Minister of Climate and the Environment Kai Mykkänen (NCP) attended a plenary session in the Parliament House on 27 June 2023. Mykkänen on Saturday told Helsingin Sanomat that achieving the EU-imposed emission reductions in the land-use sector by 2025 is not massively important, prompting a response from experts and opposition lawmakers. (Eeva-Maria Brotherus – Lehtikuva)

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MINISTER of Climate and the Environment Kai Mykkänen (NCP) has faced a backlash from experts and opposition lawmakers for estimating that the government should focus especially on carbon capture technologies as it seeks to rein in emissions.

He justified his view by suggesting there is too much uncertainty surrounding efforts that strengthen the carbon sink of the land-use sector, namely soil and forests.

“Making predictions about soil and forests has proven to be an impossible task,” he stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday. “Of course we have to take action to boost carbon sequestration by soil and forests, but this kind of technological development is clearly more certain.”

Juha Mikola, a research director at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), rejected the assessment, stating that the carbon sink of the land-use sector – namely, soil and forests – clearly reacts to changes in logging volumes.

“For example, it’s easy to forecast the sink for the next five years if the logging volume is known,” he said to the newspaper on Monday.

He reminded that the sector turned into a source of emissions for the first time ever in 2021 and narrowly back into a carbon sink in 2022 “clearly” as a result of changes in logging volumes. The unprecedented change in 2021, he added, should not have come as a surprise to the previous government, as suggested by Mykkänen.

“It couldn’t have come as a surprise because the petering out of tree growth and rise in logging volumes have been clearly visible trends,” said Mikola. “Scientists have for years talked about logging increasing to such a high level that the carbon sink of the land-use sector could disappear.”

He admitted that making longer-term predictions about the carbon sink is more challenging due to uncertainties surrounding the effect of climatic changes on forest growth – but hardly to the extent that efforts to strengthen carbon sinks would be less reliable than investments in capture technologies.

“There’s long-term potential on the technology side, and developing and adopting technology is maybe politically easier than limiting logging,” said Mikola.

Mykkänen on Saturday declared to Helsingin Sanomat that it is not massively important whether the land-use sector can meet the emission reduction target set by the EU for 2025, even though a failure to do so could force the country to cough up billions of euros to acquire carbon credits from other member states.

“We’re not hanging up our gloves, and we’ll adopt measures to boost carbon sequestration by forests. But they won’t be enough in two years,” he said, describing the credits as a possible part of the solution.

More important than the sector-based targets set by the 27-country bloc, he added, is the national carbon-neutrality for 2035: “Industry is tremendously important here: carbon capture, large steel mills and others are so much larger than the surpluses or deficits you talk about in the context of annual EU obligations.”

Mikola agreed that Finland is unlikely to reach the 2025 target.

“It’d require such massive measures that they’d be politically impossible. But maybe in this situation you should encourage the government to do everything possible for carbon sinks so that it falls short of the target by as little as possible,” he said.

Tynkkynen: All countries want neighbours to do heavy lifting

Mykkänen’s remark about the 2025 target prompted a response also from opposition lawmakers.

“This kind of talk is worrying,” Li Andersson, the chairperson of the Left Alliance, said to Helsingin Sanomat. “Of course Finland has to try to meet its climate goals in the land-use sector with all means possible. At the very least because no one knows how big the bill for failure will be.”

The price of carbon credits will depend on other member states’ ability to meet their national targets.

Oras Tynkkynen, a deputy chairperson of the Green League, admitted that the country will probably fall short of the target for 2025 but reminded that any action taken toward the target would also support the 2030 and 2040 targets that are being negotiated by the EU. Mykkänen told Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday that the outcome of the negotiations should be one that does not increase “the feeling of injustice” in Finland.

Both Andersson and Tynkkynen warned that the government should not rely on the negotiations resulting in less stringent national targets.

“Every country seems to have the idea that what if we did as little as possible and our neighbours as much as possible. Finland certainly isn’t the only one that’d prefer to take on less responsibility,” stated Tynkkynen to Helsingin Sanomat.

Andersson estimated that the government seems to be relying on carbon-capture measures compensating for emissions in the land-use sector.

“The technologies are still in development, and they won’t necessarily be ready for adoption soon. The government putting all its eggs in one basket, while simultaneously belittling the simple and cost-efficient measures that should be taken on peatlands and in transport, isn’t necessarily a particularly sound strategy,” she stated.

“It isn’t as simple as pulling from a hat these kinds of technological sinks or industrial measures that lower emissions,” echoed Tynkkynen.

The Finnish Climate Change Panel, they both reminded, has forwarded measures that could re-establish the land-use sector as a carbon sink, such as reducing logging, re-wetting and restoring peat fields, and introducing a surcharge for land-use changes.

“Many of these measures are missing from the government programme even though some of them were considered outright obvious in advance,” said Tynkkynen.

“Not doing enough has been a feature of Finnish climate policy from one government to the next.” – Oras Tynkkynen, Greens

Mykkänen on Saturday also attempted to shift responsibility for the looming failure to meet the reduction target to the government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP).

“Marin’s government had ambitious goals for the land-use sector, but its measures were lacking. We were left with a carbon sink deficit of more than 50 million tonnes of carbon,” he lamented in his interview with Helsingin Sanomat.

“The previous government should’ve done more, but so should’ve the one before it and the one before that,” retorted Tynkkynen. “Not doing enough has been a feature of Finnish climate policy from one government to the next.”

Also Andersson conceded that the government should have done more but suggested it did not have sufficient time to respond to the news about the collapse of carbon sinks.

“The Left Alliance would’ve been ready for more ambitious measures. It isn’t a secret that the previous government had two parties that were ready for more ambitious measures. Two parties opposed them and the one in the middle declined to comment,” she stated.

“Mykkänen trying to paint a picture that the previous government is to blame for everything isn’t fair or truthful.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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