To date, there is no case of climate litigation brought by Finnish citizen(s) against a specific public project that leads to increased emissions or ineffective adaptation.

In principle, citizens may challenge public bodies’ projects on climate grounds before administrative bodies and the administrative court of appeal, if they believe that mitigation or adaptation plans and measures are not appropriate. Some laws provide specific requirements, such as the Flood Risk Management Act that allows landowners and individuals who have an interest in the matter (“everyone”) to initiate a review of the authorities’ proposal regarding the designation of flood risk areas, flood risk management plans and all related documents.

Finnish law provides a rather weak basis for climate change arguments. Firstly, it poses limits to the requirements that can be imposed on public actors or companies. For example, environmental permits may not limit the choice of energy sources (Supreme Administrative Court 29.12.2017/6894). Secondly, even if Finland has several environmental laws, such as the Environmental Pollution Control Act (527/2014), which states that one of its objectives is to prevent climate change; in its current form it does not impose any climate targets nor enshrines the individual citizen’s right to bring legal action unless there is a risk of pollution. However, if improved, this instrument could form a potential ground for climate litigation.

Due to the fact that international climate law does not have a direct effect on national law, the only way for legal action against public authorities is in connection with administrative planning or permit cases. The Finnish Flood Risk Management Act (620/2010), for example, applies to water management activities and planning in significant flood risk areas. According to its norms, the competent authorities are required to draw up maps for the flood risk areas, both for the water basins and in the coastal area, which also show the potential damage that such floods could cause in these localities most at risk. Another instrument, the Water Act (579/2011), requires that the responsible authorities to take all temporary measures necessary to reduce or eliminate potential risks to public or private interests that could result from floods or other changes in the water conditions. However, climate change is not addressed directly.

Furthermore, even if there is no binding law to specifically address climate change adaptation, the National Adaptation Strategy 2022, based on the Finnish Climate Act (609/2015), may become relevant to litigation as it needs to be taken into account by public bodies when they plan their specific adaptation strategies.

Citizens may request the administrative courts to ascertain that the authorities are bound to act in accordance with their obligations to provide solutions anticipating the damage, such as the construction of restrictions or servitudes for flood basins, and to ensure public participation in planning and permit activities. Moreover, remedies that may be sought in the mentioned cases include a request to the Government to adopt a precautionary approach, both as regards mitigation and adaptation policies. Judges are able to review and decide environmental standards or level of technical measures in regard of public projects. In addition, citizens can take action to seek compensation for environmental pollution damages (Environmental Damages Act 737/1994). In these cases, the assessment of the damages could also cover future losses caused by climate change, if the project is of sufficient relevance to global warming, thus contributing to national environmental harm. Monetary liability is restricted to cases where an individual presents proof of the losses.

Cases mentioned

  • Supreme Administrative Court 29.12.2017/6894, KHO 2017:202, Finlex Data Bank

For more country specific context and relevant national climate change law see:

This country report has been produced by Marta Solari, Research Assistant, Catherine Hall, C2LI Senior Research Assistant and Lennart Wegener, C2LI Legal Analyst with the collaboration of Erkki J. Hollo, C2LI National Rapporteur for Finland. The summary is based on Erkki J. Hollo, “Climate Change and the Individual in the Finnish Legal System” in F. Sindico and M. Moise Mbengue, Comparative Climate Change Litigation: Beyond the Usual Suspects, Springer, 2021.