JARI LUUKKONEN, a conservation director at WWF Finland, has expressed his disappointment with the watering down of the new nature conservation act in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat.
The Centre Party made a widely criticised turnaround on the issue by allying with the opposition parties in order to remove two central provisions in the bill in the Parliament’s Environment Committee.
The scrapped provisions were to expand the protection of vulnerable natural habitats by decreeing how such habitats should be taken into consideration in decision making on, for example, zoning and environmental permits.
“I’m feeling very sad,” Luukkonen stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday. “The new nature conservation act was the single most important thing in the government when it came to biodiversity and halting biodiversity loss, but the bill has now been pretty much completely watered down.”
“The government has failed and biodiversity loss will continue in Finland. Confidence in the Centre has collapsed.”
Luukkonen estimated that scrapping the provisions on endangered habitats jeopardises the very purpose of the act, expanding biodiversity safeguards, and urged the government to show true leadership.
“This would’ve been an opportunity to improve the state of nature, but biodiversity loss will continue in Finland,” he lamented. “The government programme, which includes reforming the nature conservation act, was ambitious for nature when it was finalised, but in practice the government’s magniloquence and actions have been in conflict in many respects.”
The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (SLL) similarly denounces the last-minute revisions to a bill that was already not as ambitious as had been proposed by the Green League.
“The government’s proposal was already a compromise,” highlighted Tapani Veistola, the executive director at SLL. “The Centre, together with the opposition, has now watered it down even more when it comes to protecting habitats, for example.”
He pointed out that protecting habitats is critical for protecting species.
While the Centre justified the revisions by citing the need to protect the property of forest owners, Veistola reminded that the Parliament’s Constitutional Committee has ruled that the original bill poses no challenges to the constitutional protection of property.
“We’re talking strictly about politics,” he said, analysing the motives of the Centre.
The current nature conservation act was adopted in 1997. With biodiversity loss continuing in spite of the act, its update was one of the most important legislative projects of the electoral term for the Ministry of the Environment.
In Finland, roughly one in nine species and almost half of habitats are presently classified as vulnerable.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT