Finnish municipalities maintain greenhouse gas emissions, but challenges remain

In 2021, municipalities across Finland were able to maintain their greenhouse gas emissions at the previous year’s level, according to the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke). While progress was made in transitioning towards low-carbon heating methods, the increased consumption of heating energy in buildings slowed down the positive emissions trend.

The most significant reductions in emissions were observed in road transport, thanks to the increased use of bio-based liquid transport fuels such as petrol and diesel.

Additionally, the total mileage decreased slightly compared to the previous year.However, emissions from district heat production saw a rise of approximately five percent, despite a nine percent decrease in emissions per unit of energy produced. This increase in emissions was attributed to a 15 percent increase in energy consumption in the sector.The consumption of electricity also saw an eight percent increase, leading to a greater reliance on fossil fuels in electricity production. Consequently, the specific emission factor of electricity production slightly increased compared to the previous year. Santtu Karhinen, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute, explained that 2020 was an exceptional year due to the global pandemic, which affected societal functions and resulted in warmer weather. In contrast, 2021 was significantly colder, and society began to recover from the initial shock of the pandemic.Emissions from waste treatment decreased by 5.4 percent compared to the previous year, with the waste sector accounting for 4.5 percent of total emissions in 2021. The reduction in emissions was mainly due to the recovery of landfill gas and the limitation of landfilling biodegradable waste.

Fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) emissions decreased by seven percent, and emissions from agriculture decreased slightly over one percent compared to the previous year.

The distribution of emissions across different sectors remained relatively unchanged from the previous year. The main sectors with significant emissions that require targeted reduction measures are road transport (27 percent), agriculture (20 percent), district heat consumption (14 percent), and electricity consumption (heating and consumer electricity totaling 12 percent).

Despite the consistent emissions levels in 2021, positive long-term emissions trends can be observed. From 2005 to 2021, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 27.7 percent in almost all Finnish municipalities.

Monitoring Emissions in Accordance with the Climate Act

The Climate Act requires municipalities to prepare or update a climate plan at least once per council term, including information on greenhouse gas emissions development. The Finnish Environment Institute maintains an emissions data service for municipalities and regions to comply with the Climate Act.

The emissions data service will present emissions in accordance with the Hinku calculation rules without carbon offsets as the default for emissions monitoring, as advised by the Climate Act. Reporting and communications regarding the results will also align with the legislative requirements.

Karhinen emphasized that to monitor the ambitious emissions reduction targets of the Hinku network municipalities, the emissions data service will continue to present emissions according to the Hinku calculation rules, including carbon offsets. The emissions information service will provide results without the limitations of the Hinku calculation rules and differentiate emissions for the effort sharing sector and emissions trading.

Regional Disparities in Emissions per Capita

Significant differences in emissions and their development still exist between municipalities and regions. Emissions per capita are lowest in the southern regions, but the northern regions of Lapland, North Ostrobothnia, and Kainuu experienced the most considerable relative decrease in emissions per capita.

Regional disparities can be attributed to factors such as economic structure, geography, weather conditions, and fuel use in district heating.

Developing Emissions Calculation

The recently published emissions calculations underwent a few changes that affected both the 2021 results and previously published emissions time series. These changes included updating the characterisation factors used to aggregate the global warming potential (GWP) of different greenhouse gases.

The calculation of industrial emissions was modified to exclude emissions from all emissions trading industries, regardless of the gas emitted. This change significantly reduced industrial emissions monitored in Hinku calculations in some municipalities.

Other changes include specifying wastewater calculations in waste treatment emissions to account for centralised and decentralised wastewater treatment and updating emission factors related to street and road network mileage in road transport calculations.

The emissions information service will be expanded to include emissions data from 1990, as some municipalities have chosen it as the reference year for their emissions targets. Preliminary data on emissions for 2022 will be published in autumn 2023 and finalized in spring 2024.

The municipal emissions calculation system has received funding from the European Union’s Life IP Canemure project.

In conclusion, while municipalities in Finland maintained their greenhouse gas emissions at the previous year’s level in 2021, challenges remain in sectors such as road transport, agriculture, district heat consumption, and electricity consumption. Monitoring and targeted reduction measures are necessary to achieve further emissions reductions and address regional disparities. The ongoing development of emissions calculations and the adherence to the Climate Act will aid municipalities in their climate planning and mitigation efforts.

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