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Annual report

 

Exceptional 2020

For the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), 2020 was an exceptional year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. To control the pandemic, the Finnish Government recommended in March that government agencies work remotely, and travelling stopped. The pandemic illustrated many environmental impacts and effect chains, as well as the benefits of a clean environment.

Our research activities continued uninterrupted, but some international projects were delayed, and field trips had to be reduced or rescheduled. The laboratory operations continued on-site in accordance with the new policies on safe distances and hygiene. Almost all of our staff moving to remote work changed the virtual meeting policies rapidly. SYKE’s operations did not particularly suffer from the changes in procedures since attention was paid to managing the changes at all levels of the organisation. The events related to SYKE’s 25th anniversary were also held virtually.

SYKE’s analyses regarding mobility, multi-local residency, green structures and mass catering proved useful and gained visibility. To control the financial and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Finland and the EU started recovery measures that sought sustainable solutions in accordance with the policies on green and fair development.

From SYKE’s perspective, 2020 was also different because the long-time Director General Lea Kauppi retired in the beginning of October. She was the institute’s director general for 25 years, almost from its founding. The Finnish Government appointed Leif Schulman as her successor for the term starting on 1 January 2021.

Schulman_Leif_20210115_5158_Kai_Widell.jpg
Director General Leif Schulman. © Kai Widell

The operating environment turned towards sustainability

The urgency of the sustainability transformation was highlighted even further last year. The programme of PM Marin’s government focuses on measures that promote environmental, social and economic sustainability. In particular, measures that secure biodiversity have gained a lot of publicity. In its recovery measures related to the pandemic, the European Union aims to further accelerate the green transition.

The urgency of the sustainability transformation has been emphasised in international assessments of the environmental field completed in the last few years. The State of the Environment 2020 report published early last year shows the roles of energy, transport, housing and food as sources of environmental impact, and the report calls for a sustainability transformation required at multiple levels. In 2020, attention was given to sustainability challenges in systems that cause emissions, such as energy, transport and food systems, and the need for system-level transformation, in addition to just climate change mitigation. The sustainability transformation requires major changes in financing, management, industry, the market, and consumption. In this situation, environmental research and experts are expected to show initiative and the ability to support sectors’ transition to low-emission and sustainable operations.

SYKE is one of the pioneers in the sustainability transformation in Finland. SYKE’s strategy from 2018 emphasises solutions and identifies major changes required by sustainable development, such as the transition to circular economy. In addition to circular economy, SYKE has also carried out research and specialist work related to the energy transition, food transformation and mitigation of agriculture’s impact on waters for years. SYKE has left its mark on the strategic programme for circular economy, the Climate Change Act and the ongoing update processes regarding the Land Use and Building Act and the Nature Conservation Act, among other documents. The ecological transition was also the framework for the evaluation of the national biodiversity strategy led by SYKE in 2020. To continue the work started in the projects of the Strategic Research Council regarding the sustainability transformation, SYKE was assigned new projects of the Council focused on the prerequisites for the transformation in the fields of housing, transport and fair decision-making. Through these projects, system-level improvements for sustainability will also be promoted in the coming years.

The programme of SYKE’s 25th anniversary in 2020 was built around the sustainability transformation. SYKE hosts Finland’s Expert Panel for Sustainable Development together with the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), and it has also participated in several evaluations on sustainable development that steer the current national and international policies. In the future, SYKE will be more ambitious in connecting these sustainability evaluations to assessments on the impact on land use, natural resources, and nature and the economic system.

An operationally successful year

Despite its exceptional nature, 2020 was a success. The results of the international audit regarding SYKE’s operations were positive, the finances were in balance, and the personnel were very happy with their work and employer. The audit did raise some areas for development, the work on which has already started.

The performance agreement for the sector of the Ministry of the Environment, which steers SYKE’s operations, was renewed for 2020–2023. The strategic performance targets regarding the water resources management tasks under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry have been in effect since early 2017. SYKE has succeeded in achieving the targets set for it.

According to the international audit group that evaluated SYKE’s performance in 2020 by the assignment of the Ministry of the Environment, SYKE is a progressive research institution that is highly valued in society, produces high-quality research and expertise, and has a significant social impact. The auditors identified room for development in national and international influencing. According to the audit, SYKE has the ability to assume a position of stronger social leadership as an advocate of sustainable development. (Link to the press release about the international audit)

During the year, SYKE participated actively in topical discussion, particularly through its blog posts. Almost 100 posts were published about various topics. The total number of publications and the number of scientific publications increased from the previous year.

The amount of operational expenditure funding allocated directly to SYKE through the government’s budget has no longer decreased over the last few years, which has made it easier to plan the finances. The amount of external funding decreased significantly from 2019 due to the EU’s financial period changing. The high amount of external funding signals that we have been successful in applying for funding, particularly for R&D. Despite this, financial risks have increased at the same time. The products of the operations are mainly born out of projects. In 2020, SYKE had about 1,000 ongoing projects, which, together with their predecessors, form a remarkable project continuum.

SYKE’s operating financing
SYKE’s operating financing 1996–2020 © SYKE

Demand for reliable information is growing

SYKE has bright prospects for the future. The national and global implementation of the sustainable development goals requires knowledge, which is produced by SYKE and other research and expert institutions. The Institute’s extensive partner network allows for flexible sharing of expertise and resources in this work.

The amount and allocation of funding for research, development and innovation will change in the coming years, particularly at the EU level. The funding for recovery from the damage caused by the pandemic will be directed to supporting the green transition, particularly at the EU and national level. The funding application rounds for the multi-year Horizon Europe programme start in 2021. SYKE has actively followed the preparations of the programme and aims to increase its amount of EU funding in the next few years.

SYKE will continue to focus on delivering information and solutions effectively to be used by policymakers in the public and private sectors. Extensive and open cooperation with research institutions, universities, communities and companies on one side and the public administration on the other side supports the achievement of this goal. As recommended by the international audit, SYKE will aim to profile the development of research, expert services, information sharing and interaction so that SYKE’s leadership in networks will also be as content-related leadership. Our objective is to be able to bring justified views and suggestions based on the latest information into decision-making and social discussion even better than before.

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Published 2020-03-09 at 16:36, updated 2021-06-09 at 16:53