A logging site in Hämeenlinna, Southern Finland, on 3 August 2023. Finland’s land-use sector is forecast to, at best, function as a minuscule carbon sink in 2023–2027, according to Etla Economic Research. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)

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FINLAND is not on track to meet its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2035, indicates an emission forecast released on Monday by Etla Economic Research.

Etla on Monday said Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to decline at an annual rate of roughly four per cent in 2023–2027. As the land-use sector is forecast to function, at best, as a minuscule carbon sink, the rate will not suffice to achieve the carbon-neutrality target laid down in the climate change act adopted in 2022.

The contraction of carbon sinks in the land-use sector, in fact, has offset the decline in greenhouse gas emissions since roughly 2010, resulting in no significant change in net emissions.

“Although emissions from industry have decreased relatively steadily, there has been no change in the net emissions of Finland. If the carbon-neutrality target is to be met, net emissions have to be brought down to zero by 2035. It is already clear that the target cannot be met with the current trends,” said Ville Kaitila, a scientist at the forecasting division of Etla.

It is therefore crucial to continue reducing the use of fossil fuels, transitioning toward lower-emission production technologies and strengthening carbon sinks, according to the research centre.

The carbon sink of the land-use sector has shrunk significantly over the past roughly dozen years, so much so that the sector became a source of emissions for the first time in history in 2021. Etla pointed out that logging intensity has a direct impact on the carbon sink of forests and, consequently, the emission balance of the entire sector.

Also agricultural land, it added, is a considerable source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2020, national greenhouse gas emissions decreased by more than nine per cent as the coronavirus pandemic curtailed travel – be it by air, road or water – and emissions from energy production fell notably. The emissions stayed at that level as the economy rebounded in 2021 before declining by four per cent in 2022.

Kaitila reminded that greenhouse gas emissions are concentrated in certain sectors and arise generally from the use of fossil fuels.

“The production of emission-free electricity has increased noticeably during the course of this year. The decline in emissions from energy production has continued to have the greatest impact on the development of emissions,” he remarked in a press release.

There have been positive developments, too, he reminded.

The use of fossil fuels in transport is decreasing at a rising rate and manufacturing has been brought largely within the scope of the emissions-trading scheme. Businesses are encouraged to invest in low-emission technologies and the emission-trading scheme is set to expand to cover transport at the end of the forecast period, in 2027.

Helsingin Sanomat on Monday highlighted in an editorial that the government has yet to back its ambitious climate goals – which have drawn applause on the global stage – with meaningful action; instead it has mostly cancelled or slashed funding for climate measures.

The implementation of the emission reduction plan for housing, transport and food production, the newspaper pointed out, has been partly suspended. The distribution obligation for renewable transport fuels has been watered down, whereas funding for the energy transition and public transport subsidies has been slashed.

The government has also refrained from allocating funding for the pledge to reduce emissions from agriculture by 29 per cent – a pledge made by its predecessor – and for promoting paludiculture, which is largely regarded as one of the most important measures in the land-use sector. Government officials have carried out preparatory work on a fee for land-use change, but the fee will not be introduced because the government insists that climate measures must create no costs.

“There are fitting Finnish expressions for bold targets without genuine efforts or effective measures, such as ‘empty promise’ and ‘self-deception’,” wrote Helsingin Sanomat.

Minister of Climate Change Kai Mykkänen (NCP) stated in an interview with the newspaper last summer that “plugging the smokestacks of factories” – or carbon-capture and storage solutions – is the most central climate measure in the government programme.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has outlined that carbon capture should only have a small role in reducing emissions and reaching global climate goals.

The balance between emission reduction efforts and carbon-removal solutions is expected to be front and centre as world leaders convene for Cop28 in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, 30 November 2023. The United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s largest oil producers and, according to a report by the BBC on Monday, planned to use its role as the host of the summit as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals.

Sultan al-Jaber, the president-designate of Cop28, is also the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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