Finland sets world’s most ambitious climate target in law

By Joe Lo

Finland has passed arguably the world’s most ambitious climate target into law. It aims to be the first developed country to reach net zero, in 2035, and net negative – absorbing more CO2 than it emits – by 2040.

According to Net Zero Tracker, only South Sudan has a more ambitious net zero date than 2035 and, as a developing country, its 2030 target is highly dependent on international finance.

The target was set based on analysis by a group of independent economists from the Finnish climate change panel. They worked out what Finland’s fair share was of the 420 GT of carbon dioxide that the world can emit and still have a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

The panel based this fair share on Finland’s share of the global population, its ability to pay to reduce emissions and its historic responsiblity for causing climate change. It is believed to be the first target to have been set in this way.

Finland’s environment minister Emma Kari told Climate Home it was “very important” that the target was set with researchers and people from the climate science community. She added: “High income countries have to take a progressive and active role when it comes to tackling climate change.”

Most developed countries including European Union (EU) and the USA have set 2050 net zero targets. The Finnish analysis found that Germany and the EU should reach net zero in the early to mid-2030s.

Asked if the EU should set an earlier target date, Kari said targets “should be based on climate science, on the Paris agreement… if the target is not compatible with the Paris Agreement… then we have to turn it up”.

Kari described Finland’s target as “ambitious but achievable” and said that it has broad cross-party support in Finland. Kari is a Green Party minister in a coalition of five centre-to-leftwing parties.

Whether Finland meets its climate targets will largely depend on its forests, which cover three-quarters of its land area. Last week, Statistics Finland released figures which showed that these forests had, for the first time, released more greenhouse gases than they absorbed.

Finland’s emissions without land use, land use change and forestry (blue), with it (orange) and emissions just from it (purple). (Photo: Statistics Finland)

Emissions from deforestation have been rising over the last decade, cancelling out emissions reductions from energy as the country moves away from fossil fuels. This was due to trees being cut down faster and planted slower, Statistics Finland found.

Finnish logging companies turn its trees into pulp and paper and sell them to be burned for energy, which is often controversially advertised as climate-friendly and renewable.

Global Forest Watch data shows tree cover loss (pink) and tree cover gain (blue) happening side-by-side across most of Finland. (Photo: Global Forest Watch)

Kari told Climate Home the ministry of agriculture and forestry was working on its first ever climate plan.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sped up Finland’s energy transition, Kari added, as the government pushed ahead with wind power and making buildings more energy efficient and less reliant on fossil fuel heating.

The target will be met without relying on international carbon offsets, Kari said, where one country pays another to reduce emissions on its behalf.

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