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Finland is aiming to go carbon negative by 2040 - here’s how

Helsinki, Finland.
Helsinki, Finland.   -   Copyright  Canva
By Lottie Limb

Finland will be the first European country to reach net zero if it meets ambitious climate targets passed into law by the government.

The Nordic nation aims to meet this goal by 2035 but is taking its environmental action one step further by committing to becoming net negative - absorbing more CO2 than it emits - by 2040.

This sets Finland well ahead of the EU's 2050 target for balancing the carbon books, making it a world leader on curbing emissions. South Sudan has a closer target of 2030 but, as a developing country, is dependent on international climate finance to achieve neutrality.

Finland’s new ‘medium-term’ climate plan was approved by the government on 2 June, and is based on the findings of an independent group of economists at the Finnish climate change panel.

If we want to limit global warming to 1.5C, the world can only emit 420 more gigatonnes of carbon (the clock started in 2018). The expert economists calculated Finland’s fair share of this budget based on the country’s population, ability to pay for emissions reduction and historic responsibility for the climate crisis.

By the same measure, they found that the EU and Germany must reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the early-2030s to honour the Paris Agreement and the demands of climate justice.

Sweden’s data - with similar national emissions to Finland, but almost double the population - produces a GHG neutrality target of 2040, thanks to bigger carbon sinks.

Though as the researchers caution, there are problems with relying on natural carbon sinks, such as trees and soil, which are expected to fluctuate significantly in the next three decades.

How realistic is Finland’s 2035 climate target?

Matthias Schrader/AP
A man walks his dog past birches near Lahti, Finland. The country is three-quarters boreal forest.Matthias Schrader/AP

With vast ‘snow’ forests spanning 75 per cent of the country, Finland has great natural advantages to help it on its way.

Protecting these forests is key. New figures from Statistics Finland show that they turned from being overall carbon stores to emitters for the first time last year. This means they are releasing more CO2 through deforestation than the remaining trees could absorb.

In response to the “alarming news,” Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Emma Kari said the ministry of agriculture and forestry are currently working on a climate plan for the land use sector.

“The government must find ways to reverse the trend when finalising this plan,” she said.

Currently, large tracts of forest are cut down by logging companies, made into pulp and paper before being burned as a form of bioenergy - often controversially labelled ‘renewable’.

“The good news is that last year emissions decreased in the effort-sharing sector,” Kari adds, which covers the transport, agriculture, building and waste industries. To achieve a carbon-neutral Finland, the government aims to halve emissions from these sectors by 2030.

How will Finland achieve net zero?

“Building a fossil-free welfare state is now more urgent than ever – from the perspective of both climate and security policy,” says Kari.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sped up Finland's energy transition, the minister told Climate Home News, leading it to embrace wind power and energy efficiency. Though, in the short term, it has also led to a relaxation of some climate measures such as the proportion of renewable fuel that oil retailers must include in their mix this year.

“At the same time, we must make sure that the transition is just,” Kari adds. “The plan contains various kinds of financial support to both households and local governments so that the process to phase out fossil fuels will be as just as possible.”

A distance-based transport tax is one measure the government is bringing in. For the agricultural industry, Finland is planning to mitigate emissions from peatlands and reduce methane production from dairy cows.

Climate action will be rolled out at a local level too, with new legislation on the responsibilities of local governments expected in autumn 2022.

Importantly, Finland is seeking to meet its bold target in 13 years time without relying on international carbon offsets, where one country pays another to reduce emissions on its behalf. 

Such schemes have been heavily criticised by climate campaigners.