As his country holds the current Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ambassador of Finland Markku Keinänen says even small countries like his can show leadership on climate issues
Climate change has wide-ranging impacts affecting all sectors of society. The message from the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear: we urgently need to increase our ambitions for climate action across world. The Finnish government takes this message very seriously.
The goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius, and to aim to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to keep the world within these limits, a global balance between greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sinks need to be achieved as soon as possible.
In this article, I want to share whatFinlandis doing nationally and at European level as the current President of the Council of the European Union. I will also briefly explain how we have considered climate issues in our daily work at the Embassy in London. Even smaller nations like Finland can, and need to show leadership on climate issues.
FINNISH GOVERNMENT’S VISION OF A CARBON NEUTRAL FINLAND
Earlier this spring, the Climate Barometer 2019 looked into what Finns think about climate change and found that an ambitious climate policy is widely supported. Four out of five Finns thought urgent action is needed to mitigate climate change, and 70 per cent felt that the government should adopt effective policy measures to do this.
Finland’s sustainable development approach has succeeded in involving different societal groups. At our parliamentary election this spring the climate crisis was a top priority for Finnish voters. Therefore, it is no surprise that the combat against climate change and promoting sustainable growth are also at the very top of the government’s agenda.
Finland’s climate ambition is high: we aim to become carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative soon after. These goals and the 1.5 degrees target require hard work, but we believe we can achieve them by accelerating emission reduction measures and strengthening carbon sinks.
Our new, ambitious Government Programme (June 2019) includes a comprehensive set of climate measures and plans on how to fund them. The programme promotes energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon sinks, a transition to a circular economy, and climate-friendly food policies, as well as sustainable building and city planning.
Finland’s domestic climate policy is largely based on the Climate Act from 2015. The Act established a planning scheme for a systematic and inclusive climate policy. The government is now looking to strengthen the Act, including setting targets for 2030 and 2040. We will also review our carbon neutrality target in 2025, to take into account for example, the latest scientific knowledge and technological advancements.
Finland’s middle-term climate policy plan was approved by the parliament in 2018. It covers a number of policy measures in various sectors such as transport, agriculture and heating of buildings. In the transport sector for example, we aim to reduce the use of fossil fuels by increasing the blending obligation of biofuels as well as by supporting digitisation and automation. In addition, Finland plans to phase out the energy use of coal: in February 2019, our parliament approved a law that bans coal in energy use by 2029. Finland is also investing in low-carbon, renewable energy and smart energy innovations and solutions.
#EU2019FI: SUSTAINABLE EUROPE – SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
This autumn, Finland holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the third time. One of the four priorities of our Presidency programme is to strengthen the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action. We believe this can be achieved by adopting a long-term climate strategy aimed at making the EU carbon neutral by 2050.
The EU needs to make sure that our ambition and actions match the scientific findings and the goals set in the Paris Agreement. During our Presidency, we aim to encourage the implementation of the energy union, promote emissions reductions, drive forward the implementation of the Commission’s updated bio economy strategy and expand methods based on a circular economy into new sectors.
We must also remember that climate change affects all sectors of society. This is why, during Finland’s Presidency, nearly all Council configurations at both ministerial and working group level have discussed how to achieve climate neutrality. In addition, because climate change is affecting our way of life, the future multiannual financial framework should help us achieve our climate objectives.
On these issues, we aim to walk the talk.
For example, instead of handing out traditional EU Presidency gifts, we offset carbon emissions caused by air travel to Presidency meetings in Helsinki and Brussels. We are committed to sustainable arrangements in all our Presidency meetings.
In addition, we aim to develop working methods. This means active communication, increased transparency and better use of digital tools (e.g. video conferencing).
We are committed to concrete climate acts at our Embassy in London and have been inviting all of our staff, friends and colleagues at other organisations to take part. We have encouraged our staff to use public transport, cycle or walk; paid more attention to water and energy consumption; cut down on food waste and avoided using plastic or any single use tableware. At the Residence, we have had receptions with vegetarian only catering and no meat will be served at our Presidency events. I am also committed to travel by train around the UK whenever possible. We would be interested to learn best practices from other embassies too.
We believe that a successful Presidency can be achieved with a smaller carbon footprint.
I would like to conclude by emphasising that climate is not a separate policy area – it is a key part of our foreign, security, economic, industrial, trade and development policies. Climate change has wide-ranging impacts and solving the climate crisis will require international cooperation. Finland looks forward to learning more from other countries and working together towards a sustainable future.