This decade, Finland has for the first time a real chance to significantly reverse the decline in biodiversity. In the last 25 years, many new ways have been found to restore nature. Halting the deterioration of nature requires strong societal commitment and structural changes that cut across all sectors of society. Now is the time to act.
It has been difficult to halt the loss of biodiversity both in Finland and elsewhere in the world. According to an extensive study by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), economic growth has meant accelerating growth in the exploitation of natural resources, and attempts to break the link between increased well-being and decreased biodiversity have not succeeded. The study focused on assessing the success and impacts of Finland’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
Signs of change in the air
‘Climate change has reminded people that our economy and society are still built on nature. If we cannot maintain a relatively stable climate and functioning ecosystems, the well-being of Finland and the world is at stake. Disturbances to natural processes can manifest themselves, for example, through a deterioration in food self-sufficiency and the emergence of different kinds of health risks. Climate change has made Finns understand that reversing the trend requires action at all levels – from government to companies, organisations and individual citizens. The same realisation is now needed in terms of safeguarding natural biodiversity,’ says Biodiversity Centre Director Petri Ahlroth, who led the research.
In Finland, the safeguarding of biodiversity has moved forward through action taken in areas such as administrative sector responsibility, cooperation in communications and education, voluntary protection, and nature management in agriculture and forestry. Effective basic structures and networks have been created in Finland, and these will now serve well as the backbone for further measures. Citizens’ awareness of nature and its importance has also improved.
‘The measures implemented have taken us in the right direction, but have not been sufficient. Scaling things up is essential, and the new steps currently being taken are extremely necessary,’ Ahlroth explains.
Everyone playing their part
Over the past few years, companies’ interest in the protection of biodiversity has increased significantly. Now municipalities and parishes are also becoming increasingly involved in the work. Researchers propose increasing and developing regional biodiversity work and strengthening the role of companies, the financial sector, NGOs and foundations, with central government providing overall coordination.
In addition to effective legislation, reversing the decline in natural capital requires stronger economic steering. Subsidies detrimental to nature should be removed or changed into incentives that increase biodiversity. Through taxation, for example, the cost of biodiversity loss should be borne by the person causing the harm, and work that increases biodiversity should be rewarded. In the future, natural impacts should be one of the criteria for public procurements. At the level of the national economy as a whole, we need to include changes in natural capital in the calculation of our gross domestic product so that the often-unnoticed natural foundation of our economy – species, genetic resources and ecosystems – can be taken into account in decision-making.
While private citizens play a key role in safeguarding biodiversity, active efforts are still needed in particular to steer consumption in a more sustainable direction. Consumer labelling describing the climate and nature impacts of products should be created in Finland in order to enable the consumer to make choices that are positive for nature. Citizens’ knowledge and awareness of nature and its significance should be increased through communication and education. Researchers also point out that the responsibility of all Finns to take care of nature, which is enshrined in the Constitution of Finland, needs to be made more concrete.
Recent years have seen an increase in the importance of nature as the foundation for Finnish identity and the good life. Examples of this include Finnish Nature Day, which is held in August each year, and the strong reliance of people on spending time in nature during the difficult months of the coronavirus crisis.
Land use is crucial
Biodiversity depends on the extent and condition of natural habitats. From this perspective, land use plays a key role. Recent decades have seen a decrease in some measures that weaken natural habitats, such as drainage of mires and loading of water bodies, but at the same time we have also seen logging activities rise to new heights as a result of a strong increase in demand for wood.
‘From the perspective of biodiversity, it is essential that no human activities would be causing a decrease in biodiversity. We need to move from the current state of gradually and continuously gnawing away at natural environments towards a situation where the use of land and natural resources is at least neutral, meaning that it is not causing net losses to such environments. If this principle alone could be implemented, we would make a lot of progress,’ explains SYKE Researcher Ari-Pekka Auvinen.
An even better goal would be a net positive effect. In this case, land use solutions would increase biodiversity instead of reducing it. This can be achieved through ecological compensation and various nature-based solutions, such as wetlands used for water protection and flood prevention.
Biodiversity is part of sustainable development
Sustainable development cannot be achieved if its natural foundation is not in a good state. The preservation of natural biodiversity should be linked to other important societal goals and, at its broadest, to the overall goals of sustainable development. Our solutions and strategies for our biggest environmental problems – climate change, biodiversity loss and the accelerating use of natural resources – must support and complement each other.
‘It is evident that the need for products made from renewable raw materials will increase globally as we move from fossil-based economies to climate-wise economies. In this case, the demand for Finnish biomass will probably also increase. One of our greatest challenges is to ensure the preservation of biodiversity under these pressures and strains. It is worth remembering that diverse multi-species habitats are one of the best safeguards against natural threats that Finland faces such as insect damage in forests, says Senior Advisor Taneli Kolström from Luke.
According to the principles of sustainable development, biodiversity should be safeguarded using measures that are economical and socially fair. This may mean compensating businesses for income lost as a result of biodiversity protection measures. On the other hand, it also means that all Finnish people – including generations not yet born – have the opportunity to enjoy nature’s diversity.
From threats to opportunities
Based on previous assessments of endangered species and habitats, the research group listed the following as the largest pressures on nature: agriculture and forestry, construction and other land use, climate change, pollution and eutrophication. In addition to the heritage environments, which are the most endangered ones, there is also a need for measures to be taken particularly in mires and other wetlands, in the Baltic Sea and in coastal areas and inland waters. In terms of climate change impacts, fell habitats are those that have seen the most rapid changes.
‘In the last decade, the most successful measures were the PUTTE research programme for endangered forest species and the VELMU programme for the inventory of submarine biodiversity. Their implementation was supported financially, and project communications increased citizens’ interest in and understanding of biodiversity. In addition, the results of these projects have been widely utilised in practical planning work,’ says SYKE Biologist Eija Kemppainen.
However, most of the measures taken in the 2010s to protect biodiversity had a small impact on developments in nature as a whole. Progress has been made, but it has not been significant overall. Until now, the level of ambition has not been high enough. However, the good news is that the research also indicates that more than a quarter of the 105 measures of the current Biodiversity Action Plan have great potential to change the course of development for biodiversity in the coming years. A number of effective measures are therefore available.
The decline in natural biodiversity is a matter of global concern, just as climate change is. Through supranational supply chains, Finland and Finns are impacting nature in almost all parts of the globe. It was a surprise to the research group that the protection of biodiversity has been excluded from the Finnish development aid objectives mentioned in the Government Programme, and that the quantities of development aid allocated for such work have decreased in recent years.
‘This cannot be considered to be a sustainable solution. Finland must also carry its global responsibility for protecting nature. We would have a lot to offer, for example, in the export of nature-related solutions and know-how to the world. Our country has good experience in this area, as we have previously played an active role in safeguarding biodiversity also in developing countries, says SYKE Development Manager Jukka-Pekka Jäppinen.
Information box on the evaluation of the biodiversity programme
- The Government’s resolution on the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity in Finland is guided by the approved National Biodiversity Strategy and it accompanying Action Plan. The strategy for 2012–2020 and the Action Plan for 2013–2020 have aimed at halting biodiversity loss. The strategy has been based on the 20 international Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Efforts have been made to put these into practice through 105 national measures. However, the objective has not yet been achieved, as the numbers of endangered species and habitats have continued to increase.
- The implementation of Finland’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is monitored and promoted by the National Working Group on Biodiversity, which includes members from 12 different ministries and a wide range of stakeholders. Reports have been regularly submitted to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity regarding the implementation of the Action Plan and its measures. Finland’s Sixth Country Report was completed in spring 2019.
- The evaluation of the implementation and impacts of the Finnish Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2012–2020 (BD evaluation), funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, was launched at the beginning of 2019. The objective of the joint research project of SYKE and Luke has been to examine how well the programme measures have been implemented and to what extent the set objectives have been realised under the ministries’ sectoral responsibility. In addition to country reports and other recent biodiversity assessments, key research results were also used in the evaluation. One of the most important sources was the latest Red Lists for habitats and species.
- Negotiations are currently in progress regarding post-2020 biodiversity targets and measures at both the global and EU level. The most recent global-level negotiations took place in Rome on 24–29 February 2020, and the matter will next be discussed this autumn in Montreal in Canada. The objective is to approve the global biodiversity strategy in China in 2021. The preparation of Finland’s new Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan will also begin next year. The recommendations presented by the joint SYKE and Luke research group in this evaluation project are the starting point for the formulation of new nature-related measures for the decade ahead.
- The evaluation of the implementation and impacts of the Finnish Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2012–2020 (BD evaluation) is a project that was approved during the 2019 application round for Government analysis and research activities. Authors of final project report: Ari-Pekka Auvinen, Eija Kemppainen, Jukka-Pekka Jäppinen, Janne Heliölä, Katja Holmala, Jorma Jantunen, Marja-Liisa Koljonen, Taneli Kolström, Riku Lumiaro, Pekka Punttila, Riikka Venesjärvi, Raimo Virkkala and Petri Ahlroth.
Information provided by the Finnish Environment Institute and the Natural Resources Institute Finland