FINLAND could incur billions of euros in costs because the diminishing ability of forests to serve as a carbon sink has undermined its effort to meet the sink target set by the European Union.
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) on Wednesday revealed that the country is most likely to fall about 50–80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide short of its target, a deficit it will have to make up by acquiring removal units from member states that met their targets or by slashing emissions in other sectors, such as transport.
“This is outright a national emergency,” Jyri Seppälä, a professor at Luke, stated to YLE on Wednesday.
He estimated that offsetting the erosion of carbon sinks will cost the country anywhere between two and seven billion euros. Estimating the eventual price is challenging because it depends on the availability and pricing of removal units; the units currently cost 80 euros per a tonne of carbon dioxide.
“I expect the unit price of carbon sinks to be slightly lower. I calculated the estimate based on a unit price of 40 euros,” stated Seppälä.
The European Union has set binding carbon sink targets for its member states in land use, land-use change and forestry regulation. Progress toward the targets will be evaluated in two five-year periods, first in 2025 and later in 2030.
Ismo Ulvila, the head of communications at the Finnish delegate for the European Commission, told YLE a day later that it is too early to start speculating on the costs.
“It’s way to early to start speculation on a bill worth billions. The commission isn’t about to send such a bill to Finland. If Finland’s target has any deficit after the first period, meaning after 2025, it’ll carry over to the next period in 2026–2030,” he commented to the public broadcasting company.
What is clear, however, is that the carbon sink of forests has collapsed and that the collapse did not come as a surprise to scientists. Luke warned about the possibility when the binding target was set by the EU in 2016. Further signs of the deterioration were detected in 2018, but its calculations continued to suggest that the country remained on track to meet its climate targets.
“Already at the time, it was looking that Finland might not meet its obligation. The outcome was already looking quite bleak,” Tarja Tuomainen, a senior researcher at Luke, said to YLE on Wednesday.
The Finnish Climate Change Panel has similarly warned about the development of carbon sinks for years, stating last spring, for example, that the government should adopt measures to rescue carbon sinks and overhaul its climate plan for the land-use sector. The critical role of carbon sinks has also been highlighted in comments on Finnish climate policy by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Energy Agency (IEA) and Finnish Ministry of Finance.
It appears that the pleas and warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
The Finnish government did acknowledge the erosion of carbon sinks in its latest annual climate report in November. No measures to rectify the situation were forwarded, however, despite carbon sinks long being the foundation of national climate policy.
Environmental groups are accusing the government of inaction on carbon sinks in a claim submitted to the Supreme Administrative Court in November.
A consequence of intense felling and slowing growth of pine forests, their collapse has effectively undone the over 30-per-cent reduction the country has achieved in greenhouse gas emissions since the 1990s.
“We’re currently felling too much forest relative to what our sustainable natural resources would enable us to use,” Seppälä summarised to YLE on Wednesday.
“If felling was at a lower level, the sink would start growing immediately,” echoed Tuomainen.
The Finnish public broadcaster estimated that felling volumes are unlikely to decrease given the high demand for wood globally and the suspension of wood imports from Russia. Domestic demand, meanwhile, is set to rise by roughly four million cubic metres with the looming start-up of Metsä Group’s new pulp mill in Kemi, Western Lapland.
Seppälä on Wednesday called for a political discussion on how much the government is willing to cough up to make sure the forest industry can continue to use wood and generate tax revenue.
“This has also damaged the image of Finland. As we’ve profiled ourselves as the first carbon-neutral society in the EU, this is also pretty embarrassing for Finland,” he commented to the public broadcasting company.
The European Economic Community has calculated that Finnish forest industry companies annually pay about 2.5 billion euros in taxes and generate 1.1 billion euros in indirect tax revenue with their acquisitions.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT