Comment 11.3.2024

Extreme weather phenomena and climate change require preparedness and risk management

There is a demand for Finnish research data and services, both in Finland and internationally.
Picture: wildarun -

The World Economic Forum, organised annually in Davos, assesses future risks to the global economy at its January meetings. This year, the greatest risks in the 2030s were estimated to be extreme weather phenomena and climate change, respectively.

Undesirable records were broken in 2023

The year 2023 will remain in history as the hottest year yet. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), we reached a temperature 1.45°C higher than that of the pre-industrial times. This was in particular due to the use of fossil fuels, which has increased exponentially since the Second World War and is a dominant factor in global warming. Two thirds of the climate problem is caused by the use of fossil fuels, about one tenth by the destruction of non-renewable tropical rainforests, and about one fifth by methane produced by mires, rice farming and cattle.

Another reason for the record breaking is the natural variation in surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. In the record years of 2023 and 2016, the so-called El Niño prevailed, which raised sea surface temperatures above normal. For the past three years, the region was dominated by La Niña, causing colder temperatures, which was also the reason why the global heat record of all time was not broken.

In 2023, new records were reached again in the concentrations of the three most important greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The most significant of these, by far, is carbon dioxide, which takes up to thousands of years to leave the atmosphere naturally, while the second most important methane has a lifetime of only 11 years.

Glaciers will continue to melt for up to thousands of years

The world's mountain glaciers are melting at an accelerating pace. It is estimated that, by the end of the century, a large proportion of glaciers will only produce a small amount of water to the world's rivers. For example, in 2022 and 2023, a record-breaking amount, over 10% of the mass of Swiss glaciers was lost. Last year also saw a new record in the melting of Greenland. The sea ice in the Arctic region continues to melt, but in recent years the previously stable ice cover on the Antarctica has also started to melt, and the new minimum was broken in 2023.

The melting of glaciers is expected to continue for up to thousands of years, due to the high level of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. This is estimated to lead to a rise in seawater levels from about half a metre to one metre per century.

Instead, the negative trend in weather phenomena, such as heat waves, floods, drought and tropical storms, can be turned around in the 2060s, if we succeed in reaching the 1.5-2.0 degrees global warming stated in the Paris Agreement. In any case, the harmful trend will continue until the 2060s, and there is no going back to the cooler climate of the 1900s.

Solutions for climate change from research and services

At the request of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the WMO launched the "Early Warning Services for All" project to improve weather services in around 100 countries with a budget of $3.1 billion by the end of 2027. Approximately half of the budget will be used to improve observation activities, as well as weather service infrastructure and competence.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute and Finnish companies have an excellent opportunity to participate in this project. Over the past few decades, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has carried out development and consultation projects in over 100 countries. Vaisala Oyj, then again, is the market leader in the weather equipment sector.

From an international perspective, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has high-quality expertise in science, as well as in weather and marine services. We produce services and scientific data for the needs of society on a broad scale. The need for services and research data has increased as climate change progresses, the security environment has become more volatile, and society's weather sensitivity has grown.

We also collaborate actively with companies in the weather, space and maritime sectors. There is growing demand for our expertise in the planning and operation of climate-friendly energy forms. Agricultural and forestry operators need high-quality information on the functions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions and sinks.

Colleagues from different countries have asked what the secret of our success is. My response has been the exceptionally challenging climate with snow and ice, and Nikolai I's decision to establish the institute in connection with the Alexander University in 1838. This science orientation has continued and strengthened to the present day. We have been extremely successful in the EU's research programmes, as well as in the Research Council of Finland’s applications together with the Universities of Helsinki, Eastern Finland, Oulu and Aalto University.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute will continue to actively develop its operations, to ensure that various actors in society receive high-quality information and services to support their operations, in the private and public sector, both in Finland and globally.

Petteri Taalas

The author is the Director General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Petteri Taalas worked as Secretary-General of the WMO between 2016 and 2023.

The picture shows the Director General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Petteri Taalas.
Petteri Taalas. Picture: Veikko Somerpuro

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