Published October 15, 2018

Study: local authorities more ambitious than central government in their climate targets and measures

The most common target year for carbon neutrality set by municipal authorities is 2030, whereas Finland’s national target date has been set for 2045.
Writer

Many of Finland’s largest local authorities have more ambitious climate targets than that set by national government. More than a quarter of Finns currently live in municipalities that are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. In 2040, already half the Finnish population would live in carbon-neutral areas. The state’s target is to be carbon neutral in 2045. These findings have been published in a new study by Sitra, which examined climate targets, climate measures and emissions in Finland’s 50 largest local government areas.

Municipal authorities that drew up their climate strategies after the Paris climate agreement was concluded (in 2015) have on average set more ambitious targets than others. Only four municipalities out of 50 have not drawn up a climate strategy to guide them in their activities. The target for carbon neutrality is most often defined as an 80 per cent reduction in emissions with the remaining 20 per cent subject to compensation.

It is now necessary for many authorities to update their climate strategies, as many of the current strategies only cover until 2020. Thus, we can expect the share of ambitious municipalities to grow even larger.

Both smaller local authorities and larger cities have set strict targets, but the largest municipalities have drawn up more comprehensive measures for attaining their targets. Smaller municipalities include, on one hand, those on the outskirts of larger cities that have adopted demanding targets set regionally but which have no proper action plan in place, and, on the other hand, those that carry out very effective measures but have not committed to ambitious targets.

Emissions from Finland’s 50 largest municipalities account for approximately one third of Finland’s overall emissions. If municipalities were able to attain their targets for emissions cuts, this would reduce Finland’s emissions by almost one sixth from what they are at present by 2035. However, in order to attain their targets, municipalities will need an effective and far-reaching central government climate policy to support their efforts.

Support needed locally to assess the impact of measures

The most important tools used by local authorities to reduce emissions are land policy and planning, public procurements, financial steering methods, and ownership steering for municipal enterprises and group member companies. According to the interviews carried out for the study, these can be used far more effectively than at present.

Municipalities carry out work to tackle climate change quite independently, which means that the commitment of municipal leaders will determine the resources allocated to climate efforts and how well these have been integrated into a municipality’s daily activities. Although there are a multitude of funding and guidance options available, using these can be very challenging, especially for smaller authorities, as there is no clear service path. Local government also needs additional support to assess the costs, impacts and benefits of various measures used to tackle climate change.

“Municipalities play a key role in the successful realisation of climate targets,” says Specialist Mariko Landström from Sitra. “This is why central government and municipalities should engage in even closer co-operation. For example, the municipalities’ energy-efficiency agreement has been popular and similar support from the state administration could also be advantageous in other sectors.”

The study was carried out by Deloitte. Deloitte examined publicly available data on emissions, climate targets, climate strategies and action plans in Finland’s 50 largest municipalities and interviewed 13 climate action specialists and representatives from nine municipalities.

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