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Country profile (Finland)

What distinguishes the country?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011


General information

Finland is situated in the Fennoscandian region in northern Europe roughly between 60° and 70° N and 20° and 30° E. Finland comprises the northernmost point in EU and also the easternmost until Cyprus joined the EU. About a fourth of the area is to the north of the Arctic Circle.


Biogeographically, a vast majority of Finland belongs to the boreal region with the northernmost parts belonging to the Alpine region[1]. Sometimes the southernmost parts are seen as hemiboreal.


The location in the north affects the climate and the natural conditions in general. During the period 1971–2000, the coldest month in the south was February (-4.9 °C) and in the north January (-14.1 °C). In the south, the monthly mean temperature in January-March is above zero only occasionally. The highest monthly mean temperatures occur in July. During 1971–2009, it was 17.2 °C in the south and 14.3 °C in the north[2].


The south-north length of the country (1 157 km) also affects the conditions between the regions in Finland. The differences in temperature may be large between south and north, and onsets of the seasons[3], length of the growing season, and other climate related phenomena vary from south to north considerably.


The climate of Finland has maritime and continental features. The location of Finland allows for flow of air masses from the Atlantic Ocean, from the continental area in the east, and from the Arctic. An essential feature is the warming effect of the Gulf Stream extending over Norway and Sweden to Finland, making the climate exceptionally warm compared to other countries on the same latitude.


At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 days in the summer, which is compensated during winter when the sun does not rise for 51 days.


Finland is rich in surface waters, with a total of 187 888 lakes and ponds larger than 500 square metres, and rivers totalling 25 000 kilometres in length. Almost a tenth of the country‘s land area is covered by water. Finland’s lakes are shallow and thus contain only 235 cubic kilometres of water (Main characteristics of the surface waters in Finland). The shallowness makes the lakes apt to contamination by pollution.


Finland has plenty of aquifers – a bit over 6 000 – and they are not distributed evenly across the country. Particularly widespread aquifers are in areas with extensive deposits of permeable sands and gravels formed during the last ice age like the Salpausselkä deposits in Southern Finland. In general, the aquifers are rather small and depth of the water table varies but is typically about two to five metres below ground level.


Approximately 60 % of the total water supply distributed by Finland’s waterworks consists of groundwater including water from artificially maintained reservoirs of groundwater fed from lakes and rivers.


Forests cover a major part of Finland. Depending on the definition, forest land covers around 70 % and the total forestry area about 78 % of Finland's land area. Scots pine is the most common tree species, about 50 % of the volume, the share of Norway spruce is about 30 %, and the rest is mainly birch and other deciduous species.


The population is 5 351 427 (31 December 2009), and the land area is 303 907 km2, inland waters cover 34 534 km2, and the sea area is 52 479 km2 and thus the total area of Finland is 390 920 km2. The area of Finland increases by 7 km2 annually due to the post-glacial rebound since the last ice age.


Figure 1. The approximate location of the geographical centre[4] (blue) and population centre[5] (green) of Finland

DIVE Figure1

Population density in Finland is 17.4 persons/km2 (excluding the sea area). The density is the lowest in EU; Sweden is quite close (22.3), and the third country in this respect is Estonia (30.9). Norway has an even lower population density of 15.5 persons/km2. The population density is higher in the south (see Figure 1).


The share of built-up land is now roughly 4 % of the land area. Agricultural area comprises about 9 %, forests 77 %, and other land 10 %.



Finland is a democracy and has been independent since 1917. The President of Finland[7] is selected by direct vote for a term of six years; two consecutive terms are allowed. The unicameral Parliament[8] consists of 200 members with a term of four years.


In 1906, Finland's national assembly became the first parliament in the world to adopt full gender equality by granting equally to men and women the right not only to vote but also to run for public office.


The Ministry of the Environment was established in 1983. The Greens of Finland won its first parliament seats in 1983 and 1995 the Greens gained a minister seat, making it the first European green party to be part of a state-level Cabinet.


A reform of state regional administration took place on 1 January 2010. The provinces and state province offices were discarded and the other regional units, including the Regional Environmental Centres, reorganised and merged. In the new system, the 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment are responsible for

  • Economic development, labour force, competence and cultural activities
  • Transport and infrastructure
  • Environment and natural resources.

The six Regional State Administrative Agencies are responsible for

  • Basic public services, legal rights and permits
  • Occupational safety and health
  • Environmental permits
  • Fire and rescue services and preparedness
  • Police.


Finland’s municipalities are self-governing entities. Municipalities are responsible for providing their residents with statutory basic services. The most important of these are social welfare and health, education and culture, the environment, and technical infrastructure[9].


Age structure

The age structure of the population and the anticipated changes in the structure are also a specific feature of Finland[10]. The old-age dependency ratio (defined as the projected number of persons aged 65 and over expressed as a percentage of the projected number of persons aged between 15 and 64) is expected to be the highest in EU around 2020–2030. After that, the increase in the ratio will slow down considerably, and after around 2035 the dependency ratio will be below the EU average[11].


See also:, This is Finland

[1] Biogeographical regions of Europe (European Environment Agency)

[2] Finland's climate (Finnish Meteorological Institute)

[3] Thermal seasons (Finnish Meteorological Institute)

[4] midpoint of Finland without sea areas and islands

[5] the point where the combined distance between the point and the inhabitants is smallest

[6] Administration ( Public services)

What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


As a consequence of the Second World War, Finland lost nearly 10 % of its area, including the second largest city, and about 10 % of the production capacity. Basically all of the 430 000 inhabitants who had lived in the area which was lost were evacuated. A settlement plan was created aiming to help the evacuees to continue their occupation. They settled mainly in the rural areas.


Another consequence of the war was the huge war indemnities that were imposed on Finland. On the one hand, this was a vast burden to the Finnish industry but on the other hand, it helped to build production capacity.


After World War II, the industrialisation of Finland gained speed. Both GNP and industrial production had grown slowly and roughly doubled during the years 1925–1945. After that, the GNP grew five-fold until 1990, and the growth in industrial production was nearly three-fold.


This development is also reflected in the energy consumption that has grown steadily and is now five-fold compared to 1950. At the same time, the equity ratio of the energy consumption fell from about 60 % in 1960 to 20 % in 1976, and is now around 32 %.


The industrialisation process was one of the developments affecting agriculture and forestry. In 1950, about 800 000 persons were working in agriculture and the number of persons working in forestry was slightly higher. In 1990, the number for agriculture was about 200 000 and now it is below 150 000. The number of persons working in forestry declined even faster to 60 000 in 1980 and to 24 000 in 2007.


The growth in business activity based on the information and communication technology is one of the notable features in Finland. The Finland-based enterprise Nokia can be credited with much of this development.


The driving forces behind the rapid evolution of technology in Finland have been a rather high educational level and prompt reactions to the emerging educational needs, close cooperation between the actors in politics, science and private businesses as well as an up-to-date legislation.


The migration to cities and abroad of the rural population, often living in smallholdings, started to grow in the 1950s and peaked in the beginning of the 1970s. Many of the inhabitants who moved were young which affected the consequences of the depopulation of the rural areas. The migration to urban regions continues[1].


Sweden has been an important target of emigration from Finland. The emigration was at the highest in 1968-1986 and the total number since 1945 is 540 000 persons. However, at the same time around 300 000 persons have moved from Sweden to Finland thus diminishing considerably the net emigration[2].


Finland joined the EU in 1995 at the same time as Austria and Sweden, and has been participating in the work of the European Environment Agency since 1993.

What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


Amongst the main drivers are energy production and use. Practically all of the anthropogenic emissions to air are energy-related. The excess emissions of the greenhouse gases are commonly seen as the cause of climate change that is a major environmental challenge. The impacts of the climate change are numerous and overarching. The Finnish National Adaptation Strategy[1] describes the impacts of climate change in the following sectors: agriculture and food production, forestry, fisheries, reindeer husbandry, game management, water resources, biodiversity, industry, energy, traffic, land use and communities, building, health, tourism and recreation, and insurance. The strategy describes the present sensitivity to climate change, and outlines actions and measures to improve the capacity to adapt to future climate change. The strategy aims at reducing the negative consequences and taking advantage of the opportunities associated with climate change. On the global scale, some of the predicted impacts of climate change, especially if the global temperature rises more than two degrees, would be very dramatic.


Transport contributes to several environmental pressures. It causes greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions to air that deteriorate the local air quality. Excess noise caused by the traffic affects many people. The transport infrastructure results in fragmentation of natural areas and in soil sealing. The materials for production of cars, trains and other vehicles as well as the fuel used in the vehicles consume natural resources.


Energy use is also related to the industrial production. The energy intensity has been improving, especially in forest industry, but is still relatively high compared to other European countries. Other factors affecting the energy use are the long distances and urban sprawl, which increase the transport demand, and the need of heating during the wintertime.


The energy sector will be affected by the measures to mitigate climate change. The use of renewable energy will be increased. Often the renewable energy sources are domestic and this will probably induce a growth in the area used for biofuels and in the transport demand. Furthermore, an increased use of wind power demands careful land-use planning.


Agriculture and forests contribute to the climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases but soil and vegetation are also significant stocks of carbon. The number of farms has nearly halved since 1990 and was 66 938 in 2007[2]. At the same time, the average size of arable land of farms has increased. Combined with the intensification of agricultural practices, the changes in farm structure may compromise the biodiversity. The share of organic farming has recently slightly decreased and is now about 6 % of arable area. Agriculture is one of the sources of nutrients causing eutrophication of the waters.


Depending on the definition, forest land covers 66–73 % and the total forestry area about 78 % of Finland's land area. Forests provide a number of vital ecosystem services including their functioning as carbon sinks. According to the latest National Forest Inventory (NFI) the net sequestration capacity of Finnish forests has nearly doubled during the last 20 years and in 2008 it was 42 million tonnes CO2. According to a recent report[3] by FAO, in Finland the carbon stock in living forest biomass is 832 million tonnes in 2010, which is one of the highest carbon stocks amongst European countries.


Both agriculture and forestry play a role in the land use changes. According to the Corine Land Cover surveys, most of the changes in land use between 2000 and 2006 in Finland are due to forest management, i.e. forest cuttings and re-growth make 91 % of the area of all changes that in turn correspond to about 2.1 % of Finland's land area. Approximately 3 500 km2 of forest has changed into transitional woodland/shrubs and conversely nearly 3 000 km2 new forest has emerged.


Only 1 % of the detected changes are due to the increase in built-up land while establishment of new agricultural areas makes almost 7 % of the changes. The major part of the new agricultural areas is converted from old peat production areas.


Climate change and the measures and activities to adapt to and mitigate climate change will have significant environmental and societal effects (see section Foreseen main developments below)[4].


Consumer behaviour and consumption patterns affect environmental pressures in many ways. Some of the driving forces related to the consumption are the general economic situation and the economic circumstances of citizens, households, and enterprises. In 2008, the average disposable income of a household in Finland was EUR 37 657, about a third higher than in 1990[5]. In addition to economic factors, societal and cultural changes affect households. From 1966 to 2001 the number of households in Finland increased from 1 385 000 to 2 382 000, and this increase has continued steadily[6]. At the same time, the average number of persons per household has decreased from 3.34 to 2.15. The age structure of the population[7] affects the household structure and number as well as the services the households will use. The old-age dependency ratio is expected to be the highest in EU around 2020–2030 and after around 2035 it will be below the EU average[8].

[1] Finland's National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Publication 1a/2005

[2] Yearbook of Farm Statistics Ch. 2, Matilda Agricultural Statistics by the Information Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland

[4] See also Jonna Berghäll and Minna Pesu: Climate Change and the Cultural Environment Recognized Impacts and Challenges in Finland. The Finnish Environment 44en 2008

[5] Income distribution statistics, Statistics Finland.

[6] Number and size of households, Statistics Finland (31.12.2009) (in Finnish).

What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


The growth of energy and resource use is likely to continue which at least to some degree will be counterbalanced, for example, by the use of renewable energy and improvement in the energy and resource efficiency. In general, it is difficult to predict what will be the main developments affecting environmental pressures. Climate change will most likely have many types of social and environmental consequences. Likewise, it is difficult to estimate beforehand how they will affect the environmental pressures in the future. However, environmental policy and measures aim to mitigate, not to contribute to environmental pressures.


Climate change will be an essential factor influencing the environment. The anticipated changes affect the environment and the pressures on the environment[1]. In addition, the measures and activities to adapt to and mitigate climate change will have environmental and societal effects.


The pressures on biodiversity[2] will most likely increase due to the anticipated climate changes. A major shift in climatic and vegetation zones is expected, inducing a shift in the distribution of the characteristic species of those zones. This will be difficult for many of the species, and invasive species may gain more from climate change than the native species, making the adaptation to new conditions even more difficult. On average, the adaptation capabilities of the northern and arctic species habitats are more limited in comparison to the more southern ones.


In November 2008, the Finnish Government adopted a climate and energy strategy[3], with detailed insights into climate and energy policy measures up to 2020, and suggestions up to 2050. In October 2009, the Government adopted a more radical Foresight Report on Long-term Climate and Energy Policy which was published by the Prime Minister's Office in November 2009.


The strategy proposes substantial changes in the energy sector. The aim is to decrease the growth in the final energy consumption so that by 2020 it would be over 10 % less than in the baseline scenario. In 2050 the consumption is expected to be at least one third less than in 2020. The use of renewable energy will be increased so that its share will be at least 38 % by 2020. This accomplishment will require a substantial increase in the use of wood-based energy, waste fuels, heat pumps, biogas and wind energy.


The decrease in the energy consumption curbs also the emissions. The renewable energy will be mainly of domestic origin. That requires expanded and new processes for the collection, processing, storage and use of the fuels. The anticipated changes in the energy sector will affect and at least partially curb the pressures on the environment.


Transport continues to be a driving force behind the environmental pressures. The number of cars increased steadily in 1970–2009 from about 700 000 to 2 780 000 cars so that there was 519 cars per inhabitant. The increase is expected to slow considerably after 2010[4]. The growth of traffic performance has been slower than the increase in the number of cars. The average mileage of a passenger car is now approximately 17 000 km/year. The vehicle mileage is expected to grow in 2007–2040 by 34 % to about 46 000 million vehicle-kilometres. The increasing use of biofuels and electric vehicles will curb the greenhouse gas emissions.


Land use has also a great influence on the environment[5]. The land use planning is guided by The Revised National Land Use Guidelines of Finland, which should be taken into account on the regional and local level. The latest revision of National Guidelines focused on different ways to tackle the effects of the climate change and on the special features of the Helsinki region. Reducing the volume of traffic is one of the ways to mitigate climate change, and the means of transport has a significant role there. Thus the emphasis must be on public transport, walking and cycling. Energy savings, use of renewable energy sources and district heating, wind power plants, and waste combustion plants are now incorporated in the Guidelines in a more comprehensive way. Regarding the adaption to climate change, it is necessary to take into account areas prone to flooding and the increasing incidence of storms, heavy rainfall and flooding in built areas. The Helsinki region will be more able to cope with the population growth and it will be developed as a metropolis that relies on public transport, and rail in particular.


A recent study[6] examines different development alternatives of urban and regional form and their impact on greenhouse gas emissions until 2050. The possibilities to influence this development are evaluated as well. The way urban and regional communities are composed affects greenhouse gas emissions from construction, use of buildings and infrastructure, and transportation. The current amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by urban and regional communities is estimated to be approximately 34 million tons CO2 equivalent per annum.


The three possible future alternatives until 2050 in the study were "business as usual", "more dense and centralized" and "more sparse and decentralized" when compared to the "business as usual" scenario. The "business as usual" scenario includes the growth of population from 3.5 million to 4.2 million in the 34 biggest city regions by 2050. However, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions is expected to decrease due to the implementation of energy-efficiency improvements in construction and renovation of the building stock. The emissions are decreasing by 26 percent per inhabitant compared to the current level. The average amount of emissions in the ”dense and centralised” scenario is about 1.2 percent less and in the ”sparse and decentralised” scenario about 1.9 percent more than in the "business as usual" scenario.


The programme ‘ERA17 for an energy-smart built environment 2017’ (drawn up in 2010 by the Ministry of the Environment, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes) seeks to provide answers to the challenges posed to the built environment by climate change mitigation. When energy consumption and use required for construction amounts to over 40% of final energy consumption and nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, improving the built environment plays a key role in mitigating climate change and creating a competitive and sustainable society. If we include the impact of traffic, which is to a large extent defined by community structure, these figures are even higher. ERA17 provides a comprehensive action plan to improve the energy efficiency of the built environment, reduce emissions, and promote the use of renewable energy. There are now 31 proposals for actions and measures[7], and according to the first impact estimates they will reduce the energy consumption of the built environment by approximately 20–30 % and greenhouse gas emissions by 10–35 % in 2010–2050.

[1] Estimated changes in the climate in Finland, Finnish Meteorological Institute (in Finnish)

[2] Climate change and biodiversity, Finnish Environment Institute

[3] Pitkän aikavälin ilmasto- ja energiastrategia Ministry of Employment and the Economy 38/2008 (in Finnish) with an English summary Climate Change and Energy Strategy 2008 summary

[4] Finnish Road Statistics 2009, p 15–16, Finnish Transport Agency (until 1.1.2010 Finnish Road Administration)

[5] Perspectives for spatial structure and land use in Finland, Ministry of the Environment (Finnish Environment 31en/2006)

Land use planning, Ministry of the Environment

National land use guidelines, Ministry of the Environment

The Revised National Land Use Guidelines of Finland, Ministry of the Environment

[6] Pekka Lahti and Paavo Moilanen: Kaupunkiseutujen yhdyskuntarakenne ja kasvihuonekaasupäästöt [Urban land use patterns and greenhouse gas emission in Finland 2005–2050] Kehitysvertailuja 2005–2050. Suomen ympäristö 12/2010. Ympäristöministeriö. (In Finnish, abstract in English.)

[7] Kirsi Martinkauppi (ed.): ERA 17 Energiaviisaan rakennetun ympäristön aika 2017. Ministry of the Environment, Sitra and Tekes (in Finnish, Summary in English)


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