Finland promised to achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2035, which kicked off bets on a greener and necessary way of life.

Finnish Ambition

On the 4th of June 2019, Finland shared its ambitious aim, which was then broadcast by international press, according to The Guardian. The current Finnish government, newly elected in April of last year, confirms that the country of a thousand lakes will be carbon neutral by 2035. For Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, there is no doubt that they will achieve this objective. After eight years of austerity, the new government felt that it was time to respond to Finnish voters’ number one concern, climate change, and “invest in the future”.

This is the most ambitious climate change project ever taken on by any country in Europe and “probably internationally too” announced Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s new Foreign Affairs minister and member of the country’s Green Party. The existing climate law already envisaged Carbon Neutrality in 2045, but this new goal will modify the law.

“Building the world’s first fossil-free, sustainable society is going to require much more than nice words on paper, but we’re determined to make it happen. It’s an exciting journey we want to embark on.” said Sini Harkki, Finland’s programme manager for Greenpeace Nordic.

The new Finnish Prime Minister, Antti Rinne
Credits: Jukka-Pekka Flander/SDP

Limiting Global Warming

A country achieves Carbon Neutrality when the amount of CO2 that is absorbed naturally (by trees and soil) and industrially (by filtering or storing of carbon dioxide) completely compensate its emissions, which in turn limit global warming.

A GIEC report, published in autumn 2018 underlines that Carbon Neutrality should be achieved by 2050 to limit global warming to a 1,5 °C increase. “From the point of view of Chemistry and Physics Laws, limiting global warming to 1.5 °C is possible, though its realisation would require unprecedented changes.” adds Jim Skea, co-president of GIEC’s third work group.

To achieve this goal of zero net emissions, we have to actively rally ourselves and act. According to the Institute for Long-Term Developments and International Relations (IDDRI) and their publication dating from July 2018, a country seeking to achieve Carbon Neutrality must first of all reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in all sectors, “through a combination of technology and behaviour solutions aligned with countries’ development objectives”.

Credits: Samuel Zeller

Then, the country must protect all natural gas sinks – oceans, soils, and all Flora which absorbs CO2. Certain countries like Australia have opted to increase their natural gas sinks by planting a billion trees by 2050. Finally, the country must “invest in R&D for carbon capture and storage technologies to deal with the residual emissions”.

Accomplishing this goal of Carbon Neutrality will obviously change our mode of consumption. “This will change how we travel, the houses we live in, and the food that we eat.” adds David Reay, Professor in Carbon Management and Education at the University of Edinburgh.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate is the first international agreement which introduces the idea of Carbon Neutrality, even if it only makes ‘vague allusion’ to it, according to Arnaud Gossement. This lawyer who specialises in Environmental Rights explained to Reporterre that he is afraid most countries will continue emitting gases responsible for Climate Change all the while promising that they will compensate for this further down the line. “Neutrality is in balance”, he explains. “What I mean is that even if emission levels are higher, as long as they are compensated, it will not increase global warming”

The 2015 Climate Change Conference was held in Paris.
Credits: Benjamin Géminel

Bhutan as a Role Model

To this day, Slate tells us that only one country has achieved Carbon Neutrality: Bhutan. In this global ecological race, this small Himalayan country is the winner as they have confirmed that they’ve already reached Carbon Neutrality. The giant forest that covers more than 70% of the country’s territory absorbs three times as much Carbon Dioxide as Bhutan produces.

Bhutan has massively invested in hydroelectric plants, from which came 97% of its energies in 2017. But, like the International Rivers NGO denounces, this “massive expansion of hydroelectric dams threatens to destroy preserved river valleys, as well as their beauty and their biodiversity.”

Bhutan is displaying unbeatable carbon results which nonetheless rely on construction destructive to the environment, meaning that they are not the answer to our ecological issues.

Credits: Kay E. Gilmour, MD

Costa Rica’s Promises

After Bhutan, we can wonder who will wear the crown for Eco Haven. For now, Costa Rica remains one of the only countries to present a concrete plan to achieve Carbon Neutrality. At the end of February 2019, the country’s president Carlos Alvarado revealed, in Financial Times, a national plan to be completely neutral with CO2 emissions by 2050.

Even though he is not the only one to have stated these aims,  Costa Rica’s plan is of extreme precision, rich in detail as much in short-term as in long-term and for each sector. For example, in 2030, all electrical networks will have to run on renewable energy sources. When we know, thanks to such sources like The Costa Rica Star, that over 98% of the country’s electricity is provided by renewable energies, we also know that Costa Rica is headed in the right direction for positive change.

Costa Rica, the Paragon of Eco-Tourism
Credits: Atanas Malamov

If Costa Rica seems so sure of its potential, it is because it was one of the first countries in the world to be interested in the benefits of wind-powered energy. It nationalised its electricity production system in 1949 and launched an innovative electricity plan ten years ago.

The country must, however, still solve issues related to transport and heating, which are both fuel powered sectors. Nonetheless, Costa Rica envisages that by 2030 70% of its buses and taxis will emit no CO2, a number which will rise to 100% by 2050.

The Race has Begun

With its recent announcement, Finland has thus launched a race for Carbon Neutrality. To stay ahead, they will reduce planned investments in logging, will diminish fossil fuel consumption, and will increase wind and solar energy production.

With the aim to eliminate net emissions in a little over 15 years by a brand new political program, they will add 1,23 billion euros to public spending, which they will finance with a 730 million euro tax increase (mainly on fossil fuel consumption such as coal, petrol, and natural gas) as well as selling up to 2,5 billion euros of government assets.

In May, New Zealand also advanced its pawns. “The government is taking historic action on climate change today, the biggest challenge facing the international community and New Zealand,” declared New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, without explicitly stating how New Zealand will achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2050. Greenpeace CEO Russel Norman regretted that the legislation did not specify how its aims would be achieved, saying it renders it “ineffective”.

Credits: Gover­­nor-Gene­­ral of New Zealand

Norway has pinned down 2030 for Carbon Neutrality, whereas Japan has stated after 2050 as its aim. The AFP reports that the U.K. has made the 12th of June 2050 as its Carbon Neutrality deadline, and hopes to inscribe this ambitious aim as a law, doing so perhaps before France, who announced a similar law project on the 7th of February. 

The E.U. has made a commitment that by 2030 it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels all the while increasing renewable energy consumption by 32%. Decision-making on the issue of Carbon Neutrality is constantly postponed but the European Summit in June is a major deadline.

As the European Commission in November 2018 reminded us, to respect the agreements taken on during the Paris Agreement, Europe has to review its objectives and must commit to achieving Carbon Neutrality by 2050 – which is what 200 European Mayors have requested from the E.U. in an open letter last May. Over at Euractiv in February 2019, EU climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete has confirmed that the aim of the EU “should be to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. There is no way around it.”

Auteure : Malaurie Chokoualé Datou