With a cup of a native Finnish drink made from the flower of the fir tree, I sat down at Finland’s booth at the World Water Forum’s Exhibition Hall to learn about how the country has solved issues relating to the sustainable use of their waters. Finland has a unique position at the Forum in that it is one of the few countries to have plentiful reserves of fresh water, and whose total water use is only 2% of the total reserve. The country has been successful in protecting and managing their waters, and now feels like they are in the position to help other countries by teaching about best practices, particularly their experience in integrated water resources management and water and wastewater treatment.
Finland is often at the top of the list for its environmental health, while the United States usually ranks around #50. This is due in large part to the country’s protection of land, how seriously it takes climate change, and how it responds to water pollution. As a student of public health and the environment, I was curious to learn more about Finland and their approach to such issues. I sat down with State Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Katariina Poskiparta to get a crash course in Finnish environmental considerations.
According to the Secretary, Finland hasn’t always been the top in environmental management. Prior to the early 1970s, Finland did not adequately treat and manage wastewater, which led to degraded water bodies. Today, however, policies and technology have reduced nitrogen by 60% and phosphorus and oxygen consuming substances by 95% in municipal loads.
When I asked about what it is that the Ministry is concerned about day-to-day, Secretary Poskiparta said the area of most concern is climate change. A research panel of independent scientists was put together to make recommendations to politicians about how to manage the effects of climate change in Finland. Another concern for the Ministry is that of transboundary management of the Baltic Sea, as politically it can be very challenging. Finland does so through a Baltic Sea corporation, working with countries such as Russia and Estonia to manage issues like agricultural run-off.
Secretary Poskiparta says that Finnish people respect the water in their country. That respect might also come from the fact that they are charged handsomely for it. While she was not able to supply exact numbers for comparison off the top of her head, the Secretary noted that drinking water and sewage fees are considered very expensive in Finland, which may help to discourage waste of water. She also mentioned that children are taught from an early age in school about the environment and Finnish lakes, instilling an early awareness of and value for their natural surroundings.
It was exciting to hear the Secretary say that the most important environmental issue today in Finland is climate change. I was not expecting this answer– even though climate change should be a top concern for many countries, such as the U.S., too often it gets trapped under political discussions. Perhaps Finland will soon be teaching other countries about climate change best practices in addition to water management ones.