Green ideas: How to rebuild Finland after the pandemic, with a focus on the environment

Three members of Parliament's Environment Committee outline their vision of where Finland should be investing in environmentally-friendly projects after the coronavirus pandemic.

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File picture showing exterior of parliament with flowers, spring 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

As Finland looks ahead to a period of economic rebuilding and societal recovery after the worst months of the coronavirus crisis, ministers have repeatedly emphasised the importance of ‘green spending’ – making investments in the future that are economically sound.

The leader of the Greens’ Parliamentary Group Emma Kari argues that we have a choice about how to rebuild society after the pandemic. “Society can be build to withstand crises and be ecologically sustainable.”

Kari also advocates investments in zero-emissions mobility, clean energy and energy renovations – while at the same time encouraging businesses to invest in climate initiatives.

It’s a message that’s been echoed by other political parties as well, and we talked with three Members of Parliament on the Environment Committee to find out what their priorities are when it comes to shaping Finland’s post-virus green future.

File picture of Saara-Sofia Siren MP (NCP) / Credit: politician’s own picture

Saara-Sofia Sirén, National Coalition Party

The Southwest Finland MP says she wants to see climate issues considered as part of all decision making, in particular when it comes to spending our way out of the coronavirus economic crisis.

“Right now we need all major investments to overcome the difficult economic times ahead. These investments should be sustainable and support climate change objectives.”

The National Coalition Party is working on its own green recovery plan, which is being prepared under Sirén’s leadership, and it’s likely to emphasise sustainable development budgeting, a concept that was introduced in Finland when the NCP’s leader Petteri Orpo was finance minister during the previous government.

Saara-Sofia Sirén says that high-speed rail connections are a good example of the type of investment that Finland needs at the moment.

“The construction of a rail link between Helsinki and Turku could be started immediately. EU funding would also be available for this, which Finland should utilize. Faster train connections reduce emissions as well as increase employment and boost economic growth – all of which are much needed” she tells News Now Finland.

A fast train and clean train link says Sirén, a member of the Turku City Council, would benefit a larger economic area than just the capital and Turku – which has already attained international recognition for its carbon neutral targets.

In addition, she hopes to see investment in projects that benefit the Baltic Sea such as ways to reduce nutrient run-off into water sources that flow into the sea.

File picture of Mai Kivelä MP (Left) / Credit: Candidate’s own photo

Mai Kivelä, Left Alliance 

Helsinki Member of Parliament Mai Kivelä says that climate change objectives should be a “central building block” of the Covid-19 stimulus packages.

“The support schemed that are being planned should not lead us back to business-as-usual. On the contrary, they should accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon society.” she explains.

However, Kivelä says a first priority is to protect people’s health and make sure there’s direct financial support for people who have suffered economically in the current crisis.

The Helsinki City Councilor outlines three phases of economic help which need to be tackled, and not all of them can or should be tackled with the environment in mind.

First, Kivelä says there should be a focus on supporting the private sector and protecting jobs.

“Support schemes linked to climate change fit poorly in some sectors such as restaurants. State funding also needs to go into health and social care. However, we should not give unconditional bailouts to heavy polluting business sectors” she tells News Now Finland.

In the second phase when society starts opening up, the economy will need to be kick-started by investing in low-carbon transportation infrastructure such as railroads and cycle paths, as well as converting older homes to be more energy efficient.

“These are projects that are labour intensive, rely on local supply chains and bring long term economic and environmental benefits” she says.

And thirdly, Kivelä says the pandemic gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate our society more deeply than the stimulus packages – for example making sure tax payer money doesn’t go into environmentally-harmful subsidies, or giving tax exemptions to the rich. She would prefer to see resources directed at low-carbon investments, education and promoting equality.

“Green recovery should be directed towards project that are labour intensive, rely on local supply chains and bring long term economic and environmental benefits. The projects that fit these criteria are for example walking, bicycling and public transportation infrastructure, energy efficiency of the housing stock, replacing coal in energy production and oil in the heating sector” says Kivelä.

File picture of MP Petri Huru (Finns) / Credit: Perussuomalaiset

Petri Huru, Finns Party 

Member of Parliament Petri Huru says if there’s going to be a change of policy direction to emphasise climate issues then the government programme will have to be completely re-written “possibly even on a new government basis.”

“As a result, these overly tight and ambitious climate policy reduction targets will only weaken the competitiveness of our country’s companies (including industry and agriculture) compared to other countries” says Huru.

The Pori politician would like to see more investment in waterways and private roads as well, and continue the emissions trading compensation subsidy which he says expires at the end of this year.

“In addition, investment is needed in transport routes ‘on land, at sea and in the air’ as well as in energy efficiency” Huru tells News Now Finland.

“In the future, I would like to pay special attention to increasing wood construction in both  private and public construction. Finland could even be a leader in wood construction throughout Europe. Achieving this goal certainly requires better and more proactive decision-making” Petri Huru explains.

“The sector is quite a significant factor, it employs a large number of people either directly or indirectly. In addition, wood products are sustainable and renewable, thus having a positive effect on the carbon balance. Thus, the effort to increase timber construction also supports well the goal of greater predictability of climate policy” he adds.