Press release archive: 2014

IPCC: Climate change heading towards irreversible consequences; action needed from all sectors of society

4.11.2014 9:35

According to Finnish experts, Finland meets lot of the requirements for adapting to and mitigating climate change in both cities and the countryside as well as in various sectors.

Photo: Antonin Halas

Photo: Antonin Halas

On the 2nd November, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, published a summary for policymakers of its fifth Assessment Report. The report summarises the messages contained in more focused reports published over the previous five years.

The report states that the human impact on climate change is clear. The level of greenhouse gases is now higher than it has ever been over the past 800,000 years. Unless we take action with regard to climate change, it will increase the probability of serious and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems. In order for climate warming to remain below the 2°C target, the report states that the use of fossil fuels must be abandoned by the end of the century.

"Climate change will accelerate for the next 50 years and by limiting emissions we can affect the climate of the 2060s. The change that is being unleashed will threaten human society for hundreds of years. It makes sense to prevent it and the costs of prevention now are estimated as being lower than previously thought", said Petteri Taalas, Director General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Chairman of the national committee to the IPCC.

According to the report, the effects of climate change can already be seen on all continents. "Climate change and the extreme phenomena it causes are a threat to health and human life, infrastructure and ecosystems.  Access to food and water will also become more difficult in some regions", summarises Tim Carter, Research Professor at the Finnish Environment Institute.

Adapting to climate change can reduce the risks it caused by its effects. In Finland, adaptation is concentrated on flood prevention, the design of the built environment and crop breeding. Finland's new adaptation plan will be approved within the next few weeks.

From among the mitigation measures, the summary report brings up new energy technologies such as renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage, (CCS). 

"If carbon capture and storage was in commercial use, emissions from electricity generation could be reduced to almost zero", says Laura Sokka, Senior Scientist at VTT
Technical Research Centre of Finland.

How is Finnish society responding to the challenge?

During a panel discussion organised by the Finnish Meteorological Institute on Monday 3rd November, the subjects covered included how the research findings produced by the IPCC have been received in different sectors of society and how they should be put into practice. At the event it was confirmed that the message of the climate report is serious and needs effective action from governments as well as from other bodies and organisations.

"The next few years will be critical – the international community could still keep warming to below two degrees if we act decisively. At Paris in December 2015, we must achieve a comprehensive and ambitious agreement on climate change which will result in the reduction of emissions around the world. The decisions taken at the climate change meeting in Lima in a month's time will be critical for the new agreement. The EU and Finland have an important role in the negotiations as trail blazers and bridge builders", observes Harri Laurikka, Finland's chief negotiator at the UN climate negotiations.

As well as international and national commitment, we need action at the local level too as well as pioneering companies. The municipalities continuously make decisions which concretely reduce or increase emissions, points out Irma Karjalainen, Director, Regional and Environmental Information at HSY Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority.

"Towns and cities will also have to face up to the effects of climate change: the damage to infrastructure caused by increased heavy rainfall and floods as well as the resulting loss of tax income if companies and inhabitants are subject to longer term effects from storms or floods for example", said Ms Karjalainen.

During the discussion it was emphasised that substantial emissions reduction targets will require major changes in the system of energy generation. Energy saving innovations will also be needed in order to reduce energy consumption.

"Unfortunately, as a country, we are not a showcase here. Finland is about 10–20 years behind of other Nordic countries in climate change mitigation and related businesses", said Pertti Korhonen, Chairman of the Climate Leadership Council and Managing Director of Outotec.

One of the main reasons is the old-fashioned approach to investment decisions: instead of investing responsibly for the future, investments have been too conservative.
"Why aren't buses in the Helsinki region run on one hundred per cent biodiesel when it is available now?" asked Mr Korhonen.

The panel members were unanimously of the view that it was fairly rare that environmental considerations were part of investment decisions. However, it had gradually been recognised that the properties of fossil fuels posed such a large risk that investments were moving away from the sector.

"The EU has decided to make changes in the Accounting Directive so that from 2017, large quoted companies would have to report on responsibility issues. In practice this will mean reporting on emissions among other things. At the same time, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is developing measures of intangible factors which would bring some precision into sustainability. This will increase investors' interest", said Susanna Miekk-oja, Wealth Management Director at Danske Bank.

Tuomas Mattila, who as well as being a farmer is also a Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), highlighted some very concrete ways in which agriculture could reduce carbon emissions.
"Agriculture should be considered as a solution for mitigating climate change and not just as a source of emissions. The carbon farming business, as it is known, is already underway around the world. In practice it means binding the maximum amount of carbon in plants through photosynthesis. Results-based environmental support would be a step in the right direction: the more carbon is bound into the earth, the more support is given", said Mr Mattila.

Further information:

Director General, Petteri Taalas, Finnish Meteorological Institute, +358 (0)29 539 2200
Research Professor, Tim Carter, Finnish Environment Institute (in English), +358 (0)295 251 094
Senior Scientist, Laura Sokka, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, +358 (0)20 722 6173

A recording of the event can be seen at: http://wms.magneetto.com/ym/2014_1103_webinar/view

Finnish language infographics on the findings of the report are freely available at:
www.ilmasto-opas.fi/ipcc