We are living in a time of overlapping crises. The coronavirus pandemic is not over, and the war in Europe casts a shadow over the present and the future. At the same time, environmental crises are spiralling.
The war in Ukraine and the climate crisis are inextricably linked. Their common denominator is our dependence on fossil fuels.
By buying Russian energy, we are also financing the attack on Ukraine. It is clear that energy dependence on Russia must be quickly severed. At the same time, we must ensure that we build a sustainable energy system and that Finns can trust that our homes will be warm next winter.
Many, including Finnish government representatives are proposing to replace Russian energy with the burning of peat and harvesting forest wood chips. However, this is not an option, as their use accelerates climate warming and nature loss. We cannot respond to one crisis by worsening another.
Theoretically, peat and domestic chips could only replace imported wood chips, not natural gas, oil, electricity and uranium.
A recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights that we must protect and restore nature to have any possibility of adapting to a heating world.
It is high time we ensured that our energy policy does not destroy nature. The IPCC highlights the risks bioenergy poses to biodiversity. According to the Finnish Climate Panel and the European Environmental Academies, burning forest biomass for energy is not carbon neutral, but can accelerate heating.
The climate crisis is a growing security threat. The decisions now being taken must improve the security prospects for the future as effectively as possible. We must ensure that nature and the climate do not suffer the consequences of the current crisis.
Finland's security of supply cannot be based on peat that is more polluting than coal, but must build from renewable energy sources in a diverse way.
The most important thing is to maximise replacing fossil fuels and peat by speeding up the green transition: electrification, non-incineration-based renewables and energy saving.
Finland's security of supply cannot be based on peat that is more polluting than coal, but must build from renewable energy sources in a diverse way. Each new peat bog hastens the loss of nature. Each burnt cube of peat accelerates climate warming.
We must set an end-date for peat burning. Investment aid for municipalities to fund non-incineration-based renewables, could speed the exit from peat.
Forest energy will also be part of our future energy mix. It is high time we ensured that we primarily use industrial by-products such as sawdust and bark as energy.
There are risks associated with the energy use from forest biomass harvested directly from the forest. Without political guidance, uncertainties about the sustainability of using forest energy will continue.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin must waive the tax break for forest chippings. This would ensure that timber does not fall into incineration, as stated in the Government Programme. At EU level, sufficiently strong instruments are needed to prevent climate and nature damage.
The IPCC reminds us that the time window for action is very small. Scientists stress the need to combat the climate crisis and nature loss together. Let us now invest in a safer future.
The original opinion piece was published in Turun Sanomat, 12 March 2022.
Hanna Aho and Liisa Toopakka are Policy Officers at the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.