President Sauli Niinistö: We Are Not Grasping the Urgency to Combat Climate Change
According to President Sauli Niinistö in his opening remarks at The Finnish Climate Summit, “by now, most of us decision-makers have fully understood that combatting climate change is important. The problem is that we are still not sufficiently grasping the urgency of it.”
President Niinistö was speaking at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki to about 500 Finnish climate influences and international guests on Wednesday morning. The summit strives to accelerate climate action in Finland and Europe.
“There is no time to wait. Action is needed right now,” Niinistö continued.
Niinistö reminded the listeners that climate change is not only an environmental matter. It also has direct implications for questions of peace and security.
“I have sometimes spoken about three different kinds of peace that are fundamental to our wellbeing: peace as the absence of war, peace within our societies, and peace with the environment,” he said. “Climate change has an impact on all three. If we fail to make peace with the environment, domestic and international conflicts are likely to follow. If we allow global warming to proceed, it will quickly turn into a hard security issue as well. Rising sea levels and extreme weather events can lead to wars over territory and resources. Migration will grow dramatically, as some areas become uninhabitable.
“Sooner or later, climate change will require major changes to our entire lifestyle.”
According to Niinistö, “sooner or later, climate change will require major changes to our entire lifestyle. We will have to reconsider how we produce our energy, how we move from one place to another, and how we live, behave and consume. Such a transformation will never be easy or cost-free. But delaying the inevitable will only make it more difficult and more expensive.”
Niinistö continued: “Finding solutions is our common responsibility. Every single one of us is needed. As individuals, as companies, as cities, as states. But above all: as a community, whether local or national, regional or global.”
“Giving up is not an option”
Niinistö talked about some of the obstacles to tackling climate change. “The voluntary contributions from the state parties are nowhere near to keeping the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius. One of the largest emitters [the US (*Editor’s note)] has announced its intention to withdraw from the [Paris Climate] Agreement altogether. And beyond climate policies, the trust in the entire rules-based international order is sinking rapidly.”
Niinistö reminded that the obstacles are real, “but giving up is not an option.” The importance and the urgency of the climate challenge are not about to disappear. On top of fulfilling our existing commitments, all of us need to do even more. Every step in the right direction helps. And I believe that concrete steps, even small ones, are much more valuable than grand gestures.”
Niinistö continued: “As the current chair of the Arctic Council, Finland is pushing to reduce the emissions of black carbon in the Arctic area.
Black carbon is a global problem. Unlike the long-term impacts of CO2, black carbon has immediate effects. In the Arctic, it accelerates the melting of the sea ice. This creates a negative feedback loop, making climate change even faster. But the positive side to the story is that our action can also have an immediate impact.
If we are able to cut down black carbon emissions—for instance from maritime transport, from old-fashioned power plants and from flaring in oil and gas fields—we will make a significant contribution to combating climate change in the Arctic. And saving the Arctic is essential in saving the globe.”
Niinistö continued: “Focusing on this goal, Finland is advocating a first-ever Arctic Summit, bringing together the heads of state and government from the eight members of the Council: the United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic states.
A firm high-level commitment to reduce black carbon emissions in the Arctic would be welcome news for the environment. And it would also benefit the other key themes I have touched upon here: peace, a sense of community and trust. Success is not guaranteed, but the potential rewards are high. For the sake of our common future, we must not leave a single stone unturned.”