Not heavily industrialized and with large tracts of remaining forest, Finland contributes a small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, like many nations around the world, it is experiencing the effects of climate change to a disproportionate degree. Situated at Western Europe’s northernmost extreme, climate change is making an impact on just about every aspect of Finnish life and society.
Nearly 500 national climate change laws have been passed in 66 countries, according to the 2014 GLOBE Climate Legislation Study. Adding to these numbers, Finland’s government on June 6 approved a proposal for a National Climate Act that entails reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Finland’s ambitious climate change action plans
A member of the European Union (EU), Finland has already pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions at least 20 percent by 2020. The northern European nation is also a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol.
Passage of the national climate change act is seen as reinforcing and building momentum for these initiatives, as well as the nation’s own Low Carbon Finland 2050 program and efforts to establish climate change mitigation and adaption as core aspects of its economic, social and environmental policy framework.
Finland’s changing climate
2013 was an exceptionally warm year in Finland, with the country’s central region experiencing higher than normal levels of precipitation, according to preliminary statistics from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
Experiencing its sixth warmest year on record, the 2013 mean temperature across most of Finland was 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the long-term, 1981-2010 average. The one exception was in the coastal southwest, where last year’s deviation from the long-term average temperature remained just below 1 Celsius degree.
Extensive ares of palsa mires wetlands typical of Finland’s Lapland region are beginning to disappear, and a shift in plant species composition, richness and frequency is occurring at altitudinal margins due to recent trends in temperature and precipitation, according to the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report.
Expected continuation of such trends will bring costs and benefits. On the one hand, Finland will become more suitable for cultivation of crops grown primarily in southern Europe, such as maize, sunflower and soybeans. On the other hand, a continuation of the warming trend is likely see the melting of large areas of permafrost that may turn arctic regions for a net carbon sink to net source of carbon emissions.
Government plans for a low carbon Finland
Finland was the first nation in the world to complete a national climate change adaptation strategy. Published in 2005, Finland’s national climate adaptation strategy “outlines adaptation measures for 15 sectors up to the year 2080 and considers both anticipatory measures and measures responding to the effects of climate change,” the Finnish Foreign Ministry explains.
Incorporating climate change mitigation as well as adaptation measures, the proposed national climate change act would set Finland firmly on a course to a low carbon society. Greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 80 percent by 2050 are envisioned.
A political breakthrough ushered in passage of the proposed new climate change act. Quoted in an Eco News post, Finnish Minister of Environment and Greens Party MP Ville Niinisto stated:
“The climate change act is an attempt to establish Finland as a leader in low-carbon society. The current emissions targets, which extend until 2020, are simply not enough, and we must plan for the society of 2050 today.”
Characteristic of climate change policy debates in the U.S. and around the world, concerns about the possibility that enacting strong greenhouse gas emissions reductions initiatives would hinder economic growth were paramount in the political deadlock in Finland. Proponents of taking stronger, longer term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate and adapt to climate change eventually won out.
Countering such contentions, Energy Minister Niinsto stated, “In fact, this is an opportunity for Finnish industries. It’s a breakthrough that so many sectors seek to address these issues. We will commit to the emissions cuts cost-effectively in order to ensure that the economy thrives and the well-being of citizens increases.”
Image credits: 1) Yle Uutiset; 2) Finnish Meteorological Institute; 3) Oulu Finland; 4) VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland