Maria Ohisalo, the chairperson of the Green League, listened as Riikka Purra, the chairperson of the Finns Party, responded to a question during a climate and nature-related election debate hosted by Helsingin Sanomat in Helsinki on Wednesday, 15 February 2023. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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THE VIEWS of Riikka Purra, the chairperson of the Finns Party, were often the exception as representatives from eight parliamentary parties discussed climate and environment-related themes at an election debate hosted in Helsinki on Wednesday by Helsingin Sanomat.

Purra was the only party leader to view, for example, that the national carbon-neutrality target should be pushed back from 2035 to 2050, arguing that the ambitious target is hamstringing Finland.

“The threshold questions [for coalition co-operation] will naturally be determined in the negotiation stage,” she retorted when asked whether the opposition party could join a ruling coalition that is committed to the current target.

She also expressed her opposition to the idea of taking action to achieve the target of protecting 30 per cent of land and sea areas in the country, a target set forth in the biodiversity strategy of the EU and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The target, she stated, should depend on what kind of areas are protected.

The other participants were Sanna Marin of the Social Democrats, Petteri Orpo of the National Coalition, Annika Saarikko of the Centre, Maria Ohisalo of the Greens, Li Andersson of the Left Alliance, Sari Essayah of the Christian Democrats and Anders Adlercreutz of the Swedish People’s Party.

Orpo on Wednesday reiterated that the National Coalition will not be part of a ruling coalition that pushes back the carbon-neutrality target.

Finland, he viewed, should continue to harvest wood at the current rate – a view that was shared by Purra, Saarikko and Essayah – but re-examine logging in state-owned forests. “I think it should be examined on state-owned lands and state-owned forests, what’s left of them, should be protected,” stated Orpo.

Andersson, Marin and Ohisalo contrastively voiced their readiness to reduce logging.

The issue has been debated publicly since last year, after it was revealed that intensifying logging has contributed to the collapse of carbon sinks in Finland, the very bedrock of the national climate strategy. The next electoral term will be critical if the country is intent on fostering the ability of forests to sequester carbon dioxide and halting biodiversity loss while holding on to the economic benefits of forestry.

The eight parties also disagreed on the profit targets of Metsähallitus, the state-owned enterprise that owns roughly one-third of forests in Finland. Andersson, Marin, Ohisalo and Orpo expressed their readiness to continue lowering the profit target.

The Finnish Climate Change Panel’s proposal for adopting a land-use change fee – a fee imposed on land owners that clear forests for agricultural or construction use – was rejected only by Essayah and Purra.

All eight chairpersons estimated that efforts to combat climate crises are ultimately also economically profitable.

They were almost unanimous also about the idea of building up nuclear power capacity in Finland. Marin was the only one not to voice her support for granting permits for new nuclear power projects, stressing that the projects should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not prepared to give an all-encompassing permit to any kind of projects,” she explained.

The debate event was organised by WWF, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) and Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra). Its content was produced and moderated by Helsingin Sanomat.

The parliamentary elections will take place on 2 April.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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