests and rights NGO Fern and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC), relates to the notoriously complex issue of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). It is dated October 2, 2019 and outlines the Finnish’s government’s policy position.
Under the EU’s LULUCF Regulation, Member States must account for emissions from forests, wetlands and agricultural land in order to ensure that the land continues to store carbon and cool the climate. Without such measurements, a country could claim that activities such as burning forests for bioenergy or turning forests into plastic packaging was carbon neutral and thereby appear to be a green leader.
During negotiations around the LULUCF Regulation in 2017, Finland lobbied - and obtained- flexibility for how it accounts for emissions from the forestry industry. It also attempted to obtain additional allowance to compensate for deforestation. The latter was rejected by other EU Member States.
In an incredible turn of events, according to the document that Fern and FANC are making public today, Finland is now pressuring the EU Commission to allow them to be able to release 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from deforestation, something that was flatly rejected by Member States earlier.
“The only way to meet the new EU targets is to maintain and restore European forests to increase their health and biodiversity,” said Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner at Fern. “Secret Finnish attempts to hide their own emissions from deforestation puts the whole process at risk.”
The IPCC points to efforts to end deforestation as crucial in limiting temperature rise. Finland is however hesitant to end one of their most harmful practices of clearing peatland forests for more agricultural land.
Hanna Aho, conservation expert at FANC said: “Using the limited additional compensation to cover emissions caused by deforestation or agricultural land is not in line with the Regulation which is binding EU law. Finland's actions therefore undermine the credibility of their Presidency. Finland can’t just talk about its climate ambition, it must deliver on its commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and end deforestation. This is what our citizens voted for in our April elections and demanded on the streets." The recently elected Finnish government led by Social Democrats was swept in on a wave of demand for climate action by its citizens, and up until this point has been recognised as a leader on EU climate action.
While Finland has been negotiating their secret deal, Eastern European countries including the Visegrad region, Romania and Slovenia have also been calling for exemptions. Kelsey Perlman said: “This region has seen an upturn in climate related forest degradation, this is partly due to poor land management. Countries have asked for both financial support to protect and restore these forests, and for the right to log their way out of the problem. There’s a clear mismatch.”
Finland’s lobbying is particularly concerning as EU President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has stated her support to increase EU emissions reduction targets from 40 to 55 per cent. Continued deforestation in countries like Finland would take the EU in the opposite direction and jeopardise its position as a global climate leader. Finland presently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU and has been playing a lead role in developing the Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore Forests. The communication proposes actions to combat deforestation.