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Report: What can Finland do to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040?

Government analysis, assessment and research activitiesMinistry of Economic Affairs and Employment 28.2.2019 13.00 | Published in English on 28.2.2019 at 14.01
Press release 129/2019
Report: What can Finland do to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040?

It is well possible for Finland to be carbon neutral around 2040. To achieve this, the main thing for Finland to do is invest in a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in all emission sectors. Besides this, ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are needed. Maintaining and strengthening forest carbon sinks have a key role in this. The collection and storage of carbon dioxide from the use of bioenergy may be one of the options for the future.

It is well possible for Finland to be carbon neutral around 2040. To achieve this, the main thing for Finland to do is invest in a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in all emission sectors. Besides this, ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are needed. Maintaining and strengthening forest carbon sinks have a key role in this. The collection and storage of carbon dioxide from the use of bioenergy may be one of the options for the future.

The main objective of the study conducted by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE was to estimate an appropriate emissions reduction target for Finland to 2050 and determine the key options to proceed for different sectors. The starting point for the estimate was that by 2050 Finland would have reduced greenhouse emissions by 85–90% from their level in 1990. Instead, no specific target was set for the LULUCF sector (land use, land use change and forestry), but the aim was to perform calculations to estimate the trend in total emissions that is composed of the emissions and sinks (removals). Scenarios with four different development paths for Finland extending to 2050 were prepared to carry out the analyses.

The four calculated scenarios for estimating the total emissions were Continuous growth, Change, Savings and Stoppage. Three workshops with about 90 participants from about 40 organisations were held to comment on the scenarios and further develop them. In addition, an inquiry with about 1,000 respondents was conducted to find out the citizens’ views on the objectives and means of climate change mitigation.

The study showed that Finland is capable of achieving the emission reduction target to 2050 by following different paths. The critical factors include higher energy use efficiency in all sectors of society, significant increase in the use of renewable energy, electrification of the energy system, and usability of carbon collection and storage (CCS) in the context of bioenergy and industrial processes. Without extensive technical solutions to collect and store carbon dioxide, any reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 87% would be challenging.

If the progress made in technologies or in improving energy use efficiency in our society is not fast enough, achieving the targets will be an even greater challenge. All development paths show growth in economic wellbeing measured by the GDP, and in all scenarios the impact of advanced technologies was the key driver of growth. Instead, there are considerable differences in the impact of the different scenarios on the environment and society, depending on factors such as the prevailing circumstances and political steering instruments.

Wood biomass has several potential uses in energy production and in substituting for unrenewable raw materials in the manufacturing industry. However, increased use of wood decreases the forest carbon sinks, which may cause challenges in terms of meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Besides the use of wood, the size of forest sinks depends a great deal on the trends in growing stock increment and soil carbon balances. Depending on the scenario concerned and uncertainties relating to forest sinks, Finland would achieve carbon neutrality either before 2040 or after that. It is uncertain, however, to what extent Finland can exploit its carbon sink for achieving the emission reduction target, and what kind of a reduction target is to be considered fair and sufficient for Finland.

The priority issue for Finland to achieve the climate objectives is to implement an ambitious climate policy that minimises the risks that, if realised, could compromise the attainment of the targets. Based on the inquiry, an ambitious climate policy is widely supported by the Finns. Of the respondents 75% considered climate change mitigation as an important goal and 65% considered that Finland must continue the efforts to reduce emissions independent of what the other countries are doing.

The project ‘Long-term trend in total emissions’ carried out by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE was part of the implementation of the Government’s plan for analysis, assessment and research in 2018 (www.tietokayttoon.fi).

Inquiries: Tiina Koljonen, Research Team Leader, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, tel. +358 50 359 9549, tiina.koljonen(at)vtt.fi, Sampo Soimakallio, Head of Unit, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 29 525 1803, sampo.soimakallio(at)ymparisto.fi and Petteri Kuuva, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 29 506 4819, petteri.kuuva(at)tem.fi