The prolonged financial crisis that began in 2008 has evidently affected the environment in Finland, according to a report on the State of the Environment in Finland in 2013 freshly published by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). The impacts of the economic downturn have been both positive and negative. The recession has reduced the use of natural resources and eased other burdens on the environment, but many environmental policy processes have slowed, including international action on climate issues.
The new report provides a concise and accessible overview of the state of the environment in Finland and current trends, while also assessing the adequacy of environmental protection measures. In addition to the national report produced by SYKE, separate reviews have been published by Finland's regional centres for economic development, transport and the environment examining the state of the environment in their respective regions. These reports have been compiled using public data and the expertise and information systems of the Finnish environmental authorities and other official and research organisations.
Climate change and declining biodiversity the most serious problems
Many of the indicators in the review show that the state of the environment is improving in Finland. Air pollution and water pollution have clearly declined over recent decades. Another positive development is that some trends earlier seen as irreversible, such as persistent increases in private car use and energy consumption, are showing signs that they could be levelling off.
"This positive picture is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that our most serious problems -- climate change and biodiversity loss -- remain unresolved, and just keep getting worse," says SYKE's director general Lea Kauppi. "Several deadline years for halting the decline of biodiversity in Finland have been set, but so far we've just had to keep moving this target further ahead. On climate change there is a clear desire to limit the rise in average global temperatures by 2100 to two degrees at most, but with the measures currently in place this goal looks impossible."
Well-being in Finland largely based on natural resources in other parts of the world
Emission reductions largely depend on trends in fuel use and improvements in industrial processes and waste treatment methods. A significant share of Finland's economic growth in recent decades has been built on the use of natural resources in other countries. This has helped to reduce emissions in Finland, since the environmental loads generated during the manufacture of imported goods primarily affect their countries of origin.
To reduce the use of natural resources we need to increase our eco-efficiency by producing goods and services using smaller amounts of resources, with lower emissions. We have successfully done this in recent years, since Finland's gross national product has risen proportionally faster than energy consumption, natural resource use and carbon dioxide emissions. These increases in eco-efficiency have been most pronounced since the mid-1990s.
Financial constraints hindering the resolution of environmental problems
In recent years the state of the environment has been affected by the ongoing financial crisis. The global recession in effect made it easier to achieve goals such as the Kyoto Protocol's targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Shrinking economic activity automatically leads to reductions in the use of natural resources and energy, as well as the resulting emissions.
But economic problems have also had negative effects on the environment. No significant progress has been made on international climate policies since the beginning of the financial crisis. Five conferences of the parties to the UN climate agreement have been held over the period 2009-2013, most recently in Warsaw in November 2013, but no decisions on binding emission reduction targets have been forthcoming.
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