Passions for the environment matters run deep among Scandinavians, who have a reputation for their incessant obsession with such matters.
People and governments in these countries are hypersensitive about keeping their environment clean and green. It is a value imbued in most Scandinavians – a virtue I observed during my stint in Stockholm and my travels in the Scandinavian countries.
People’s ideals and ethics are consistent with environmental protection. National polices and aspirations steer them in this direction.
Environmental issues are deep-rooted in the politics and reflected in the spending on the desired infrastructure of all these countries. Eco-friendly policies are implemented to protect the environment for the present and future.
Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991, and since then it has risen gradually. This tax targets automobiles and heating fuels, which account for 90% of Sweden’s fossil carbon emissions.
Sweden’s initiatives towards sustainable development include converting waste into energy, which is now a thriving business in the country. The country hopes to be carbon neutral by 2045.
In Norway, nearly 98% of the electricity is now from renewable sources. The country now has the highest number of electric cars on a per capita basis and will ban cars using fossil fuels from 2025.
Norway expects to be carbon-neutral by 2030, if other countries cut their emission as well. If not, it aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050, irrespective of world-wide cuts in emissions. For a major oil-producing nation, this is a breakthrough.
Norway’s success in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is economically and socially feasible. Not only that, it harmonises business with ecological concerns.
Meanwhile, Denmark is now focusing on sustainability by emphasising clothes, natural materials and unpretentious living. The Danes have also pledged to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 70% by 2030 – a monumental task. The nation has also pledged that its food industry will be carbon neutral by 2050.
In my meetings with Danish government agencies, industry associations and companies, I observed their collaborative efforts and unyielding determination to switch from fossil fuels to green energy. Their passion for renewable energy is manifested in the ubiquitous wind farms at sea, especially conspicuous when you cross the border from Sweden into Denmark.
Finland, however, is responding differently in its efforts to mitigate climate change. Forests shield almost 70% of its land mass. Finns expect the abundance of forest to grow because of the country’s Forest Act, which makes it mandatory to plant four trees for every tree harvested.
This is a visionary policy not only to preserve the greenery but also to contribute more than its fair share in the fight against climate change.
The abundance of wood is used to produce goods, services and energy, substituting fossil-based chemicals, which are significant emitters of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
Cutting-edge Finnish companies are devising novel ways to use wood in light of the abundant environmental benefits for the country. From the manufacture of dresses to multi-storey green buildings and the production of batteries, most products are easily recycled, biodegradable and hypoallergenic.
Switching from fossil fuels, plastics or concrete and steel used for construction to wood and bio-based materials limits carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
The economic incentives of the growing market for wood-based products further encourage smart tree management. Wood-based products are made from by-products and residues or from materials recovered after product use.
A circular bioeconomy operates when goods produced are bio-friendly and biodegradable and can be shared, reused, re-manufactured, recycled or used for renewable energy. When trees grow back, they absorb CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. The cycle of deforestation and reforestation ensures the desired flora is preserved.
In a bioeconomy, people use ecologically friendly materials and products, which reduce the carbon footprint. Globally, carbon emissions continue to rise and so, we must promote a bioeconomy that uses renewable materials to protect our planet.
Biomass alone can’t handle all the materials produced from fossil and mineral sources. However, when opportunities arise to switch fossil-based raw material components with renewable wood-based ones, they must be taken up.
Finland was the first country to introduce a carbon tax in 1990, and it has borne fruit: greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by about 20%. Measures taken include using electric vehicles, phasing out fossil fuel heating and creating carbon sinks to absorb and neutralise CO2 emissions.
Finland hopes to become carbon neutral by 2035 – 15 years earlier than what the Carbon Neutral Coalition has targeted. [The coalition is a group of countries, cities and organisations that have committed to serious action to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement on climate change.]
Over 90% or 124 of 137 countries tracked have set 2050 as their target for becoming carbon neutral.
Finland’s wood-based approach to climate change may not work for all countries – given climate differences and the trade-offs between agriculture and tree growth. But it does offer a timely reminder to rethink how we can harness nature to tackle the global challenge of climate change.
Finland’s efforts to green the environment has been recognised. The European Commission has bestowed the European Green Capital Award for 2021 to the Finnish city of Lahti. The award acknowledges the environmentally friendly endeavours of European cities to support continuing transformation and governance towards a more ecologically friendly future. Lahti’s competitors for the award were Lille and Strasbourg in France.
The European Commission acknowledged the city’s innovation-friendly environment and human resources development. In matters relating to lifelong learning, patent applications and scientific output, Lahti was also way above the EU average.
An international jury chose the Finnish city was chosen as the green capital by a unanimous decision, acknowledging the city’s efforts in air quality, governance, waste management, green growth and eco-innovation.
The jury was especially impressed with Lahti’s air quality plan, which has slashed emissions since its adoption in 1997.
The Helsinki-Uusimaa region secured the top position in the study’s regional scoreboard, which assesses 238 regions within the EU member states. Stockholm and Denmark’s Hovedstaden ranked closely behind the Finns.
Finland’s Green Building Council strives to ensure that new buildings incorporate carbon neutrality and sustainable lifestyle solutions. The council taps on expertise in sustainable development from its members who have local and international experience.
Over 200 organisations are members of the council, which has many experts who are critical to Finland’s focus on sustainable development in the construction of new buildings.
The synergy between the various business sectors and organisations has sped up the pace of sustainable development in Finland, with the government assuming the role of a catalyst.
The core functions of the Green Building Council lie in advancing sustainable development policies for the building industry, sharing knowhow, and initiating dialogues and discussions by networking with the World Green Building Council.
Other countries around the world can emulate Finland’s successful ways of hastening sustainable development, which will cut greenhouse gas emissions.
I know the Finnish business sectors and organisations fairly well, having met them several times. I am optimistic that the Finns will be willing to impart their knowledge for the greater good of humankind, which faces a common threat.
The writer would like to say kiitos to his friend Satu Spratley in Helsinki for her input