Finland country profile - SDGs and the environment

Briefing Published 02 Dec 2020 Last modified 02 Dec 2020
Photo: © Photo by Antoine Petitteville on Unsplash
According to the updated national sustainable development strategy The Finland We Want by 2050 – Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development (2016), Finland’s environmental sustainability challenges include high carbon dioxide emissions relative to the population (SDG 13), the protection of biodiversity (SDG 15), and the sustainable, fair and efficient use of natural resources (SDG 15).

In general, Finland sees the need to transform today’s linear economies into circular economies, where virgin materials are used sparingly, and recycling and reuse are the norm (SDG 12). A circular economy is viewed as a solution to job creation and environmental protection. Therefore, the country aims to transform its energy systems and develop ways to account for the environmental costs of economic activities (SDG 7) (Pokka, 2017). Finland held the chairmanship of the Arctic Council during 2017-2019. As the Arctic is warming twice as rapidly as the globe, it has called for urgent measures to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and SDG 13 (Pokka, 2017).

Finland’s actions towards SDGs with an environmental dimension focus on SDGs 2, 7, 12, 13, 14 and 15.  

According to the SDSN SDG Index and Dashboard 2019 and the analysis conducted in the context of Finland’s sustainable development policy evaluation (PATH2030), the greatest long-term challenges in Finland arise from high levels of consumption of materials (SDG 12) and energy (SDG 7). Key themes that should be addressed by sustainability-oriented policies include the energy system (SDG 7), forest use (SDG 15), aquatic ecosystems (SDG 14) and food systems (SDG 2) (Berg et al., 2019; Finnish Environment Institute, 2020). Thus, the Finnish government has focused on two themes for SDG action; a ‘carbon-neutral and resource-wise Finland’ and a ‘non-discriminating, equal and competent Finland’, which cover all SDGs in an integrated manner (Prime Minister`s Office, 2020).

The Finnish parliament first discussed the 2030 Agenda and the parliament’s role in December 2016 and since then has received the government’s yearly progress reports and has made recommendations to the government. The Committee for the Future is responsible for the 2030 Agenda in the Finnish parliament. (Prime Minister’s Office Finland, 2016).

Finland submitted two VNRs to the UN in 2016 and 2020.

The latest strategy for sustainable development ‘Finland We Want, 2050’ was adopted in December 2013 and updated in April 2016 in line with the 2030 Agenda. It has eight aspirational objectives. In addition to the strategy, in February 2017, the government adopted its Implementation Plan for the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable development has also been integrated into the state budget since 2018. Special focus has been on budgetary allocations to measures supporting carbon neutrality and resource wisdom (Prime Minister`s Office Finland, 2020).

The Finnish national network for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda was launched in October 2016. The network is composed of members from various ministries, research institutions and other stakeholder organisations. It has defined a national follow-up and review mechanisms for Finland, including around 50 national sustainable development indicators. An interactive and participatory online follow-up mechanism enables multi-stakeholder discussions on the progress made, and on gaps and prospects for future development. This mechanism is an opportunity to bring sustainable-development-related data, trends and challenges into wider public debate and knowledge (Prime Minister`s Office Finland, 2016).

Finland has a long tradition of engaging the civil society and other stakeholders in its sustainable development work. The key mechanism on SDG action has been the multi-stakeholder National Commission for Sustainable Development. A multidisciplinary Expert Panel for Sustainable Development, comprising 10 eminent scientists and professors, and the Agenda 2030 Youth Group of 20 young sustainable development ambassadors have challenged and supported the work of the government and the National Commission. The national Citizens’ Panel for Sustainable Development, composed of 500 ordinary citizens from all walks of life, was first established in 2018 and renewed in 2019 through a public call. Each panellist was tasked with assessing the current state and recent development of sustainable development in Finland by using an online assessment tool. The assessment was made individually for each of Finland’s 50 national sustainable development indicators, based on indicator data, specific expert analyses, and citizens’ comments on indicators and analysis (Prime Minister`s Office Finland, 2020). — an online tool — is one of the most important instruments in Finland for boosting participation in and concrete action on sustainable development. There are currently over 2 000 operational measurable commitments from all spheres of society. A sustainable lifestyle service for citizens enables Finns to pursue a more sustainable everyday life. With the renewed service, users can first calculate their personal carbon footprint and then draw up a personal plan to reduce it by choosing suitable actions from a selection of recommended smart choices. Every individual plan contributes to the national emissions reduction target (Prime Minister`s Office Finland, 2016).

Finland provides regular national reports on its progress towards achieving the SDGs. An external independent evaluation was published in March 2019 to assess the national implementation of the 2030 Agenda, both in domestic and international policies (Berg et al., 2019).

Finland recognises one of the top barriers to progress on SDGs with an environmental dimension as the gap between current action and the need for radical transformation. It acknowledges that although some measures have been taken, they have not been ambitious enough. For example, an analysis of the Finnish state budget has shown that those budgetary items which are counterproductive to carbon neutrality and resource wisdom still account for almost double the amount that is conducive to SDG action. The country acknowledges that the use of indicators to track progress is insufficient because many spillover effects are still unknown as they are difficult to measure based on indicators. Another barrier for the country has been the conflict of interest between different stakeholders, especially between economic and environmental objectives, and insufficiency in the systematic use of indicators and research data in decision-making and societal learning.

The enabling factors included long-term national work on environmental and nature protection through legislation, economic instruments, voluntary measures, and environmental institutions and governance. Sustainable development is a widely shared and mainstreamed aim in Finland and nature is a highly valued ecosystem service, including the public’s right of access to it. International environmental agreements and EU legislation also provide a solid and binding framework for national policies and measures.

For further progress, Finland aims to create more knowledge on the externalities of its consumption and production to better understand and measure the environmental impact (footprint and handprint) in other countries. It also recognises that the work towards environmental goals must be coupled with work to combat inequality to achieve a just transformation. To this end, the country acknowledges the need for integrated impact assessment tools for national legislation, strategies and action plans.


Berg, A., et al., 2019, PATH2030 – An Evaluation of Finland’s Sustainable Development Policy, Publications of the Government ́s analysis, assessment and research activities 23/2019, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, Finland ( accessed 15 May 2020.

NORDEN, 2017, Sustainable Development Action – the Nordic Way, TemaNord 2017:523, Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen, Denmark ( accessed 20 November 2017.

Ministry of the Environment, 2016, The Finland We Want by 2050 – Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development, Ministry of the Environment, Helsinki, Finland ( accessed 18 February 2018.

Pokka, H., 2017, 5th Plenary Meeting, address by Ms. Hannele Pokka, Republic of Finland, Helsinki, Finland ( accessed 23 September 2017.

Prime Minister's Office Finland, 2016, National report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. FINLAND, Prime Minister’s Office Publications 10/2016, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, Finland ( accessed 20 November 2017.

Prime Minister's Office Finland, 2016, National report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. FINLAND, Prime Minister’s Office Publications 10/2016, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, Finland ( accessed 13 June 2020.


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.


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