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Hanna Lempinen kasvojuttu.jpg
Hanna Lempinen works as a visiting researcher at the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland

Researcher understands the pain of letting go of peat energy

4.6.2021

According to researcher Hanna Lempinen, there is a lot of talk about peat, but it has been studied surprisingly little. That is why Lempinen seeks to understand the special nature of the relationship the Finns have with peat.

– From the very beginning, my motivation for becoming a researcher has been the fact that there are faults in the world that need to be corrected. Climate change must be taken seriously. You cannot just keep waiting for others to find the solutions, researcher Hanna Lempinen says.

Lempinen, 37, works as a visiting researcher at the Arctic Centre in Path to a peat-free energy system - international examples and producer perspectives, a project funded by the Nessling Foundation. She is also a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki in a project funded by the Finnish Climate Change Panel that studies the sustainable use of peatlands.

She has been a visiting researcher at the Arctic Centre and has also been teaching since 2012. Lempinen defended her doctoral dissertation on the societal dimensions of Arctic energy in 2017 at the University of Lapland.

According to the latest figures of Statistics Finland, peat accounts for less than three per cent of Finland's energy consumption. At the same time, the burning of peat accounts for about 12 % of Finland's greenhouse gas emissions.

In the climate change debate, peat has become increasingly important in recent years.

Lempinen says that Finns have a peculiar relationship with peat. Peat production makes up only 2,500 person-years of employment directly or indirectly. Peat accounts for a small share of total energy consumption, but as a topic of social discussion, peat is much larger than its size.

– Peat has been studied very little, although it has been a politically hot potato for ten years. 

According to Lempinen, peat is just one example of the complexity of energy policy issues.

– As a researcher, I believe that decision-making is never based on science, but science becomes part of the arguments put forward according to the values of the speakers.

There are many values related to peat: self-sufficiency, national economy, regional policy, and identity.

– Peat is not just a livelihood and a source of income for people and regions. It also includes socio-cultural dimensions, such as the history of the region, families, and relatives.

Questions related to energy production and consumption are often seen as high-level political decisions made by states and companies.

Lempinen's peat research has focused on social aspects, particularly the just transition in the peat sector.

Things that successful just transitions have in common include clearly defined policies, a sufficiently long time span, the identification and compensation of disadvantages, and the involvement of the parties, lists Lempinen.

– In the Finnish peat policy, none of these criteria have been met. The transition of the peat sector has been handled disastrously. It is a textbook example of how not to do things.

According to Lempinen, the transition in the peat sector should have started 15 –20 years ago for it to take place in a just manner now.

– In that time, the world has moved faster than our transition. The price of EU emission allowances rose so high that the energy use of peat became unprofitable surprisingly soon.

In Europe, Ireland is in a similar situation. It is phasing out the energy use of peat by 2024 at the latest.

Lempinen says that Arctic research networks are global, and researchers go where funding and opportunities are available.

That is what Lempinen also intends to do. 

– I perceive my future in the Bermuda triangle of research, teaching and writing popular texts.  

 

Text & photos: Johannes Roviomaa