Net Zero by 2035: The World’s Most Ambitious Climate Target

In May this year, Finland passed into law what is quite possibly the world’s most ambitious climate
target. The country’s goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2035 and net negative emissions – meaning
absorbing more CO2 than it emits – by 2040.

The new target is the outcome of research and analysis conducted by independent economists from
the Finnish Climate Change Panel. According to Finland’s environment minister Emma Kari, it was
of considerable importance to the Finnish government that the target was set with researchers and
people from the climate change policy community.

The panel arrived at its target by taking into account several variables. Foremost among these is an
estimate of Finland’s contribution to the 420 GT of carbon dioxide that the entire world can emit
while still retaining a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C. Other variables the panel
factored into its analysis include Finland’s share of the global population, its historical role in causing
climate change, and finally its capacity to pay for gradually reducing carbon emissions.
Many countries, such as the USA and members of the EU, have chosen 2050 as the year by which they
aim to achieve net zero. But deeming this as “highly insufficient”, the Finnish panel has called on other
nations to bring their net zero targets forward.

Upon being asked if the EU as a whole should follow Finland’s suit, Kari said that climate targets
should be based on climate science and the Paris Agreement. She went on to add, “… if the target is not
compatible with the Paris Agreement… then we have to turn it up”. In its analysis, the Finnish panel
found that Germany and the rest of the EU should attain net zero by the mid-2030s.

Few countries, to date, have set a climate target as far-reaching as Finland. Hoping to achieve net zero
by 2030, perhaps only South Sudan has a comparably ambitious date. But unlike Finland, South
Sudan cannot achieve this target without significant backing from international finance. Apart from
this, smaller countries like Bhutan and Suriname can already boast of carbon negativity. But they are
able to achieve this by preserving their immense forested areas, which act as natural carbon sinks. This
makes Finland’s target truly an outlier on the global stage. Kari explained that the Finnish government
is not expecting to meet the net zero target by relying on international carbon offsets, whereby one
country pays another for bringing about reduction in emissions.

Speaking to the press, Kari – who is a member of the Green Party in a coalition of five centre-to-left-
wing parties – stressed on the “active and progressive” role that high income countries must take in
dealing with climate change. The minister went on to say that the target has been welcomed by a broad
support base.

What will determine Finland’s success in meeting its goal is the state of the country’s forests. Covering
about three-quarters of its land area, Finland’s forests will be crucial to absorbing emissions within the
next decade. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the moment, as a study by Statistics Finland recently
found out. The study discovered that rapid deforestation, combined with slow replanting rates, have
led the country’s forests – for the first time in 2021 – to emit more CO2 than they are absorbing.
Moreover, logging companies in Finland convert the trees they cut down into pulp and paper and sell
the resulting products as combustible fuel. This practice remains controversial, in spite of the efforts to
advertise it as renewable and climate-friendly.

Kari highlighted that Finland’s energy transition was spurred on by the EU’s broader move to phase
out Russian energy imports, in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine. As the ministry of agriculture
and forestry is working on its first ever climate plan, the Finnish government is expanding its wind
power capacity, while looking to make its buildings more efficient.