Spruce logs and stump at a final felling site owned by UPM in Janakkala, Southern Finland. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has published an estimate indicating that recent and expected felling volumes have pushed the much-trumpeted national carbon neutrality target further out of reach. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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THE MUCH-TOUTED Finnish goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035 is slipping well out of reach, according to Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

Luke stated in its latest assessment of the climate plan for the land use sector that the goal is becoming increasingly elusive mainly because the recent and expected levels of logging are impeding the ability of forests to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Its calculations indicate that the land use sector could remain a substantial source of emissions until 2035, with the emissions possibly increasing from and the carbon sink of forests remaining effectively at current levels due to heavy logging and the suspension of wood experts from Russia.

Researchers at Luke estimated that the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by forests may only be a fifth of what would be required to reach the carbon-neutrality target and commitments made under the climate act. Meanwhile, efforts to rein in emissions from agricultural soil are expected to fail to generate the necessary turnaround.

“It’s absolutely clear that the climate target can’t be reached because the land use sector must be a sizeable carbon sink. Most of the change stems from an increase in wood demand and the rest from the specified, higher emissions from peatlands,” Juha Mikola, a research director at Luke, commented to YLE on Thursday.

The estimate is the first attempt to gauge the effects of measures set forth by the previous government on agriculture and the carbon sink of forests.

The Finnish parliament inscribed the carbon-neutrality principle into the climate act in 2022. The path to the target dictates that carbon sinks should sequester more than 20 million tonnes of, for example, fossil and agricultural emissions in 2035. It also necessitates that all climate emissions be at least halved from current levels, a target that is challenging particularly in the transport sector.

YLE pointed out that a 10-million-tonne deficit would remain in the land use sector even if transport emissions were eliminated completely.

“This is a serious and difficult situation. There’s enough research data; lack of data shouldn’t prevent us from making the right decisions,” Raisa Mäkipää, a research professor at Luke, stressed to the public broadcasting company.

Both Finland and the EU have founded their carbon sink policy on the presumption that emissions from wood-using industries can be sequestered in wood products or growing forests. Finland, Germany and Poland have to make up the most ground to reach the carbon sink targets adopted by the union for 2030, according to data from 2021.

In Finland, the target has slipped further out of reach according to data from 2022.

“If you started monitoring emissions from wood-using industries and energy production, it’d create an incentive to capture carbon dioxide at least if it meant that you could avoid emission fees,” envisioned Mäkipää.

Alongside the forest industry, peatlands are a significant source of emissions in the land use sector.

Kristiina Lång, a research professor at Luke, said to the public broadcasting company that the emissions could be reduced by converting peatlands into so-called climate wetlands – the only measure in the agriculture sector that has initially been earmarked funding. Removing a few tens of thousands of hectares of peatlands from agricultural use, she added, would reduce emissions considerably without threatening food production.

“This is the most cost-effective measure,” she said.

While Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s (NCP) government refers to strengthening carbon sinks in its action plan, it has communicated that it will not update the climate plan for the land use sector in the coming years despite the change in circumstances.

With data increasing concerns over the state of carbon sinks, a number of stakeholders have urged the government to update the plan. The Finnish Economic Policy Council, for example, has called for the update on grounds that a failure to restore carbon sinks could create cost pressures and have implications for taxpayers.

The Finnish Climate Change Panel has estimated that greater emission reductions in the energy sector could put the net-sink need at slightly below 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Luke on Thursday also estimated that the measures laid out a few years ago to reduce emissions and strengthen carbon sinks would be a step in the right direction. The government, though, has already scrapped the proposed incentives for re-forestation and paludiculture in peatlands, as well as dragged its feet on a bill to institute a land use fee to prevent deforestation.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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