Skip to content

Finnish president at COP26: "Climate change is progressing and it cannot continue"

A United Nations report says that if no further action is taken, it's possible that global temperatures will rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, a scenario which would have devastating consequences.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (on right) at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow on Monday. Image: EPA-EFE/All Over Press

President Sauli Niinistö and the Finnish delegation arrived at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK on Monday, with the president scheduled to deliver the country's national statement on Tuesday.

Leaders and policymakers from around the world are at the conference which was arranged to accelerate reaching the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Late on Monday afternoon, after a day listening to leaders and experts about possible climate catastrophes on the horizon, Niinistö told Finnish reporters that the overall spirit of COP26 was much more serious than previous climate summits, saying that the reason for the change in attitude was clear to him.

"It's reality. We can see that climate change is progressing and we know that it cannot continue," he said.

The president noted that while the spirit of attendees is more ambitious, the effort to combat climate change is also faced with difficulties such as the 100 billion euros in financing for the effort remains up in the air.

Regarding Finland's perspective on the matter, Niinistö highlighted the Nordic country's forestry policy and expertise, saying that the country's expansion of forest areas and resulting economic benefit was an example the possibility for profitability while combating climate change at the same time.

"The equation is not impossible," he said.

Many have sharply criticised the absence of Russian and Chinese presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the summit, but Niinistö noted that the two countries still had representatives at the event.

"The aim here is to increase country-specific commitments and promises," he said.

Story continues after tweet

Members of the Finnish delegation include Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen (Green), who said on Monday morning that participants in the conference need to send a clear signal that countries are prepared for new and ambitious reductions in emissions on a tight schedule.

She said that she believes the conference will help to get countries to expedite their climate efforts but that it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to prevent further deterioration of the situation.

1.5 degrees

Experts now say that countries can no longer postpone taking action against climate change. According to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), if countries do not take further action, it is possible that global average temperatures will rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, a scenario which would have devastating consequences.

On the other hand, keeping temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius would require the nations of the world to halve current greenhouse gas emissions within the next eight years.

At the opening ceremony in Glasgow, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said that the world's countries need to change their ways or accept that "we are contributing to our own extinction."

Although no further emissions reductions are planned to be negotiated at the two-week meeting, many countries have made new commitments, according to minister Mikkonen.

"Many large countries have announced carbon neutrality targets, but then we're talking about the years 2050 or 2060. We would need significant emissions reductions before 2030," Mikkonen said.

G20 pledge

At the G20 summit in Rome, Italy on Sunday, leaders of the world's 20 largest economies called for meaningful and effective measures to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius.

However, the meeting's resulting document still lacks concrete measures and there were no provisions to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, a goal that scientists think is crucial to preventing climate events like extreme droughts, storms and floods around the world.

The chair of the independent think tank the Finnish Climate Change Panel, Markku Ollikainen, said he was still pleased about the G20's stated commitments.

"If the G20 commits to the 1.5-degree target, it will be a major turning point in international climate policy. I see that decision as a very encouraging signal being sent to Glasgow," Ollikainen told Yle on Sunday, just before he departed for the COP26 meeting.

Glasgow hosts the COP26 conference, which aims to accelerate countries' carbon emissions targets. Image: Andy Buchanan / AFP