Thousands of people took to the streets of Helsinki this weekend, marching to raise awareness of the dangers that climate change poses to the planet.
The march began at Senate Square and continued up Aleksanterinkatu to Parliament, and was attended not just by environmental groups and supporters, but by politicians as well.
“We are borrowing this planet from our children and from future generations” said Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne in a video message.
“There is no planet B! We demand ambitious climate action from the government! Beautiful words are not enough, but we need action. Emissions down, carbon sinks up! wrote Green MP Ozan Yanar on Facebook.
“What you do now, cannot be undone by children” wrote Sini Harka, Greenpeace project manager in Finland, on Twitter.
Swedish activist teenager featured
One of the featured speakers at the event was 15-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg from Sweden.
She has organised school strikes on Fridays, and urged Swedish pupils to sit outside parliament until Sweden fully aligns itself with the Paris Agreements on global warming targets.
“We use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules, so the rules have to change” she told the crowd at Senate Square.
“A lot of people say Sweden or Finland are just small countries, and that it doesn’t matter what we do. Just think that if few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could do together if we wanted to” she said, as the audience cheered.
More controversy from Timo Soini
The climate change march was given a political twist from foreign minister Timo Soini who wrote in a newspaper column that the state shouldn’t interfere with the activities of individuals in the name of climate change or environmental protection.
Soini, who is currently on sick leave from his job, wrote that actions to curb climate change are causing “unnecessary hysteria” and “climate chaos”.
The comments once again forced government coalition partners to distance themselves from Soini’s views, categorising them as personal rather than an official government line.
The Finnish government, and the President, have put climate change high on their agendas, especially as Finland currently holds the rotating chair of the Arctic Council.
“I am sorry to read that Foreign Minister Soini does not believe in ‘government-controlled protection’ of nature and environment” writes René Soderman, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Senior Arctic Official, on Twitter.
“I disagree. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity is the most important job for any government” says Soderman in response to the comments from his boss Timo Soini.
Soini’s embattled months
Soini has been having a tough few months in politics and the climate change comments are just the latest hot water he’s got himself into.
First he was rebuked by the Chancellor of Justice over public comments he made about abortion while on an official visit to Canada.
Then he faced down a no-confidence vote in parliament over his anti-abortion comments.
There is ongoing uncertainty about Soini’s political future as well. The True Finns party he founded split acrimoniously in summer 2017, and Soini’s new party Blue Reform is polling around 2% in the latest opinion polls.