People & Power

Finland’s Climate Warriors

Finland is committed to carbon-cutting targets in the battle against climate change but will its dependence on peat as a fossil fuel stand in the way?

Finland has set itself one of the world’s most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, promising to go carbon neutral by 2035. Even the coronavirus pandemic, which has diverted much of the international attention away from global warming over the last 12 months, has done little to deflect this mission, as Prime Minister Sanna Marin made clear when addressing the United Nations in July 2020.

“Our generation of global leaders will be judged by the decisions we make over the course of this year,” she said. “Our children’s destiny must not be shaped by accelerating climate change, more global inequality and human suffering on an unforeseen scale.”

Dr Temo Mustonen is just one of her fellow citizens taking up the challenge. A climate change expert and community leader in the country’s North Karelia region, he leads a team of “rewilders” – activists who turn land destroyed by mining into wetlands, capturing carbon in the process. He says: “When we are restoring these kinds of sites after a century of damages, when nature comes back, we are also healing our mind … This is the only ultimate hope I see for the planet. This hope could be the new start.”

Environment minister Krista Mikkonen certainly insists the government is committed to its emission goals and cites the potential economic benefits. “At the moment, the whole world is crying out for a good solution for reduction to emissions. Get rid of the fossil fuels. And if you can have those solutions, that’s a huge opportunity for the business.”

It is also why, with a broad range of government initiatives from nature conservation to greater investment in public transport and alternative energy, the Nordic nation hopes to persuade its people to become climate warriors in pursuit of these aims.

But Finland has an Achilles’ heel: Its reliance on peat for fuel and jobs. Large swaths of the country (the most of any European country) are still used in the industrialised extraction of the fossil fuel, which both scars the landscape and when burned for energy pumps carbon into the atmosphere. What’s more, the peat industry is still state-supported. So how, we ask in this episode of People & Power, can its continued existence be rationalised with Finland’s climate change ambitions?