Finland – the land of thousands of islands, endless forests, Moomins and Father Christmas. It is called the ‘land of a thousand lakes’, although that is quite an understatement as there are more than 188,000 lakes in Norway!1 What are Finland’s CO2 emissions? How much greenhouse gas does the average Finn emit? Does the fact that forests cover a large part of the country’s area significantly reduce Finland’s carbon footprint? All the most important information on Finland’s carbon footprint can be found in this article.
The carbon footprint of the average Finn
How many greenhouse gases does the average Finn emit? When calculating a country’s average emissions, one should not only look at the production that takes place within the country. To take a comprehensive look, the carbon footprint of imported products must also be included. Imported products are often produced under far from ideal conditions. It would be a challenge to name a country that does not import any products from China, for example, which is not renowned for its ecological approach to production. Finland, too, relies heavily on imports, so the carbon footprint of imported products must definitely be taken into account when calculating the total for the country.
If we consider only the Finns, it turns out that they emit quite a lot in their households. The greenhouse gas emissions generated by households in Finland are much higher than those resulting from public use or investments. According to 2015 data, household emissions accounted for 66% of all emissions resulting from the consumption. In 2016, the carbon footprint of the statistical Finn accounted for 30% of transport, 29% of household running (including heating), and 19% of food and non-alcoholic beverages.1 In the same year, total household CO2 emissions added up to 60 million tonnes of CO2 – a staggering 12% more than in 2000. This increase is directly linked to increased consumption expenditure in Finnish homes. Although there has been a decoupling of economic growth from growth in CO2 emissions, the overall situation still needs to be improved. It is worth noting, however, that the development of low-carbon technologies and the increased availability of goods with a low carbon footprint have had a positive impact on reducing Finland’s total CO2 emissions.
In 2020, average emissions per capita in Finland were 7.29 tonnes of CO2 emission.1 Finns place a strong emphasis on pro-climate action and most know that we need to act to save the planet. In a survey conducted in 2020, only 1% of Finns said that they think no special steps need to be taken to protect the climate. More than 50% of respondents believe that everyone should make some changes in their private lives to take care of the future of our planet. 8% of those surveyed believe that Finnish citizens should only change their behaviour if legally required to do so. Interestingly, women are more likely to take responsibility for climate change: 65% of the women surveyed called for individual responsibility for climate change, compared to just 41% of men. As you can see, concern for the future of the planet in Finland has a female face.
The state does not push residents, but tries to educate them. For example, residents of Helsinki, the Finnish capital, can participate in free workshops showing how to change their lives to a greener one. The workshops (held on-site and online) inform, for example, about how to change to solar heating or how to apply for the installation of an electric car charging station in their neighbourhood. HSY, the local administrative body in charge of water and waste management in Helsinki, even records a podcast for citizens called Climate Therapy on caring for the future of the Earth’s climate.
Finland’s economy and CO2 footprint
In 2019, Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions excluding the LULUCF (land use, land-use change, and forestry) sector were 53.1 million tonnes CO2 emission. This is 18.2 million tonnes CO2 less than in 1990.
Preliminary figures from Statistics Finland for 2020 indicate that total CO2 emissions for 2020 are around 48.3 million. This is a decrease of 9% compared to the previous year. Finland’s largest source of emissions is the energy sector. According to preliminary calculations for 2020, this economic sector contributed 34.7% of Finland’s total CO2 emissions. This is 11% less than in the previous year and 50% less than in 2003, when all records for the energy sector’s carbon footprint were broken. The decrease is due to warmer winters, modernisations in the energy production structure and decarbonisation of the transport sector.
The carbon footprint of all industrial processes in 2020 was 5.4 million tonnes CO2 – 6% less than the previous year. Agriculture contributed to 6.6 million tonnes of CO2e, the same as the previous year. The waste management sector left 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020, 4% less than the previous year.
According to preliminary data for 2020, the carbon footprint of the LULUCF sector was -23 million tonnes of CO2 – 56% more than the previous year. Finland owes this increase to an 11% reduction in deforestation compared to 2019.1 This is very good news – the 11% reduction in deforestation contributed to an increase in the carbon capture and storage up to 56%!
Forests in Finland
More than 75% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests – the highest forest cover rate in Europe. Trees cover 20.3 million hectares in Finland, 61% of which is privately owned. These figures rank Finland fifth in Europe in terms of timber production capacity, after Russia, France, Sweden and Germany.
Nearly 3 million hectares of forest in Finland are under strict protection – 12.6 percent of Finland’s total forested area. In this respect, Finland is leading in Europe.
How much CO2 does Finland’s vast forests absorb? In 2019, trees across the country absorbed 14.7 million tonnes of CO2. However, this figure is not included in Finland’s overall CO2 emissions account, making the country’s actual result lower than officially reported.
Transport in Finland in relation to CO2 emissions
In 2020 Timo Harakka, Finland’s Minister of Transport and Communications, announced that Finland would reduce its carbon footprint from the transport sector by as much as 50% by 2030 (compared to the 2005 result). What’s more, by 2045 Finland intends to have completely eliminated its CO2 footprint from this sector of the economy! The reduction recommendations cover road, rail, water and air transport.
Transport currently contributes 20% of Finland’s CO2 emissions. In the case of domestic transport, road transport accounts for 94% of greenhouse gas emissions while maritime transport contributes 4% and air transport around 2%.
How does Finland intend to reduce its carbon footprint from transport? First of all, the aim is to have 700,000 electric cars on Finnish roads by 2030. Electric and gas-powered cars are expected to displace combustion engines, thanks in part to preferential taxes on such cars. The government also plans to expand the charging network for electric cars, especially at housing estates and private homes.
Cyclists in Finland
One element of the government’s policy focused on reducing CO2 emissions is the promotion of walking and cycling (especially in cities) as efficient and environmentally friendly ways to travel shorter distances. By 2030, Finland wants to increase the number of kilometres walked and cycled by Finns by 30%.
The Winter Cycling Congress is also held every year in one of Finland’s cities. In many cities in winter up to 50% of pupils commute to school by bike in spite of freezing temperatures.
Cycling in Finland is popular not only in cities as vast green areas and boundless forests attract crowds of tourists on trekking and mountain bikes every year. Cycling is greatly facilitated by the so-called Right to Roam, which is the right to pitch a tent anywhere if the landowner does not object. A completely different situation looks for example in neighbouring Norway, where sleeping in the wilderness is hedged with many orders and bans.
Energy sources in Finland – the Finnish energy mix
What drives Finland? Nuclear energy has the largest share in Finland’s energy mix with 27.6%. In the second place comes energy from the combustion of various types of fuel (24.6%). A large part of Finland’s energy comes from renewable sources. As much as 19.3% is produced by hydropower and 9.8% by wind power. Finland imports 18.4% of the energy it consumes. The share of solar energy in Finland’s energy mix is small, at a mere 0.3%.
Which economic sectors consume the most energy in Finland? Industry and construction take the lion’s share with 46%. Households and agriculture consume 28%, while services and the public sector consume 23%.
Peat-fired power plants in Finland
Finland is one of only three countries in the world where peat-fired power plants still provide a significant proportion of the energy. Burning peat is often described as even more harmful than burning coal. It provides less energy, the raw material needs to be dried before burning, and moreover, extracting the raw material from peat bogs releases methane, which is dozens of times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide1 (although, it is worth noting: CH4 stays in the atmosphere for just over a decade, whereas CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years).
Climate changes in Finland
As in the rest of the world, average temperatures in Finland have been rising steadily. Since the end of the 19th century, the average temperature in Finland has risen by about 2° C. The greatest increase is observed in the winter months. In this part of the year compared to measurements from the 1880s, the increase is already as much as 3° C, depending on the region. The increase in the summer months is around 1° C. Fortunately, no other climate change-related changes in weather are observed in Finland. Rainfall varies considerably between years, but no significant increase or decrease is observed. The only thing climatologists notice is less wind, but it is not a significant difference.
As for high temperatures, 2010 was a record year: 102 days were the warmest ever measured in Finland. Never before in the measuring history of the Finnish Meteorological Institute have temperature records been broken on so many days in one year. According to the Institute, this is a clear sign that Finland is struggling with climate change and not just weather fluctuations. In earlier decades, Finland sometimes experienced record cold winters – a phenomenon that is also slowly becoming history. Cold records have not been broken for many years now. The last cold record was set on January 28, 1999 in the municipality of Kittilä in Lapland and was -51.5° C. In contrast, the highest temperature ever recorded in Finland was 37.2° C. The measurement was taken on 29 July 2010 at Joensuu airport in Liperi in eastern Finland.
The future of climate – Finland’s climate goals
What is meant by the “Helsinki Principles”? It is a set of principles developed by a coalition of finance ministers in the service of climate action. In a statement, the finance ministers of the member states (including Finland, of course) declare that they will align their actions with the requirements of the Paris Agreement, work together for climate and share the necessary knowledge, implement appropriate practices to establish efficient pricing of CO2 emissions, integrate climate change into macroeconomic policy, fiscal planning and budget expenditure planning, and mobilise private sector companies so as to give them space to act in the spirit of sustainable development.
Finland’s climate policy plans are wide-ranging. Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, stated in 2019 that her government aims to make Finland climate neutral by 2035. Shortly after this date, Finland’s carbon footprint should be negative, meaning that Finland aims to absorb more CO2 than it produces. The goal is to be achieved through an emphasis on reducing CO2 emissions, but also through the development of land that absorbs greenhouse gases. This article has already mentioned the reduction in deforestation giving a huge improvement in the potential for CO2 sequestration within Finland. Undoubtedly, forest land is an important part of Finland’s climate policy, contributing to the absorption of millions of tonnes of CO2 each year.
What climate goals has Finland set for the upcoming decades? According to a report published in 2020, the Finns intend to cut their emissions by 87.5% by 2050 (not including emissions from cultivation).
According to the European Union’s Effort Sharing Regulation Finland should reduce its emissions by 35% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. This commitment applies to non-ETS sectors of the economy, namely transport, agriculture, waste management and heating of buildings.
Among the targets set for 2030 in Finland, it is worth mentioning:
- the abandonment of coal-fired power by 2029;
- to reduce peat use by at least 50% by 2030;
- increase the use of biofuels in the transport sector to 30% by 2030 (13.5% in 2020);
- to increase the number of electric cars to a minimum of 250,000;
- to increase the share of renewable energy to 50% by 2030;
- obtaining 55% of energy from Finnish sources by 2030.
One of the sectors of the Finnish economy that has already made the biggest savings in terms of CO2 emissions is waste management. Progress in this area is important because storing waste releases huge amounts of methane gas, which lasts much shorter in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but has a negative impact on global warming several dozen times greater. Over the 17 years from 2000 to 2017, emissions from waste decreased by 50%. During the same period, the filling of municipal landfills decreased from 1.58 million tonnes to 0.03 million tonnes. Consequently, the energy yield from waste also increased significantly. The filling of landfill sites has been reduced by as much as 98% – this will certainly reduce methane emissions from this source in the future.
The Finnish government knows that it is better to reward good climate-friendly behaviour than punish bad behaviour – so it starts its work on reducing the CO2 footprint with education, including free workshops for Helsinki residents. It is noteworthy that the citizens themselves often choose the bicycle as a greener means of transport and even in winter 50% of schoolchildren commute to school by bicycle, despite the cold and snow. The Finnish government’s climate goals are among the most courageous: Finland aims to achieve climate neutrality as early as 2035, rather than only in 2050 like most countries in the world. If the measures described in this article planned by the government are implemented, Finland’s CO2 footprint will certainly decrease consistently and has a chance to reach zero in 2035.
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