Bulletins

Finland’s binding climate negative goal is the new gold standard

The country’s new Climate Change Act is the world’s first legally binding commitment to bring carbon emissions below zero.

Forest in Finland

Forestry is one form of carbon dioxide removal.

Image: Miikka Luotio/Unsplash

Carbon dioxide removal will soon be written into Finnish law: In a historic Wednesday vote, the country’s Parliament approved a new Climate Change Act that would commit the country to carbon neutrality by 2035, and carbon negativity by 2040.


Assuming it is signed by President Sauli Niinistö, the law would make Finland the first country in the world to make its commitment to carbon negativity legally binding.

University of Eastern Finland international law professor Kati Kulovesi called the new targets “remarkable,” particularly the carbon negativity commitment. The targets are based on a scientific analysis of the country’s nationally determined contributions, which Kulovesi also commended.

“However, other details of the act could have been stronger,” Kulovesi told Protocol. “There is an important gap between current measures and those required to reach the targets, and now there is a legal obligation to act.”

The new law also updates absolute emissions reduction targets, requiring at least a 60% reduction by 2030 and 80% by 2040, as compared with 1990 levels. Finland had previously committed to an 80% reduction by 2050, so this change catapults the country’s progress forward by a full decade.

Combining those reductions with the new legally mandated carbon negative goals in less than 20 years will require the country to rely on carbon dioxide removal in addition to simply lowering its overall emissions.

CDR comes in many stripes: from the land-based (reforestation, conservation) to the highly technical (direct air capture). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that CDR in some form will be a “necessary element” if we want to keep the planet’s warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (or, ideally, lower).

However, most countries have so far only made carbon neutrality commitments, trumpeted at international gatherings like the Conferences of the Parties on climate change. While some of these are legally binding — Finland cites the laws of Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom as examples — many are not.

There are other, smaller countries that have already brought their emissions to below zero, such as Bhutan and Suriname. These members of the carbon negative club are largely forested and manage to absorb more carbon dioxide than they emit through a combination of land protection and aggressive measures to keep their emissions down.

Joining the club may prove difficult for Finland, however, given that the country still relies heavily on fossil fuels for its energy needs. And according to preliminary data from Statistics Finland, the country’s land use sector emitted more greenhouse gases than it absorbed for the first time in 2021, to the tune of 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

But in holding itself legally accountable to its international commitments, the country will soon have no choice but to transform.

This story was updated on May 25, 2022, to clarify the measurement of carbon dioxide equivalent.

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Bulletins