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16th Feb 2019

Interview

Finland: Time for EU to lead on environment

  • Climate march in Helsinki. Finland should be carbon neutral by 2045, says its environment minister. (Photo: Timo Heinonen)

The EU should spend less time drafting new environmental laws and devote resources to implementing what was already agreed, Finland's environment and agriculture minister Kimmo Tiilikainen said on Monday (27 February).

“If all our time is spent on new legislation, new small details, then implementation suffers,” Tiilikainen said in an interview with Bloomberg, Politico, and EUobserver.

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  • Tiilikainen: 'If our time is spent all the time on new legislation, new small details, then the implementation suffers' (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

“If my civil servants in the ministry of environment and the ministry of agriculture, if all of their activity and working time is spent to evaluate new proposals from the Commission and to negotiate them, who takes care of implementation?” he added.

Tiilikainen spoke on the eve of a meeting of environment ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, where the European Commission will present a review of how EU environmental laws have been implemented at national level.

The review, published earlier this month, praised Finland for its protection of conservation sites, but said air quality around Helsinki should be improved.

The Commission also said pollution from agricultural activities was damaging water quality.

“The review showed that we are doing pretty well, we have some things we can do better,” said Tiilikainen.

He said the review exercise was important.

“You have to stop and see what you’ve done. What kind of performance you have and compare it with some other countries and see if you’re doing a good job,” said Tiilikainen.

Emissions trading

Climate change is also on Tuesday's EU agenda.

Ministers will try to reach agreement on the future of the EU's emissions trading system (ETS), which has been plagued by carbon permit prices that are viewed as being too low to discourage polluters.

“It's time for the EU to decide on ETS,” said Tiilikainen.

“For the EU, it's important that we can … give a signal that our implementation of the Paris agreement is going on,” he said, referring to a multilateral climate deal that entered into force last year.

“It's time for the EU to take leadership one more time again,” the Finnish minister added.

Agriculture

Tiilikainen, whose portfolio also includes agriculture, said that “all sectors” should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but not much has changed in Finnish farming.

In 2005, Finland's agricultural sector emitted the equivalent of 6.4 million tonnes of CO2. Ten years later, that increased slightly to 6.5 million.

“We … need food for our people,” said Tiilikainen, adding: “It's very difficult to reduce agricultural emissions without cutting production.”

Plant-based diets are more climate friendly than meat-based ones, but the Finnish politician declined to advocate one or the other.

“Each individual person decides his or her diet according to health reasons or environmental reasons,” he said. He said he would not pursue policies that “pushed” people to change what they eat.

CO2-neutral

Tiilikainen wants Finland to become carbon-neutral by 2045, meaning net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

His announcement came just weeks after Sweden released a similar 2045 carbon-neutral statement.

“Both for Finland and Sweden, we would like to be the forerunners,” he said.

“If we have the same target as Sweden, I think we can even work together for those targets,” he added.

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