Finland could be subject to billions of euros in costs as the diminishing capacity of forests as a carbon sink has undermined its effort to meet the sink target set by the EU.
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) revealed Wednesday that the country is most likely to emit about 50–80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide less than its target, a deficit that will have to be made up by obtaining removal units from member states that met their targets or by cutting emissions in other sectors, such as transport.
“This is outright a national emergency,” said Professor Jyri Seppälä of Luke to Finland’s national public broadcasting company YLE on Wednesday.
He estimated that offsetting the shortfall of carbon sinks will cost the country anywhere between two and seven billion euros, and the eventual price is challenging because it depends on the availability and pricing of removal units.
The EU has set binding carbon sink targets for its member states in land use, land-use change and forestry regulation, with progress assessed in two five-year phases, first in 2025 and later in 2030.
It is clear that the carbon sink of forests has collapsed, which came as no surprise to scientists. Luke warned of this possibility when the binding target was set by the EU in 2016 before further signs of the deterioration found in 2018, with calculations suggesting that the country remained on track to meet its climate targets.
The Finnish Climate Change Panel has also warned about the development of carbon sinks for years. It stated last spring that the government should take measures to rescue carbon sinks and overhaul its climate plan for the land-use sector. The critical role of carbon sinks has also been highlighted in comments on Finnish climate policy by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Energy Agency (IEA) and Finnish Ministry of Finance.
The Finnish government did acknowledge the erosion of carbon sinks in its latest annual climate report in November. However, no measures are proposed to redress the situation, despite carbon sinks being the long-standing foundation of national climate policy.
In November, environmental groups are accusing the government of inaction on carbon sinks in a claim submitted to the Supreme Administrative Court.
Due to intense felling and slowing growth of pine forests, their collapse has effectively offset the more than 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the country has achieved since the 1990s.
“We’re currently felling too much forest relative to what our sustainable natural resources would enable us to use,” said Seppälä to YLE on Wednesday.
The Finnish public broadcaster estimated that logging is unlikely to decrease given high global demand for timber and the suspension of timber imports from Russia. Domestic demand, meanwhile, is expected to increase by about four million cubic metres with the upcoming opening of Metsä Group’s new pulp mill in Kemi, Western Lapland.