5. Environmentally sustainable society
Climate change is the biggest challenge of our times, and building a climate-sustainable society is a task that is in the same magnitude with the building of the welfare state. However, time is running out, and that is why we must act now. From the point of view of inter-generational fairness, we are responsible for taking action.
Climate change is not the only human-induced environmental problem that threatens Earth and humankind’s future. Together with the loss of biodiversity and other environmental problems, climate change is part of the major environmental crisis caused by fossil capitalism that weakens the living conditions of our planet, as well as democracy and human rights.
Finland and the Finns are responsible for doing their own part in mitigating climate change and resolving the environmental crisis – both nationally and internationally. We cannot save Earth alone, but we are obligated to adjust our lives to the boundary conditions required by the environment. At the same time, we can show an example to the rest of world of how an environmentally sustainable way of life can be aligned with policy that reduces inequality and increases well-being. The carbon-neutral welfare state is Finland’s best possible export.
5.1 Climate sustainable economy
Mitigating climate change requires a change in the political climate. The Left Alliance deems that environmental sustainability must be made something that determines all policy: a sustainable society can only be built within the boundaries set by the environment. The environment and climate must be taken into account in all sectors of politics in a transversal way. The aim must be that Finland be a carbon-neutral society in 2030 and all of Europe in 2040. After this, both must be net-negative. Achieving the objective requires stricter emissions reduction targets and preparation of sector-specific plans.
The question of what we can afford must be rephrased. The sustainability gap must also be redefined. We must ask what we can afford from the environmental point of view instead of only thinking about what we can afford in terms of money. We must reduce the environmental sustainability gap and decrease the environmental debt left to future generations. Moreover, the financial discipline rules of the European Monetary Union and monetary system must be redefined from this perspective.
Besides euros, emissions and emissions budgets must be made a boundary condition guiding the planning of the state’s economy and activities. Annual emission and natural resource budgets that cannot be exceeded must be defined for diverse areas of administration, society and economy.
The measurement of policies and society needs reform. GDP growth can no longer be the indicator determining social policy; indicators measuring emissions and actual well-being must be adopted besides it. Growth is not an end in itself; good and environmentally sustainable life is.
Climate change and the environmental crisis are results of our unsustainable economic and social model, fossil capitalism, which does not take the planetary boundary conditions into account. Climate change primarily results from carbon dioxide released from the use of fossil energy sources and changes in land use, which have reduced carbon sinks. Our economic system is built on the use of fossil energy sources, and now it has to be decoupled from them.
Our economic model is built on unsustainably continuing consumption of natural resources. Wealth and capital growth are partly built on feet of clay, by destroying and exploiting the environment and preconditions for the life of future generations. Continuous growth in resource consumption is, however, impossible on Earth with its limited resources. The current economic model wastes resources and generates an increasing amount of waste, with raw materials and products thrown away after single use and the nutrient cycle ignored. The wasteful single-use economy built on single use and use of virgin natural resources must be replaced with a fossil-free circular economy based on reuse and thrift.
Building a climate-sustainable society requires changes in our economic model and methods of steering the economy. The change will not take place by itself; we need incentives, restrictions and economic control. Environmental control must be made a guiding principle of taxation besides preventing inequality. The polluter and causer of environmental impacts has to pay, and environmentally sustainable choices must be made financially profitable options.
Finland, Europe and the entire world need their own programme for ecological reconstruction and climate well-being, a green new deal, used for laying down a plan fro the transition towards a climate-smart and environmentally sustainable economy and making a plan for securing employment and well-being as well as reducing inequality in the changing economy. The programme must outline the implementation of the required investments and the needs for amending taxation and legislation. Mitigating climate change must not lead to increased inequality and income disparity. Therefore, the programme should also outline the ways in which the income disparity-evening effect of taxation is strengthened, and the changes with which those with low incomes are compensated for the increase in environmental taxes through taxation or by strengthening social security.
Fighting climate change is often deemed to be a threat to jobs. Some jobs will inevitably disappear and job descriptions will change, but decoupling from fossil fuels, favouring environmentally-friendly local production and a circular economy that is based on the reuse of resources can, in fact, create more jobs. In any case, work will change, so employees must be provided with change security and retraining must be facilitated.
Left Alliance’s goals:
- Finland and Europe must create an ecological reconstruction programme (Green New Deal) to comprehensively transform society in an environmentally sustainable and socially fair way.
- Implement an ecological tax reform in which taxes are determined on the basis of the emissions generated.
- Instead of austerity, Europe must engage in a Green New Deal policy that facilitates ecological reconstruction. The monetary policy measures of the European Central Bank must be directed in a way that is reasonable from the point of view of the environment.
- Create a sustainable transition programme outlining how to improve the progression of taxation and compensate those with low incomes for the increases in environmental taxes and prevent growth in income disparity, and how to support sectors and areas that will lose jobs linked to the use of fossil fuels.
- Reduce and ultimately discontinue tax aid for peat.
- Reduce company subsidies that are linked to the use of fossil fuels.
- Develop value added taxation in an emissions-based direction.
- Increase taxes on fossil fuels based on emissions.
- Take impacts on emissions into account in all public investments and minimise them.
- Obligate pension funds to report on their fossil investments and reduce them.
- Obligate financial market parties to report on carbon risks.
- Enact an emissions-based flying tax.
- Promote the adoption of carbon tariffs at the outer borders of the EU. The goal is a global market environment in which being low-carbon is a genuine competitive advantage for Finnish and European companies.
- Promote the extension of product life cycles through incentives to repair products by transferring repair services to a reduced value added tax rate.
- Prohibit the planned obsolescence of products at the EU level.
- Fund independent research that produces data based on social and behavioural sciences and education to support the fight against climate change.
5.2 Less emissions
Mitigating climate change requires a rapid reduction of emissions. This is difficult, but not impossible.
Energy production must be made emissions-free. Energy production and the use of fossil fuels causes the majority of global emissions. In Finland, particular challenges include reducing the emissions from district heating in Helsinki and some other large cities and the discontinuation of the use of peat for energy. Energy production must transition towards renewable and low-emission energy sources. There is a lot of potential for increase in wind, solar and geothermal power in particular. The profitability of emissions-free and low-emission forms of energy production must be ensured through emissions-based taxation.
The energy system of the future is decentralised and smart. The production of renewable energy must be encouraged and supported more. Bioenergy is part of Finland’s energy portfolio, but the production of bioenergy must meet the sustainability criteria and be sustainable in the big picture.
Traffic and housing are significant sources of emissions, and they, too, must be decoupled from the use of fossil fuels. We must change our traffic system, reduce transport performance and replace fossil fuels with other motive powers. Different solutions for reducing emissions from traffic are needed in different parts of Finland, but the heavily populated urban regions play a key role in the transformation. When planning traffic solutions, regional differences must be taken into account, as the same solutions will not work in Kainuu and Kallio.
The volume of transport performances must be reduced through smart land use planning and use of remote connections. The use of public transport and pedestrian and bicycle traffic must be made possible in land use planning, especially in urban areas. The efficiency of traffic must be enhanced by investing in rail traffic and other forms of public transport. The number of journeys by foot or bicycle must be increased, especially in urban regions.
Passenger cars will be needed in the future as well, especially in rural areas. However, emissions from passenger cars can be cut by replacing fossil fuels with biogas and other sustainable biofuels, increasing the share of hybrid and electric vehicles and developing hydrogen technology. The efficiency of passenger car traffic can also be increased in urban areas in particular by increasing carpooling and carsharing. Digitisation is transforming all areas of life, and transport is no exception. Especially in densely populated urban areas, transport must be primarily viewed as a service, not from the point of view of ownership, going forward.
Flight passenger volumes are increasing strongly, and air travel by Finns has doubled over the last 20 years. The growth in air travel must be reversed, because its climate impacts cover 2–3 per cent of the direct carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity. The emissions from air travel are largely luxury emissions, as the realisation of human rights or satisfaction of basic needs is the case in flying for only the few. In Finland, for example, the majority of travel by plane is for leisure trips. Aviation is also undertaxed relative to other forms of transport, and there is no room for freewheelers in the fight against climate change. Because air transport is global in principle, the solutions should also be made globally. However, if adequate global measures are not possible, air travel should be taxed at the EU level or nationally.
In addition to passenger traffic, attention must be paid to goods and cargo traffic. Cargo must increasingly be transported by rail, which requires investments in rail connections. The electrification of heavy goods vehicles is not realistic in the near future, but biogas is a potential means of reducing emissions from heavy goods traffic. Emissions from maritime transport must also be reduced, which requires tightening the international regulation. Emissions from cargo traffic can also be reduced by preferring locally produced commodities, thereby reducing the consumption of unnecessary goods and transporting them across the world.
Housing and the heating of homes consume a lot of energy. It is essential to make the electricity and district heat used in housing as low-emission as possible. Yet, also other changes are necessary. Emissions from construction have to be controlled by renovating the existing building stock instead of demolition and by accelerating the adoption of a tool for assessing the carbon footprint of construction. Emissions from construction must also be reduced through the recycling of materials.
Investments must be made in the energy efficiency of all buildings, and energy renovations need to be subsidised more. Energy renovations must be subsidised so that the cost/benefit ratio is positive, even for the individual resident. This way, the conditions of those with low incomes for housing are not threatened. The energy consumption of properties with direct electric heating can be cut with ground and air source heat pumps, for example. Oil heating should be abandoned in the 2030s and oil-fired boilers replaced with heat pumps or sustainably produced district heat. In old blocks of flats, it is possible to invest in heat recovery from exhaust air and energy-efficient windows and fit solar panels on the roof, for example.
Left Alliance’s goals:
- Develop energy taxation in an increasingly emissions-guiding direction to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Prepare a target schedule for phasing out fossil fuels.
- Arrange auctions for developing and supporting new forms of producing renewable energy. Allocate research and development funds to the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.
- Existing nuclear power plants and nuclear power plants under construction are part of the energy production portfolio, but no new major nuclear power projects are to be started. The development of small modular nuclear power plants is monitored and investigated. As a rule, new investments are made in renewable energy, and the ecological issues of the mining and final disposal of nuclear fuel must be acknowledged alongside the threats caused by climate change.
- Promote the production of solar energy and other forms of renewable energy in public service buildings and commercial properties.
- Enhance the investment support for renewable small-scale energy production and dismantle bureaucratic obstacles. Revise the legislation so that the batteries of electric vehicles can function as grid energy storage.
- Strengthen the power transmission connections between Finland and the other Nordic countries.
- Support low-income households in environmentally-friendly energy renovations, such as replacing oil-fired boilers with ground and air sourced heat pumps. Create a new household cost allowance supplementing the tax credit for household expenses, making work such as energy renovations subsidised with the tax credit also possible for those with low incomes.
- Improve the energy efficiency and climate smartness of housing companies, housing cooperatives and detached homes with an investment grant for energy renovations. Alternatively, expand the tax credit for household expenses to also cover projects to improve the energy efficiency or use of renewable energy in housing companies and cooperatives.
- Revise the taxation on real estate moderately to support sustainable construction and develop the legislation to take the life-cycle climate and environmental impacts of the building into account.
- Coordinate the planning of traffic and land use better. Land use, housing and traffic-related matters have to be combined into a ministry of the built-up environment.
- Develop the taxation on traffic based on emissions guidance, taking the needs of commercial transport and commuting into account. Strengthen the guiding effect of emissions taxation.
- Continue the biogas conversion support and biogas vehicle grant and increase the incentives for building biogas filling stations.
- Increase the public transport subsidy so that public transport will become a functional and attractive alternative to cars.
- Invest in rails and rail connections. Additional investments are required both in basic maintenance and development projects. The functioning of railway yards, twin tracks and fast connections require long-term planning.
- Tighten the emissions grading of taxation on cars.
- Fixed-term subsidies aiming to transform the car fleet, such as scrapping premium or conversion grant, must be determined based on income. This will become possible with the new Income Register. The change would allocate the grants fairly and effectively.
- Adopt an emissions-based flying tax on passenger and cargo transport, and promote an international aviation charge.
- Revise the tax subsidies for traffic fuels gradually in a direction that supports sustainable transport.
- Adopt congestion charges in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Commercial transport with emissions lower than the emission limits, electric vehicles and carpooling should be exempted from road tolls. The revenue from congestion charges should be used for developing public transport.
- Support the building of gas and electric vehicle filling and charging network to cover the entire country.
- Revise commute-related benefits, such as parking benefit, tax deduction for commuting expenses, kilometre allowances and tax benefits on company cars. Commuting by foot, bicycle and public transport, emissions-free passenger cars and carpooling should be supported. Take the needs of commercial transport into account in the reform.
- Increase the share of pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the allocation of infrastructure investments.
- Enact an emissions-based flying tax.
- Support initiatives aiming to reduce emissions from international shipping.
5.3 Achieve growth in carbon sinks
In addition to reducing emissions, we must increase carbon sequestration and protect Earth’s carbon pools. Land use plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Clearing nature for people accelerates climate change, and careless land use is a factor causing climate change. We must pay particular attention to forests, farmland and wetlands.
Farmers and forest owners can be climate heroes. The development of farming methods can increase the carbon sequestration of farmland while improving crop certainty and profitability. Forest owners can increase carbon sequestration by growing forests to a higher age and adopting forest management methods that maximise the sequestration of carbon in trees and soil.
Finland is a forested and marshy land, so the use of forests and wetlands is a special issue for us. Forests also play a significant role in the economy and biodiversity, so we must align the economic and environmental needs for forest use.
The ways of using forests must be made carbon-smart and the volume of felling must be dimensioned so that carbon sinks and carbon pools increase both in the short and long term. It is essential to develop the added value of forest industry and ways of using wood so that our forests are made into products with the maximum added value in which carbon is secured for a long time and substitute fossil-based products with higher emissions. Forest growing methods must be researched more, in addition to which carbon forestry must be developed and the awareness of different climate impacts of forest use among forest owners must be increased.
Wetlands are enormous carbon pools. Clearing wetlands and burning peat destroy carbon pools and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Clearing wetlands for fields causes a lot of emissions, so it must be discontinued. The energy use of peat must be reduced and completely discontinued in the 2030s. Increasing filling of failed forest ditches and rewetting of wetlands can have a positive impact on climate emissions from soil. OK
The planning and regulation of cities’ and municipalities’ land use and construction must be based on minimising carbon emissions and securing carbon sinks with plentiful green areas, trees and timber construction, among other means.
Left Alliance’s goals:
- Increase the carbon pool in soil and forests by developing farming methods that increase the humus content of soil together with farmers and researchers.
- Prohibit the clearing of new peatland fields. Make it possible for farmers to use manure for biogas instead of manure application.
- Increase the budget reserved for rewetting wetlands and develop the Kemera subsidies to fill failed forest ditches.
- Reduce the use of peat for energy through tax guidance with the aim of completely discontinuing energy use in the 2030s.
- Create a peat industry transition programme to support regions affected by the discontinuation of peat use. The transition programme guarantees retraining, employment-promoting measures and energy supply of the areas.
- Make sure that wood-based biofuel is sustainable. Stumps and green parts of trees, for example, must be left in the forest.
- The volume of felling must be sustainable from the climate point of view both in the short and long term. The level of sustainable forest use must be determined based on the best available scientific expertise, because maintenance and thinning felling pursuant to the continuous cover forestry method increases the growth and carbon sinks of forests.
- Support the reforestation of farm areas taken out of production and thickets to increase the carbon sink.
- Create incentives for forest owners to grow forests to a higher age and increase carbon sequestration by creating a support model in which forest owners are annually compensated for sequestered carbon.
- Prevent deforestation and increase forestation with economic incentives and sanctions.
- Promote timber construction in public buildings.
- Promote the use of green factor in building regulation.
5.4 Sustainable food system
Food plays a major role in everyone’s life. Food production is also significant from the point of view of climate and the environment. The production of food causes a large share of emissions, and it is also linked to biodiversity loss. Building a sustainable food system is an essential part of mitigating climate change.
Growth in meat production and consumption is an environmental problem that affects the entire world. More and more land has to be cleared for pasture and fodder increasingly produced for cattle. Adopting a more plant-based diet is essential in reducing the climate and environmental impacts of the food system. Also, favouring climate-smart varieties is important to minimise the climate impacts of food. It is up to households to adopt a climate-smart diet, but public authorities should favour ecological diets with recommendations, subsidies, mass catering and taxation.
Fish is often a healthy and climate-smart food, but a large share of the world’s fish stocks are threatened due to overfishing and pollution. Sustainably farmed fish is part of an environmentally-friendly food system, but modern fish farming also causes seas to become eutrophic.
Food loss is a major problem – the emissions from food that is thrown away were caused in vain. Food loss must be reduced in all parts of the food system: farms, logistics and industry, but also in retail, restaurants and homes.
The methods of food production also have impacts on biodiversity. In particular, abundant use of pesticides causes problems for environment balance, and monoculture-based intensive farming and land clearing impoverish the soil and environment. Food production should aim to decrease the use of harmful pesticides and favour cultivation practices that take biodiversity into consideration. Agricultural subsidies have to be developed so that they favour cultivation methods that support biodiversity, in addition to climate-smart food production.
A sustainable food system also guarantees that the producer receives fair compensation. The share of the price of foodstuffs that goes to the primary producer is unsustainable and farmers’ incomes are low. Agricultural subsidies must be allocated to active farmers and the market has to be developed in the direction of fairness.
The food system is also important to animal welfare. Animal welfare is an end in itself and must be taken into account in legislation. The well-being of farmed animals must be improved by tightening the statutory requirements. Fur farming has to be run down in Finland in a controlled way, which requires developing a scheme for withdrawal for fur farmers.
The long, fast and refrigerated transports of many types of fruits and vegetables that are healthy as such and wintertime greenhouse production in Finland cause significant carbon emissions. Especially with regard to production in poorer countries, only a small fraction follows the principle of fair trade. Therefore, the recovery and use of Finnish roots, fruit and berries must be supported as part of building a sustainable food system.
Left Alliance’s goals:
- Take either innovation or environmental points of view into account in all agricultural subsidies. Adapt the criteria for environmental compensation to have more impact and be clearer than now.
- Amend the taxation on energy in agriculture to support the use of renewable energy, biogas in particular. Fix the energy tax rebate system that supports the use of fossil fuels.
- Create a new impetus subsidy for transition to organic production while increasing guidance and cooperation between farms.
- Base the taxation on foodstuffs on health and environmental impacts. For example, revising value added taxation makes it possible to encourage environmentally sustainable consumption and production.
- Support the local nutrient cycle to keep nitrogen and phosphorus in food production instead of ending up in water systems causing eutrophication. A more effective nutrient cycle would also improve Finland’s self-sufficiency and trade balance.
- Prepare a national food programme that is sustainable ecologically, ethically and in terms of public health. Favour plant-based local and organic food and fair trade products in public procurement and mass catering. Increase climate-smart diet counselling and increase the research, development and innovation funding for Finnish plant-based products.
- Allocate agricultural subsidies to active farmers, support the coping of farmers and promote fair market practices.
- Prevent overfishing in Finland and the EU by setting the fishing quotas to a sustainable level.
- Aim to increase the Baltic herring stock of Finland’s adjacent waters and the Baltic Sea on the whole by temporarily reducing the volume of fishing by decreasing the fishing of Baltic herring for fodder by way of restrictions or taxes.
- Obligate restaurants and shops to distribute their food waste to others.
- Revise the Animal Welfare Act so that movement-preventing structures, such as farrowing crates and stanchion-tied stables are prohibited following a transition period.
- Prepare a national plan and schedule for ending fur farming, including a withdrawal scheme for fur farmers.
- Reduce the use of pesticides that cause pollinator decline through guidance and obligations.
5.5 Diverse and clean nature
In addition to mitigating climate change, we must stop biodiversity loss. Species loss and destruction of wildlife habitats have accelerated to an unforeseen scale. This in spite of humans being fully dependent on nature and the ecosystem services it provides.
Biodiversity loss must also be stopped in Finland. Forestry and agriculture must be made sustainable in terms of biodiversity, and the number of conservation areas has to be increased. Hunting must be dimensioned so that it does not jeopardise the sustainability of populations. The number of conservation areas must be increased and increasing biodiversity also has to be taken into account in productive wooded areas, farmland and urban areas.
In addition to unsustainable land use and exploitation of stocks, also the pollution of wildlife habitats is a threat to biodiversity. Eutrophication of seas, dispersion of chemicals into the environment and the increase in plastic waste are global problems and the consequence of our unsustainable economic and consumption model. Pollution must be prevented more strictly with legislation.
Currently, the use of virgin raw materials is often more affordable than recycling and reusing old ones. An adequate price must be set for the use of virgin and finite raw materials, and the environmental regulation of mines has to be tightened. The Mining Act has to be revised so that the decision on establishing mines is included in the scope of local democratic decision-making, society receives fair compensation from the profits of the companies and environmental aspects are taken better into account.
Left Alliance’s goals:
- Improve the vitality of migratory fish stocks by enhancing the implementation of the fishway strategy and updating the fishery requirements for hydropower companies. Set fishing quotas at a level that is sustainable from the point of view of fish stocks.
- Support the local nutrient cycle to keep nitrogen and phosphorus in food production instead of ending up in water systems causing eutrophication.
- Promote fish stock growth and biodiversity in coastal waters.
- Increase the protection rate of forests in Southern Finland to 10 per cent and secure sufficient funding for protection efforts. Update and implement the wetlands protection programme.
- Keep forest felling stocks such that maintaining biodiversity and other forms of forest use are possible. Increase the use of continuous cover forestry in productive wooded areas. Reform forestry subsidies so that they encourage diverse forestry methods.
- Take the improvement of biodiversity into account in the reform of the Land Use and Building Act.
- Establish new national parks and support cities in increasing the biodiversity of green areas. Secure the operating prerequisites of environmental administration and sufficient resources with a separate authority tasked with supervising the public environmental interest.
- Prohibit unnecessary plastic products and enact an EU-wide plastic tax that is high enough to eliminate unnecessary use of single-use plastic.
- Tighten the recycling obligations of the Waste Act.
- Revise the Mining Act sustainably so that non-renewable underground natural resources belong to society as a rule going forward. Secure a fairer distribution of the economic benefits by way of a royalty tax, for example.
- When granting mining permits, conduct a comprehensive assessment that also considers the impacts of mining activity on local communities and environment. Municipalities must have the right to prevent mines from being established in their area, even if exploration permits had been granted. Prohibit exploration in nature conservation areas.
- Enhance the protection of endangered species, such as the Saimaa Ringed Seal.