Adapting to climate change in Finland

Finland was one of the first countries to publish a National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. This happened in 2005. The aim was to gain an overview of the impacts of climate change in Finland and on the global scale, and to assess the need for adaptation measures. The report provided a basis for handling the adaptation issue in various ministries' administrative sectors. Of these, the environmental administration, i.e. the Ministry of the Environment, was the first to publish an action plan in 2008. The national adaptation strategy is being updated.

Global impacts need to be taken into account in adaptation work

Even though Finland is relatively safe from the most negative impacts of climate change, the risks involved in changing climate conditions must be identified here, too. Projection of future climatic conditions is important particularly as regards the built environment. The lifecycle of built environment is typically decades, which means that the structures constructed now will have to endure the full force of climate change. Later structural adaptations to changing climate conditions and extreme weather phenomena may prove costly, or even impossible to implement.

Even the global impacts of climate change will inevitably be felt in Finland. In some respects, they may affect life more intensely than direct impacts. Climate change affects less developed nations in particular, as their possibilities to prepare for change are weaker and the impacts of climate change will be rapidly felt there [1].

In the White Paper 'Adapting to climate change', [2] the European Union has acknowledged the need for supranational carrying of responsibility as less developed nations battle with the adverse impacts of climate change. The Finnish Government includes the costs of adaptation as part of industrialised nations' 'ecological debt' to less developed nations. Support to developing countries' capacities to operate in preparing for climate change is key even in Finland's development co-operation [1].

Climate is changing - how about our life style?

In addition to the direct impacts of climate change, the issue of adaptation can be expanded to apply to the transfer to a low-carbon society [3]. Finland's regional structure is challenging in terms of mitigating climate change, due, among others, to long distances and a fragmented urban structure. Adapting it to the objectives of a low-carbon society can be assumed to prove difficult. Generally, transferring to a low-carbon way of life may result in substantial changes in the emphases of municipal operations, and in the economic structure of municipalities [3]. This, however, has so far been studied very little.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has studied the transfer to a low-carbon society in terms of energy technology. Technological development is generally very slow, and the long service life of old energy facilities slows down the transition of technology. Introduction of new technology will inevitably incur costs. On the other hand, business prospects can be found at the same time in technology that will be in increasing demand in future. VTT presents three alternative future energy scenarios for Finland in its publication 'Energy Visions 2030 for Finland'' [4]. Of these the 'Technovision' that relies heavily on technological development, would reduce emissions most, more than for instance the scenario relying on energy savings.

Economic impacts of climate change hard to assess

The economic impacts of climate change are very hard to assess. The issue has been studied in Finland by the Government Institute for Economic Research (VATT) in the projects FINADAPT [5] and TOLERATE [6]. In its preliminary assessment, VATT predicts the impacts of change to be very slightly positive during this century. The change will mostly benefit agriculture and forestry, but the benefit in other sectors depends on the viewpoint taken. For instance, the tourism sector in Finland may benefit as holidaymakers travel more in the home country, and the Finnish climate becomes more attractive for travellers, but for consumers, correspondingly, travel may become more expensive. Impacts vary greatly between the summer and winter seasons, but also inside the country for instance changes in the amounts of snow vary drastically.

All sectors are required to take predictive measures in order to benefit from climate change. Investments in developing markets are required in order to benefit from the demand for new technology. In future, industry and production must be adapted to low-carbon values in other respects, too.

The 2005 National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change was a very broad-based overview of the Finnish society's ability to adapt to climate change, and to the potential adaptation challenges resulting from the change. The strategy covered all key sectors from primary production to energy, transport and land use issues and further on to industry, tourism and insurance activity. [7]

However, the strategy was a general overview, on the basis of which review has continued in various administrative sectors. In Finland, the environmental administration sector has progressed farthest in addressing the adaptation issue. In fact, this sector is most naturally involved with the key impacts of climate change, and sectors exposed to them.

In its report [8], the environmental administration stated that the preparedness for adaptation measures already exists through paying more attention to adaptation in planning and implementation of tasks already falling within the remit of the sector. However, specification of actual steering methods is still unfinished, even though the emphasised status of the adaptation issue is already evident at places. For instance, the impacts of climate change were more clearly taken into account when revising national land use guidelines [9].

In its long-term Climate and Energy Strategy 2008, the Government encouraged local authorities to prepare a separate climate strategy. However, the guidelines do not cover adaptation. Instead, assessment of the need to adapt was expected to be carried out ’as part of the ordinary planning, implementation and monitoring measures of municipalities’, and by investing in co-operation with experts [10]. Another key aspect was managing cross-sectoral entities.

The Government's Climate and Energy Policy Foresight Report mentions that the obligation to prepare a climate strategy will be gradually extended to apply to all municipalities. The foresight report also points out that the intent is to make Finland a forerunner in adaptation [3].[3]

Municipalities bear major responsibility for adaptation measures

Challenges in adapting to climate change have been studied quite extensively, for instance in the research programmes SILMU, FINADAPT [11] and ISTO [12]. Many key sectors, such as community planning, agriculture and forestry, water resource management and the transport sector, have prepared vulnerability reviews. The latest themes include effects of climate change on the insurance sector and the health effects of climate change.

Municipalities, having reduced vulnerability spontaneously in particular as regards flooding of water bodies, have been responsible for actual adaptation measures. Adaptation has found its way into many municipal, sub-regional or regional adaptation strategies. Adaptation work is often based on project funding. For instance, the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) is preparing a climate change adaptation strategy for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area within a project called Julia2030 [13]. The Government's foresight report promises future tools and support in adaptation efforts to municipalities [3].


  1. UM, kehitysviestintä 2010. Ilmastonmuutos ja kehitysmaat.
  2. Commission of the European Communities. 2009. White Paper - Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action. COM(2009) 147. 16 p.
  3. Prime Minister’s Office. 2009. Government Foresight Report on Long-term Climate and Energy Policy: Towards a Low-carbon Finland. Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki. Prime Minister’s Office Publications 30/2009. 188 p.
  4. Hirvonen, R (toim.). 2001. Suomen energiavisio 2030. Suomenkielinen tiivistelmä. Valtion teknillinen tutkimuskeskus, VTT, Espoo. 29 s.
  5. Perrels, A., Rajala, R. & Honkatukia, J. 2006. Appraising the socio-economic impacts of climate change for Finland. FINADAPT Working Paper 12. Finnish Environment Institute, Helsinki. Finnish Environment Institute Mimeographs 342. 30 p.
  6. VATT Insitute for Economic Research. Tolerate project (Towards Levels of Required Adaptation to cope with Extreme Weather Events)
  7. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2005. Finland’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Helsinki. Publications 1a/2005. 280 p.
  8. Ministry of the Environment. 2009. Adaptation to Climate Change in the Administrative Sector of the Ministry of the Environment. An Action Plan to Implement the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Chang. Ministry of the Environment, Department of the Built Environment, Helsinki. Reports of the Ministry of the Environment 20en/2008. 75 p.
  9. Ympäristöministeriö. Valtakunnalliset alueidenkäyttötavoitteet
  10. Ministry of Employment and the Economy. 2008. Long-term Climate and Energy Strategy. Government Report to Parliament 6 November 2008. Summary. Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Helsinki. 5 p.
  11. Finnish Environment Institute: Assessing the adaptive capacity of the Finnish environment and society under a changing climate (FINADAPT).
  12. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Climate Change Adaptation Research Programme (ISTO) [Page no found.]
  13. Helsingin seudun ympäristöpalvelu, HSY 2011. Julia 2030 -hanke (2009-2011).