Finland’s carbon neutrality goal at risk due to slow forest growth, warns WMO Chief Taalas

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, warns that Finland’s target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2035 may be slipping out of reach due to the declining ability of the nation’s forests to soak up carbon from the air.

The former head of the Finnish Meteorological Institute was interviewed on Yle’s Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday.

The outgoing government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) set as a target for Finland to be “the world’s first fossil-free welfare society”. The Climate Change Act that entered into force last year commits the country to be carbon-neutral by 2035 and sets emission reductions targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050.

With parliamentary elections underway, Taalas stressed that the most important climate-related issue for Finnish politicians is to stick to policies that lead towards carbon neutrality.

“Whether that will happen in 2035 or a little later is a bit of semantics. It is good that Finland has chosen a line that aims in a climate-friendly direction, and it also offers us new business opportunities,” said Taalas.

He noted that while the world is now striving to wean itself off carbon dependence, countries have set varying goals for emission reductions and timeframes for moving toward carbon neutrality.

Finland reliant on declining carbon sinks

Finland stands out from the crowd, though, he said. Elsewhere, the focus is on emission reductions, but in Finland the emphasis is on carbon sinks, in other words means to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, including vegetation, soil and bodies of water.

“Contrary to international practice, Finland’s climate goals are tied to the continuous growth of the carbon sink,” Taalas noted.

The 2035 goal is challenging – and achieving it has become more difficult as Finland’s forests will not be as big a carbon sink in the future as had been assumed, he said.

Last year, the country’s entire land use sector switched from being a sink to a net source of emissions. Known officially as land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF), the sector includes agriculture, whose emissions have remained largely unchanged.

“Mainly the slowdown in forest growth has led to a change in the situation, which will make it difficult to achieve the 2035 goal,” predicted Taalas.

He was asked whether logging must be limited if Finland relies on forests and their growth to reach its carbon neutrality goals.

“That’s a good question, and a difficult one, if you take into account the impact of the forest cluster on the Finnish economy and the financing of the welfare society. The growth of forests has also slowed down in other Nordic countries,” Taalas pointed out, adding that “the green transition is also a business opportunity for Finland”.

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