Consumption and public procurements 2019
Climate emissions resulting from consumption have taken an upward turn

6.3.2020 15.23
Climate emissions resulting from consumption have taken an upward turn

Consumption in its present form will not produce well-being for people in a sustainable manner. Environmental damage caused by housing, transport and food must be significantly reduced from the current level in both private and public consumption. At the same time, the well-being of people must be ensured, and people must be given fair opportunities to satisfy their needs.

By consuming goods and services, people strive to meet their different needs and increase their well-being. There is no such thing as harmless consumption, as the production and use of products and services always requires energy and natural resources. Responsible consumption includes not only the consideration of environmental impacts but also social responsibility and economic sustainability.

Climate emissions resulting from consumption have taken an upward turn

By changing the amount and quality of consumption, we can decrease harmful impacts to the environment and society. The negative environmental impacts resulting from consumption are described with the development of the average carbon footprint of Finnish private consumption.

Finland’s current situation

Based on the most recent available data, the average carbon footprint resulting from consumption by Finns grew in 2016 to more than 11 tonnes. Since then, the carbon footprint has probably continued to increase, as the available income and consumption opportunities have increased. Three fourths of the carbon emissions caused by Finnish consumption are from housing, transport and nutrition. In 2015, the carbon footprint of public procurement was also calculated; it was around 1.5 tonnes per capita. Municipalities accounted for about 57% of the carbon footprint of public procurement. State procurements accounted for just over 20%, as did those of joint municipal authorities.

Comparison to target levels

Agenda 2030’s SDG 12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and SDG 13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The medium-term climate plan encourages citizens to reduce their carbon footprint by an average of 50% by 2030. According to climate research, carbon neutrality can be considered the long-term minimum target, which will mean that greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to such an extent that all remaining emissions are bound, for example, to vegetation growth. Due to greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere, this may not be sufficient to prevent dangerous changes in the global climate system, and carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere may also be needed.

Finland’s recent development

Between 2000 and 2016, the average consumption-based carbon footprint of Finns varied from approximately 10 tonnes to more than 12 tonnes. The carbon footprint of housing has decreased while the footprint of food products, other goods and services and transport have remained close to unchanged or have increased. The relative greenhouse gas intensity of household consumption, i.e. the emissions produced per euro consumed, has decreased considerably despite an increase in overall emissions. From 2000 to 2016, the increase in money used for consumption caused consumption and emissions to grow much more (16.4 million tonnes CO2eq) than changes to consumption structure (3.0 million tonnes CO2eq) and the development of technology (6.7 million tonnes CO2eq) reduced emissions. For this reason, overall emissions from consumption did not decrease. Greenhouse gas emissions that are the result of household consumption expenditure account for about 70% of all consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions in Finland, which also include emissions from investments and public consumption.

Other observations related to the indicator

The indicator is based on the results of the Envimat model. Emissions have been reported as commensurable carbon dioxide equivalents for different gases. The model takes into account the life cycle environmental impacts of used goods and services in Finland and investments made in Finland. Due to the different calculation method, consumption-based results differ from country-specific production-based emissions statistics. By international standards, Finland has an exceptionally large amount of information on consumption available to the public, but it is difficult to measure the impacts of consumption on well-being and sustainable development. An increasing share of up-to-date information on consumption, housing and mobility is held by commercial operators. It is difficult to obtain this information for non-commercial research and monitoring use. Annual data is not collected on the sustainability of public procurements.

Our diets do not yet comply with recommendations

A vegetable-based diet in accordance with the nutrition recommendations is better option for both the environment and human health than a meat-based diet. Avoiding food waste and favouring environmentally-friendly food production is important in homemade meals and when dining at restaurants, workplace canteens, schools and other institutions. The development of diet is described by changes in the consumption of different foodstuff.

Finland’s current situation

At the national level, the total consumption of food changes rather slowly, even though different nutrition trends vary rapidly. Differences between the eating habits and dietary choices of individuals are considerable. Income also affects food consumption. In 2018, an estimated 280,000 Finns had to resort to food aid distributed through EU assistance for the deprived at least once that year. For example, efforts have been made to reduce food waste in shops by directing food past its sell by date to assistance activities. In households, the generation of food waste can be reduced with good planning as well as by increasing consumer awareness on product labelling and the storing and preparation of food. In professional kitchens, food waste is reduced especially with good advance planning.

Comparison to target levels

In line with Agenda 2030’s SDG 2, hunger should be eliminated, food security achieved and nutrition improved by 2030. In Finland, the excessive consumption of food and high-energy beverages pose a much greater risk to public health and cause more environmental harm. More meat is consumed in Finland on average than is necessary for health. Our meat-based diet also causes loading to the environment. According to dietary recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Finnish experts, people should eat no more than half a kilo of red meat and meat preparations per week. People should eat at least half a kilo of vegetables and fruits each day. In addition to health, food choices made by consumers and public sector actors are important as they guide food production and its environmental impacts. In accordance with Agenda 2030’s target 12.3, food waste must be halved globally by 2030.

Finland’s recent development

Meat consumption decreased slightly during the recession in the early 1990s, but has increased again from the mid-1990s. In recent years, we have eaten more than 80 kilos of meat each year (the figure includes bones). The consumption of poultry meat has increased to 3.7 times that which it was in the early 1990s. In particular, women and young people prefer poultry to beef or pork. The overall consumption of red meat has remained fairly unchanged. Vegetable and fruit consumption is steadily growing although there is still some way to go if we are to reach the recommended half a kilogramme per day. Potato consumption has fallen from 60 kg in the early 1990s to about 46 kg a year, whereas rice consumption has increased from 4.6 kg to 6 kg. The consumption of fish has declined slightly. Increasing the consumption of responsibly fished domestic fish should be recommended with regard to both the environmental and health objectives, provided that the recommendations provided to special groups are followed. Food causes more than one fifth of the climate impacts of consumption i.e. its carbon footprint. Most of the climate impacts of food are caused by the manufacture and use of fertilisers or directly from animals. The negative environmental impacts of food production can be reduced, for example, with certain cultivation techniques or by producing energy from manure and waste through biogas plants.

Other observations related to the indicator

Meat consumption is reported in the indicator as bone in meat and fish fillet weight. In nutrition recommendations, meat is expressed as the weight of cooked meat, which is usually about half the weight of bone in meat. The environmental impacts of a meat based diet vary a great deal based on the type of meat that is in question and its production area and method. Some consumption data is not available for all years. In these cases, the amount has been assumed to be in line with that of the previous year. There is no sufficiently reliable and comprehensive data available on the amount and quality of food waste.

Plenty of potential for reducing transport emissions, but the car fleet is growing older

A reliable and efficient transport system is the basic precondition for a well-functioning society. Mobility also has harmful impacts, which can be minimised by reducing the need for mobility, for example by means of telework and community planning, by favouring muscular mobility and by developing the technology of transport vehicles. The possibilities for reducing the harmful impacts of transport are described by carbon dioxide emissions from newly registered cars.

Finland’s current situation

In 2018, the average calculated carbon dioxide emissions from newly registered passenger cars was 117 g/km and 158 g/km for all passenger cars used in transport. Emissions from new diesel cars increased and emissions from imported used cars were substantially higher those from new cars. On average, the emissions per kilometre of cars powered by other driving forces (chargeable hybrids, electricity, gas, flexible fuel) are much lower than those of conventional fuels. Emissions are particularly low when using waste-based ethanol or diesel, biogas or ecological electricity as a power source. For the time being, the number of cars travelling with alternative power sources is small, accounting for 0.9 per cent of registered vehicles.

Comparison to target levels

The EU's target for the average specific CO2 emissions from newly registered new passenger cars will be 95 g/km in 2020. The aim of the National Energy and Climate Strategy is to halve emissions from car traffic by 2030 compared to the situation in 2005. According to the medium-term climate strategy, traffic emissions will be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with renewable and low-emission alternatives as well as by improving the energy efficiency of vehicles and the transport system. A procurement subsidy is available for electric cars and the conversion of old cars to biofuel and flexible fuel powered cars will be promoted. An additional aim is to speed up the construction of electric charging points and biofuel stations and to increase the number of charging points for electric cars in housing companies. The objectives of the Society's Commitment to Sustainable Development emphasise the importance of communities that reduce transport needs. Overall, the need for transport must be reduced, while creating everyday environments that encourage healthy and sustainable mobility. The objectives of urban transport systems are defined in land use, housing and transport (MAL) agreements. Cycling and walking is promoted with a joint programme by municipalities and the state.

Finland’s recent development

The calculated specific emissions of new passenger cars have decreased over the past decade by 28 per cent. However, total emissions from road transport have not decreased notably, as there are many old cars in traffic and the total number of kilometres driven has also increased. The average age of passenger cars used in transport grew throughout the past decade. In 2008, Finns drove a car for an average of 9.9 years, whereas in 2018 the average age of a passenger car was 11.7 years. According to the LIPASTO model, carbon dioxide emissions from domestic transport amounted to 11.1 million tonnes in 2017, which was 4 per cent less than in 1990. Road transport accounts for 95% of domestic transport emissions, and these emissions have only decreased by 2 per cent since 1990. Rail transport emissions have decreased by 69% and water transport emissions by 24%.

Other observations related to the indicator

The interpretation and reliability of the emissions statistics for newly registered cars are hampered by the fact that several car manufacturers have deliberately used software the aim of which is to make emissions seem smaller in test conditions than the actual emissions of the cars are when they are in traffic conditions. We are transitioning from the old measurement method the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) to the new one, the WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure), which takes actual driving conditions into account better. Specific emissions do not reflect total absolute emissions. The indicator also ignores air traffic and shipping, which have increased considerably in recent decades.

Total amount of municipal waste growing

An economic system that saves raw materials, recycles materials effectively and prevents the creation of waste is a basic requirement for sustainable development. The majority of waste is created by construction, agriculture and production processes. In particular, the amount of waste from extractive industries has increased in Finland. Changes in the quantity and management methods of municipal waste illustrate how well society succeeds in exploiting the waste generated directly by our consumption and in controlling the damage caused by it.

Finland’s current situation

In 2017, the largest amount of waste in the 2000s accumulated in Finland: a total of more than 2.8 million tonnes. Calculated per person this is 510 kg of waste. Around two thirds of municipal waste is generated in households and the rest in administrative, service and business activities. Municipal waste only accounts for around three per cent of all waste produced in Finland.

Comparison to target levels

Target 12.5 of Agenda 2030 is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030. The prevention of waste generation is also one of the basic objectives of the circular economy. Waste generation can be prevented and recycling increased with measures such as promoting ecological product design, developing producer responsibility schemes and new business models as well as encouraging people to change their consumer habits. Municipal waste recycling targets have been tightened in recent years. In accordance with the EU Waste Directive, the aim is to recycle 50% of municipal waste in 2020, 55% in 2025, 60% in 2030 and 65% in 2035. The generation of biowaste can be reduced by preventing food waste. In construction, the use of material can be optimised at the planning stage, by increasing the life cycles of buildings and by using buildings for multiple purposes. According to the EU directive on waste, arrangements for the separate collection of textile waste must be made by 2025.

Finland’s recent development

The total amount of municipal waste has increased. Every Finn currently produces an average of over 80 kg more waste each year than twenty years ago. The dumping of municipal waste in landfills has ceased nearly completely and it has been replaced primarily with waste incineration i.e. energy recovery. As a result, the depositing and use of ash from waste incineration plants has posed additional challenges. The utilisation of municipal waste as material, i.e. recycling, has also increased over the past twenty years. The share of recycling has increased from about 30 per cent to over 40 per cent. Waste management has become more specific in general, and, in particular, the collection of hazardous waste and the recycling of glass, small metal, paper and cardboard have been managed well in Finland. There is much room for improvement in the recycling of plastic and electronic waste. Legislation and other societal steering play a fundamental role in ensuring that sustainable and recyclable products are available on the market, the production, use and disposal of which generate no unrecoverable waste.

Other observations related to the indicator

There are variations and differences in the definition of waste and in the compilation of waste sector statistics especially internationally. Finland uses the strictest possible method for calculating its recycling rate for EU reporting. The current recycling rate would rise to near 50% if Finland calculated the rate in the same manner as several other EU countries.

Changes implemented to indicators

  1. All the indicator’s data was updated with results based on the Envimat model published in spring 2019.
  2. The indicator has been updated with the most recent available data, as well as with earlier data that illustrate development in the 1990s. Milk products have been added to the curve that illustrates the consumption of cheese and eggs.
  3. The indicator has been supplemented with the most recent data and earlier data pertaining to new petrol and diesel cars from the beginning of the 2000s. The time series describing the average emissions of passenger cars registered for the first time has been removed and a time series describing new power sources has been added.
  4. In addition to the update of the most recent data, information on the waste management methods, earlier comparison data starting from the late 1990s and data on total amounts have been added to the indicator. Reference data on waste accumulation in EU Member States has been removed due to uncertainties in statistics.