Last week, Finland became the latest European country to set itself a new and newly ambitious goal for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Change Act legally commits the country to reducing its emissions 80 percent below their 1990 levels by 2050, and enters into legal force in 2015. It sets up a monitoring system and a two-track framework for establishing both medium-term and long-term plans to tackle Finland’s GHG emissions. The long-term plan will deal with the efforts to meet the 2050 target — mainly through the European Union’s cap-and-trade system, of which Finland is a member — and would have to be approved by parliament at least once every ten years. The medium-term plan will address emission reductions in areas that lie outside the EU’s system — traffic, housing, and agriculture, for instance — and would need to be approved by parliament once every election term. Officials would also report to parliament on the medium-term plan every year.
Finally, the legislation also includes efforts for climate adaptation, with a plan to be approved once every decade. There would also be an expert body to help with the planning efforts.
As such, Finland’s Climate Change Act is modeled on similar legislation the United Kingdom passed back in 2008. In February of this year, Denmark also announced its own version of the legislation, legally committing the country to a 40 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2020. Given the bill’s widespread support, observers anticipate it will win final passage this week. And Denmark’s previous governments have already made a commitment, albeit not a legally binding one, to get the country onto 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
All three countries are members of the European Union, which has currently legally committed itself to cutting its GHG emissions 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. As of May, it was expected to beat that goal with room to spare.
The European Commission has already proposed that the E.U. adopt a new reduction goal of 40 percent by 2030, but that policy remains in limbo. Poland appears to be the main hold-out. Binding climate target decisions in the E.U. require unanimous votes, and Poland has vetoed new GHG reduction targets twice in the last three years. The country, which relies on coal for more than 90 percent of its energy production, is reportedly wary that the new targets will include sufficient adjustments to how much of the GHG reduction burden will fall on countries better positioned to meet them versus the nations (like Poland itself) that will face a harder time.
This actually backs up the logic President Obama laid out earlier this year for the regulatory cuts to carbon emissions from American power plants recently announced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama said recently at West Point. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
The basic international challenge of climate change is that everyone benefits from GHG reductions — but not everyone benefits the same, and not everyone emits the same amount. And some countries like the United States have benefited economically far more from their carbon emissions than others. The makes the establishment of trust and displays of goodwill essential to nailing down a cooperative effort to cut global GHG emissions.
So Finland’s new target adds to the momentum from Denmark, which adds to the momentum in the E.U. government, which all joins in with the United States’ new regulatory target, as well as intimations from China that the government there may be considering a cap on carbon emissions as well. And hopefully, everyone can egg each other on to a final international agreement in 2015.