Regional climate work monitoring communication needs improvement

2023-11-15 Santtu Karhinen

International climate change mitigation work aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global level. However, emissions always arise in some administrative area at a more local level, where the implementation of climate work is controlled by local-level measures. In addition to public entities that set targets and implement climate policy, companies and households also implement emissions reductions, and climate policy communications aimed at them should be sufficiently simplified.

Climate communications should aim for clarity and a certain softness, as confusion and generalisations only create additional resistance to the protection of our shared and one-of-a-kind wealth, the climate. In order to achieve climate objectives, communication about climate work should be consistent at both the national and regional level, regardless of the communicator.

However, experience has shown that experts engaged in climate work often fail to get their message across. At the regional level in particular, this is partly due to the fragmentation of calculations and a lack of coordination. For example, a number of public and private sector operators are currently engaged in climate work at the municipal level, and the survey and research results communicated may differ. These differences cause confusion among, for example, the regions' officials, who are not fully involved with climate issues. Confusion does not contribute to climate work.

Why is communicating regional emissions important, but also difficult?

The Finnish Environment Institute has been carrying out free and open calculations of regional greenhouse gas emissions for all municipalities since 2020. The results have been of great interest. One reason for this may be that regional emissions calculations are more directly connected to citizens than news about national emissions development. It is possible that the provision of regional emission data promotes a sense of ownership in climate change mitigation by making abstract global and national emission concepts a little more concrete. As a result, local newspapers, among others, are interested in the sector-specific distribution of emissions from the municipalities in their areas and in the development of emissions.

However, communication and interpretation of regions’ greenhouse gas emissions trends is challenging and prone to failure for a number of reasons. Firstly, emissions are often calculated in different ways, which in Finland are divided into calculation methods based on territory, usage and consumption. Secondly, as mentioned above, the calculations are carried out by several entities whose calculation principles differ in many ways. The exact differences are not known even among the calculators, as the calculation materials and methods may be partly trade secrets. Thirdly, the monitoring of emission data does not in itself provide the keys to implementing emissions reductions, and it may be difficult for households, for example, to understand how they can reduce the emissions shown in the municipality’s balance sheet.

Different parties have carried out regional greenhouse gas emissions calculations based on different starting points. From a public good perspective, calculations are carried out by the Finnish Environment Institute and Statistics Finland whereas, for several consultancy companies, calculation is a business. Despite the different starting points, it would be important for there to be an understanding of the differences in calculation principles between the operators producing the calculations. In addition, it would be good to internalise the calculation producers' division of roles as data producers, both for the data producers themselves and for the entities that use the results.

Monitoring of consumption-based emissions is becoming increasingly popular

The municipalities of Finland are active implementers of climate work, with almost one hundred municipalities being part of the network of climate change mitigation pioneers Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities (Hinku). As a result of regional climate work becoming mainstream and municipalities' climate plans, pioneering will likely be defined through new indicators and monitoring going forward.

For example, many “original” pioneer municipalities are increasingly interested in their region’s consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions. In 2022, Sitowise piloted the calculation of municipalities' consumption-based emissions, and is still continuing that work in 2023. In turn, the Finnish Environment Institute is, for its own part, developing the calculation of consumption-based emissions free of charge for all municipalities, and published the data for the first time in January 2023.

The trend towards monitoring consumption-based emissions is desirable, as it more directly integrates the global climate impact of operations at the local level into everyday life. Focusing solely on emissions based on production may yield excessively one-sided results regarding regional emissions, and mask the global emission impact of actions.

Due to territory-based calculation not accounting for all emissions related to trade outside the region, there is a danger that some of the emissions are allocated outside the municipality area domestically or abroad. In such a case, emission reductions in a certain area may lead to increased emissions elsewhere, despite steady or even increased rates of consumption in the area in question.

However, it should be noted that, even at the national level, the calculation of consumption-based emissions is comparatively complex and uncertain compared to a territory-based perspective, let alone territory-based calculations. There are considerable data challenges associated with the calculation, which cannot be solved with currently existing statistical structures. For example, the parties carrying out the calculations do not have access to comprehensive data on household consumption behaviour, precise product-specific emission estimates or detailed information on the regional consumption of imported commodities. Due to the limitations in material, it is easy to understand why territory-based calculation principles have gained a strong foothold in the calculation of both national and regional emission inventories.

Different calculation principles for greenhouse gas emissions

Typically, territory-based calculation methods are used in reporting, which are concerned with emissions directly created by fossil fuel consumption within the geographical borders of a region, for example. Statistics Finland calculates territory-based greenhouse gas emissions per municipality.

In consumption-based calculation, the focus is directed at domestic and public consumption behaviour, and regional emissions include all emissions created during the production chain of goods and services consumed in an area, both in Finland and abroad. Consumption-based emissions are calculated by the Finnish Environment Institute and the consultancy company Sitowise, among others.

The usage-based calculation methods used in the emission data service implemented by the Finnish Environment Institute for regions and municipalities fall between territory-based and consumption-based calculation.

Different parties are needed to carry out the calculations

Finland is in a very good position with regard to regional greenhouse gas emissions calculations, as there are several data producers whose services are suitable for different needs. The usage-based emission data produced free of charge by the Finnish Environment Institute for all municipalities is added to the data of the national greenhouse gas inventory and the calculation principles are completely congruent for all municipalities, but the data is produced at a slower rate than consultancy companies are capable of.

The situation will be similar with regard to consumption-based emission calculations. The Finnish Environment Institute produces emission data for all municipalities with a delay of several years, which is determined by the basic models, which are updated at the national level. The delay is offset by companies offering calculation services that are able to tailor and implement calculations for a smaller group of municipalities upon order, even on a quick schedule.

The purpose of communication is to ensure that the calculations' messages are understood in the the same way regardless of calculating party

The objective of climate policy should be to reduce emissions by managing actions so that they lead towards reduced emissions in one region and prevent emissions from increasing in another. Decisions made on the basis of territory-based calculations are not necessarily in service of this goal, which is why understanding is also needed regarding consumption-based emissions.

In order for climate work and communication about emissions development to be effective, the calculation results must address citizens, public entities and companies. Different calculation methods produce information about emissions with different classifications, some of which have a more direct impact on municipal residents and some on the parties managing regional climate work. For this reason, we need different approaches.

There is room in the emission calculation market for several operators who produce data at different rates in particular. However, those who carry out emission calculations must ensure that those who read the analysis of the emission results understand the main messages of the calculations in the same way, regardless of the calculating party.


Santtu Karhinen
Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)

  • Print page
No comments. Be first.