Impacts of climate change on industrial production


Climate change will have an impact on both industrial raw material supplies and processes. Although the greatest effect will most likely be via global market development, climate change can have notable impacts to those industrial sectors in Finland whose raw materials are heavily dependent on weather and other changes in the natural environment.

Industrial production in Finland

For quite some time already, industrial production has played a key role in the economic growth of Finland. From 1925 until 2000, industrial production grew nearly 6% on average annually. In the 21st century, the growth speed has slowed down and remained below three per cent. [1] Overall, the industrial sector employs approximately 400,000 people in Finland [2]. The share of industry from the Finnish gross national product is approximately a third with primary production corresponding to less than three per cent and services two thirds [3].

The focus of Finnish industrial production has moved from the wood and paper industry to the manufacture of machinery and equipment. Nowadays, if measured with value added, manufacture of electronic and electrical equipment is the most important industrial sector. [1] Thus, development has lead towards industries whose raw materials are less susceptible to the direct impacts of climate change.

Since most on Finland's industrial production is exported, development of the global economy has a strong impact on Finnish industrial production [1]. In turn, the global economy is tightly connected to climate change. However, climate change can have direct impacts on the still important forest industry and to the food industry that is significant for the country's food self-sufficiency.

Forest industry's domestic supply of raw materials increases

Since the natural resources – forests – used by the forest industry are dependent on favourable climate conditions, it is the one of the most sensitive industries to climate change in Finland. With a longer growing season, increased rain, vegetation zones and animal and plant species moving north, a warming climate affects the growth of the forests in many ways. Pine and fir are estimated to be taken over by birch. However, if allowed to take its natural course, this change in species cannot occur very fast: while the current climate zone is expected to move 150–550 kilometres north during the current century, the natural moving speed of tree zones is only 20–200 kilometres per century. In addition, longer summers and dry seasons may cause an increasing risk of wildfire. Also wind damage is expected to increase. Overall tree growth is projected to accelerate by approximately 10–15% in Southern Finland and by 25–35% in Northern Finland in which case the availability of domestic raw material for the forest products industry will improve. Since already now forest in Finland grows faster than it is cut down, it is still unclear how the accelerated growth speed affects the profitability of forest products industry. [4]

Climate change may also have impacts on industrial processes. When the ground frost is reduced, it impedes logging during the winter, exposes the trees left in the forest during intermediate cutting to damage and impedes the condition of the forest roads. On the other hand, a thinner cover of snow might ease logging during the winter, whereas prolonged difficult road conditions due to melting snow and simultaneous ground frost increase the need for storing machinery and timber. Damage due to storms may cause sudden peaks in supply. The Finnish forest industry may be subject to increased attention, since in an international comparison Finnish forests are less vulnerable than forests in other areas. [4]

In addition, wood's working characteristics may be influenced by the prolonged growing period and increased carbon dioxide in the air. For example, usability of pine logs in sawing and as material for carpenters may be reduced if the radial growth of pine is increased, whereas deciduous trees have been reported to have smaller concentrations of lignin and cellulose when the carbon dioxide concentration in the air rises. In the future, further studies are required on the impacts of climate change on the handling characteristics of wood. [4]

New raw materials for the food industry

After the metal, forest and chemical industry, food industry is the fourth largest industry sector in Finland. [5] Approximately 85% of the raw materials in Finnish food industry is of Finnish origin. Through the changes taking place in agriculture, climate change will have an impact on what kind of domestic raw materials are available for the food industry. As the growing season becomes longer and cultivation zones move further north, cultivation of new species, such as corn, may become possible in Finland. Over the long term, these changes may have an impact on the location of food industry facilities. [4]

International development also influences the food industry. Demand for Finnish food may grow due to farming becoming more difficult in areas suffering from drought and the increased wealth of the developing countries. [4]

Changing weather conditions will influence the construction industry

Climate change can produce new challenges to the construction industry when changing weather conditions demand the implementation of new type of construction materials and plans. For example, the changing damp conditions, frequency of storms and thawing of ground frost require attention. Basic work during the winter may become easier due to warmer weather, although rainy weather increases the risk of damage to the structures and increases drying costs. [6] In addition, construction work can be strenuous to the health during extreme hot weather in the summer. If the current legislation remains in force, the rising temperatures will most likely also mean an increase in the time used for mandatory breaks during work.

Figure. Hot weather can impede work at building sites.

© Riku Lumiaro

Climate change has an impact on energy supply and safety of facilities

On a general level, the industry is partially affected by the same factors as residential areas. Although air-conditioning will consume more and more energy, the heating need in facilities will be reduced. [7] In addition, changes in availability and national emergency supply influence the industry. Problems may also be caused by bodies of water becoming warmer, which may impede the use of water for cooling industrial processes. [8] Moreover, industrial plants handling flammable substances, in the chemical industry for example, can be faced with a higher risk of fire as the climate becomes warmer. On the other hand, as rainy weather increases, industrial plants may also be impeded by floods and accelerated corrosion of metal structures [9]. Weather disruptions can also harm industrial logistics [4].

More research is required

In the light of the current knowledge, climate change does not seem to have notable direct impacts on other industrial sectors. However, many assessments still find it difficult to cater for the occurrence of phenomena caused by major changes in the climate conditions. [4] In the future, to prepare for possible disadvantages in time, more research data is required regarding the impacts of climate change on the Finnish chemical, mining, metal and electronics industry raw materials or processes.