To date, there are no climate litigation cases against private actors in Finland. Finnish law does not directly set climate change-related obligations on business entities or individuals. Furthermore, it stipulates limits to the requirements that can be imposed on them (e.g. environmental permits may not limit the choice of energy sources). However, there are grounds on which future legal disputes in this area could be based:

  • The National Adaptation Strategy 2022 – although a political text and not legally binding – establishes strategic goals not only for public bodies but also for individuals and businesses. It stipulates that “[w]hen preparing and enforcing laws for business sectors the changes of the climate and the climatic risks shall be taken into account”. Interim targets require actors to evaluate and control climate risks with appropriate tools. Furthermore, adaptation has to be part of planning and operations of private enterprises.
  • The national forest legislation is highly relevant to climate litigation as about 75% of the territory is covered by forest and most of it is owned by private actors. While these forests constitute a large part of the national market, they are also an effective carbon sink to mitigate global warming. The law provides for forest management plans that regulate harvesting and other measures, for which permits are not required. If the requirements set by the law are not met, concessions may be suspended. This means that the forest legislation can be a tool in the hands of citizens to act against private actors who carry out harmful activities for the forests and the environment.

Citizens may claim compensation for environmental pollution under civil law (Environmental Damages Act 737/1994). In this case, they have to prove that climate change would cause environmental pollution. Although environmental pollution is usually associated with short-term changes in the environment, future litigation may convince courts that climate damages or global warming as such represent such pollution.  

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.

To date, no climate litigation has been brought by citizen(s) in Finnish courts challenging the national climate policy. However, there are some grounds that a possible future case could be based on:  

  • The Finnish Climate Act (609/2015) aims to facilitate citizens participation in the national planning of climate change policies, limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and set new mitigation and adaptation targets. A participation of citizens when adopting “national actions” is not required. However, the Act contains specific duties to adopt medium and long-term policies that could provide a basis for future cases (Section 1.2 of the Act).
  • A constitutional right that requires the State to act on climate change is not formally recognized. Therefore, the Constitution (731/1999) does not provide legal grounds for obliging the State to reach specific environmental quality targets or to take determined mitigation or adaptation measures. However, a right to obtain environmental information and to participate in public procedures and appeals against administrative decisions is guaranteed (Section 20 Constitution). An individual may request that the State complies with the right to obtain information and to participate in decision-making processes, including where the individual has no legal standing in the matter. Moreover, citizens have the right to obtain environmental information, without proof of interest. Furthermore, the Finnish Constitution enshrines the principle that “[n]ature and its biodiversity, the environment and the national heritage are the responsibility of everyone” (Section 20 para 1). This imposes a duty on the legislator to enact necessary regulation for the enforcement of environmental liability of everyone.
  • Ultimately, Finland is party to the European Human Rights Convention, and Section 22 of the Constitution imposes an obligation to respect human rights in all decision-making.

Individuals and organisations are merely invested with the procedural right to participate and to appeal against administrative decisions. Thus, the citizens’ legal standing to act against the State, can be only upheld through the administrative courts. Class action is not permitted in environmental matters.