Latest news in climate law: Climate Act amended and Finland’s first climate litigation case filed

Two topics have recently been at the centre of discussion in the Finnish climate law sphere: the newly approved amendment to the Climate Act and the appeal on the Annual Climate Report.

On 9 December 2022 Parliament approved the government proposal HE 239/2022 to amend the Climate Act (423/2022) that entered into force in July 2022. The amended Climate Act enters into force on 1 January 2023 and will include new provisions on the climate plans of municipalities and on appeals concerning decisions made under the Climate Act.

As for the appeal, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and Greenpeace Norden filed it to the Supreme Administrative Court on 28 November 2022, requesting that the Finnish Government’s decision with respect to the Annual Climate Report 2022 be revoked and sent back to preparation.

Amended Climate Act obliges municipalities to plan climate actions

The Climate Act in force applies to the tasks of central government authorities (see our blog from spring 2022). The approved amendment to the Climate Act extends the scope to municipalities, obliging them to draw up climate plans going forward. The purpose of the amendment is to make the climate work of municipalities more efficient and systematic. Among other things, the climate plans must set out the municipality’s emission reduction targets and specify the measures by which the emissions will be reduced. Municipalities can draw up plans either alone or together with other municipalities in the region. The plans must be updated at least once during each council term, and their realisation must also be monitored.

Legal practice regarding climate actions to develop in the coming years

The current Climate Act does not regulate the appeals process. Instead, general legislation concerning appeals has applied to the decisions made under the Climate Act. The new Act, however, includes a specific provision on the appeals process with respect to government decisions concerning climate policy plans. The new section provides for in detail which parties have the right to appeal these decisions, for example.

Around the world, judicial proceedings related to climate actions have become increasingly common in recent years. The Urgenda case, for example, has been in the spotlight. However, the appeal by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and Greenpeace is the first time the sufficiency of the state’s climate actions is challenged in court in Finland.

According to the organisations, the Government has failed in its duty to take the necessary additional actions in terms of carbon sinks to ensure the realisation of the targets set out in the Finnish Climate Act. In their appeal, the organisations also refer to the obligations under the Paris Agreement. The next step is for the Supreme Administrative Court to assess the procedural requirements and decide whether it will consider the organisations’ appeal.

The Climate Act concerns the planning of climate policy and the monitoring of its implementation, i.e. the tasks of the authorities, and does not lay down any direct obligations for companies. The outcome of the appeal pending in the Supreme Administrative Court and the future interpretation practice of the provision concerning appeals will nevertheless indicate how the sufficiency of climate actions will be challenged in Finnish courts going forward.