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Finland on its way towards low-carbon year 2050

Marko Jääskeläinen | 31.12.2014

​What are the chances of Finland transferring to a low-carbon society? What are the alternatives and what kind of risks do they entail?

The Low-Carbon Finland 2050 Platform (LCFinPlat) Project, launched in 2012, studied Finland’s opportunities and challenges related to transfer into a low-carbon society by 2050.

In the project, VTT collaborated with a broad group of experts to come up with low-carbon pathways, and these were computationally analysed using scenario analysis methods, with the ultimate goal of drawing up a low-carbon roadmap for Finland. 

VTT was responsible for the coordination of the project, with Tiina Koljonen acting as team leader. The project report presents alternative means by which Finland can achieve the greenhouse gas emission goals proposed by the EU by 2050, which means at least 80 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the emission level of 1990. The project is one example of VTT’s foresight and scenario work, which helps actors within the sector prepare for future challenges.

The project participants were VTT, Government Institute for Economic Research (VATT), Metla, the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and Tekes. The parliamentary energy and climate committee used the results in its own work.


 

Starting points for scenario analysis

The work performed under the LCFinPlat project­ focuses on estimating cost-effective and ­environmentally sustainable methods for Finland to achieve the low-carbon goal and the impacts of emission goals on Finland’s national economy, ­sustainable use of natural resources and the Finnish energy system. Various pathways can be indicated for achieving a low-carbon society, and the basic premise for drawing up the scenarios was that they need to be sufficiently different, so that the future could be assessed as extensively as possible from various perspectives.

In the light of the knowledge currently available to us, it is impossible to assess which of the pathways would be the best alternative for Finland. Therefore it is important to identify common denominators for all of them, as well as risks the choices possibly made can cause in the decades to come. It is clear, however, that 80 per cent reduction in emissions requires major steps and investments in all sectors of society­ and, accordingly, a radical change at the systemic level, the realisation of which calls for collective will and direction.


 

Globally binding climate agreement 

The Low-Carbon Finland 2050 Platform entails two important initial assumptions: a globally binding climate agreement based on a two-degree limit for global warming has been achieved, and the new low-emission technologies are developing rapidly enough, and they are available for market-based use. Therefore, from the present-day perspective, transfer into a low-carbon society entails major political challenges. In addition, significant investments are required in the development of new low-emission technologies and their launch into the markets. The current infrastructure – industrial facilities, and building and vehicle stock – with its slow pace of renewal poses an additional challenge. Consequently, the impacts of any decisions and investments made today reach all the way to 2050. From the Finnish point of view, an especially critical factor is commercialisation of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems sufficiently early.

– This is one of the key technologies that would be needed if we wish to maintain the current industrial system in Finland also in a low-carbon society, says Koljonen.


 

Changes in all sectors

According to Koljonen, as regards the need to reduce emission, it is descriptive of the current situation that the will is there, but nothing concrete is being done. 

– At the moment, there are very differing views when it comes to schedules, measures, and the amount of investments needed, she says.

Koljonen and Satu Helynen, Vice President, Operations, VTT, Smart Industry and Energy Systems, who was in the project steering group, both agree that the goal is so demanding that there are more solutions than one for reaching it. It is all about an entity of affairs.

– It extends into the fields of construction, housing, traffic, industry and energy production, and changes are needed within all of them, says Helynen, defining the scope.

According to Koljonen, when focusing on cost-efficiency, the reduction of emissions works most effectively in the industrial sector and traffic. The emissions from housing and waste treatment are largely reduced as a result of the existing policies, but additional measures will be needed, particularly after 2030. In the areas of agriculture and land use, on the other hand, the range of means available­ for emission reduction is more limited, particularly if we wish to secure domestic food supply.


 

Four different scenarios

In the project, four different low-carbon scenarios were established: Continuous growth, Standstill, Savings and Change. Each of the scenarios emphasises different technological choices and assumptions concerning, for example, societal structure (economic structure, industrial structure, social structure), and the development and introduction of new technologies. 

The use of renewable energies increases in every scenario. In addition, the production of liquid biofuels should be increased substantially in Finland when gradually shifting to low-carbon society. In all scenarios, wind power emerges as the third key source of renewable energy alongside water and bioenergy. The production of solar power also increases in all scenarios, but particularly in the scenarios based on continuous growth and change, where smart energy systems and new energy storage technologies enable significant growth of distributed energy generation.

– As regards energy consumption, it is assumed in every alternative that it will take a downward turn. The reduction of energy consumption is a part of the efforts for reducing emissions, notes Helynen. 


 

One hypes, another one saves

According to Koljonen, the most far-reaching of the four scenarios is the hyped Change scenario, where technologies are expected to take radical jumps in ways some of which may still be unknown to us. In addition, in this scenario, personal values and choices and, for example, the definition of work are presumed to have changed significantly. When combined, these factors facilitate even a slightly more scattered societal structure than the current one. Another presumption in the Change scenario was a radical change of the industrial structure, where the export industry provides products and services with a high added value for international markets.

The Savings scenario, on the other hand, takes a conservative approach in relation to technology.

– There, the starting point is that the EU takes a proactive approach to the emissions reduction target so that all new technologies have not yet entered market-based use, but the focus is on saving of energy, resource efficiency, and enhancement of energy use, says Koljonen.

In the Savings scenario, the basic premise is that cleantech exports are expected to grow, but the export products would be mainly based on energy efficiency and related service business operations. This scenario’s strength is high energy self-sufficiency, but, correspondingly, its weakness is higher expenses of emissions reduction between 2030 and 2040 than in other low-carbon scenarios.


 

Information and affordable solutions

A consumer survey was implemented as part of the project, with an aim to explore the attitudes, readiness, fears and wishes consumers have regarding a shift to low-carbon future. The goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was considered important: four out of five respondents agreed with this (79%), women considering it more important than men. 59 per cent of the respondents announced that they had systematically reduced their own greenhouse gas emission load. 

The most important justifications for not doing so were the higher price than that of the conventional solution, difficulties in adopting such technologies and lack of information.  

Provision of information to citizens is something both Koljonen and Helynen consider important.

– We have to be able to show that new technologies are functional and cost-effective to use. Much more education will be needed, Koljonen points out.

 

 

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