”Climate change as a global challenge – and an opportunity”, Speech at the Finnish candidacy for the position of the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, 13.2.2015, Helsinki

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Environmental sustainability and urgent greenhouse gas mitigation form the cornerstones of future sustainable development within planetary boundaries. If we act collectively, and urgently, we can still achieve the objective of curbing global temperature rise below 2°C, which in turn would contribute to improvements in air quality, human health, energy security, ecosystem impacts and sufficiency of resources. All this can significantly improve our quality of life, and underlines the importance of reaching an ambitious, legally binding Climate Agreement applicable to all Parties in Paris in December this year.


By developing new innovations and green energy we can improve our economic wellbeing, as well. The possibility – or opportunity – of a de-link between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth has been proven by many recent reports, among them the New Climate Economy report. It has been estimated that green and low-carbon economy can generate worldwide up to 60 million additional jobs over the next two decades. Sun and wind power, for instance, are there to be grabbed, often abundantly, and technologies to benefit from them are getting increasingly cost-effective.


It also goes without saying that mitigation is the best form of adaptation. Otherwise the consequences of climate change will become increasingly non-adaptable and the costs will rise beyond anyone´s financial means.  For example, at the moment, climate change -related health costs are estimated to reach up to four billion US dollars per year in 2030. It is the cost of inaction that we cannot afford.


By 2100, the greenhouse gas emissions should be close to zero. However, the size of world’s ecological footprint and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions are currently on the rise, together with a growing world population. These are tricky upward trends – we urgently need some downward ones to get towards that near zero emissions pathway.


Efforts have to be undertaken by all countries, and action needs to be taken by all stakeholders. We need to reach the new Climate Agreement this year and give the long-term perspective that our societies and businesses need in view of long-term investments. If these investments go wrong, they will lock us in the polluting technology for years whereas an efficient global Climate Agreement, on the other hand, would enhance the growth of green markets and further development of green technology and its deployment.


We have recently received some important announcements on greenhouse gas reductions from a few countries but we still need more of them. We also need to broaden the financial base for climate action. For the real green turn of economies, we need more financing not only from the public, but also private and innovative sources, according to capabilities.


Thus, a green, inclusive economy is not a luxury, but a prerequisite for poverty reduction and sustainability. Environmental, economic and social sustainability all need to happen in parallel to transform the development paths of economies towards successful low carbon ones that are resilient to environmental damage and catastrophes. Climate and environmental action can catalyze growth and creation of jobs. The wise ones use this economic opportunity now.


Now is the moment to design the different international processes on climate, Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, disaster risk reduction and trade negotiations, as well as Financing for Development, to work towards the same sustainable end, so that they complement and support each other.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Let me also say a few words about the Arctic region, which is under considerable pressure from climate change. Climate change is unfortunately faster and more severe in the Arctic region than in most other regions of world. The Arctic is warming almost twice as fast as the global average.


The regional implications of global warming in the Arctic are well known. The amount of summer ice gets smaller almost every summer. By 2040 the summer sea ice could be limited to the northern coasts of Canada and Greenland. Permafrost is disappearing in large areas releasing carbon dioxide as well as methane and damaging infrastructure. These changes will have dramatic consequences for a range of animals and for the people living in the Arctic.


Also the global implications of a melting Arctic are also well known. As snow and ice melt, the ability of the Arctic to reflect heat back to space is reduced, which will accelerate the overall rate of global warming. Some Arctic fisheries will likely diminish or altogether disappear. Recent predictions forecast a significant rise in sea levels by the year 2100.  The predictions vary, but they all point in the same direction: A warming Arctic is much more a global challenge than just a regional issue.


The most important forum for addressing Arctic issues is the Arctic Council formed by eight Arctic states and six Arctic indigenous peoples’ organizations. One of the most important tasks of the Arctic Council is to monitor and assess the state of the environment in the region and to alert to any changes. This has been done through various assessments, such as the eye-opening pioneer in its field, The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in 2004. The reports and findings of the Arctic Council would, however, deserve a much greater attention of the general public. It is the moral responsibility of the Arctic states to speak with one voice. We have all the scientific data to act upon. We have no excuse to delay inevitable decisions.


The Arctic environment is highly exceptional and is extremely sensitive. Its ecosystems and species have adapted to extreme weather conditions and short growing periods. This means that human action – when detrimental in its impact either globally or locally – may result in permanent changes in the Arctic region. Globally speaking, the conservation of the Arctic environment is of intrinsic value.


For this reason Finland seeks to promote the development of the contractual framework complementary to the overall regulation of the activities in the Arctic.


We have prepared a non-paper on regulation concerning the Arctic region in which we present some key issues regarding the conservation of the Arctic environment. These issues include the development of marine conservation areas, the mechanism for oil pollution prevention and the health hazards of short-lived climate pollutants. I am pleased that these issues are well on their way within the work of the Arctic Council.


Global warming has no national boundaries. Efforts to mitigate its effects and to adapt to changes require sound meteorological knowledge. I am pleased that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has applied to become an observer of the Arctic Council. Since its establishment, the WMO has played a unique and powerful role in contributing to the safety and wellbeing of humanity. As an observer, the WMO would be able to contribute extensively to the work of the Arctic Council.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


In tackling the effects of climate change, the need for global cooperation is more topical than ever. In that context, the WMO is one of the key players. Finland has an excellent candidate for the position of Secretary-General for 2016-2019. Our candidate, Professor Petteri Taalas has both the knowledge and the experience needed to further improve the performance of the WMO to address global challenges like climate change.


Though technical advances offer new opportunities and the need for national weather, climate and hydrological services is growing, many WMO Member States have insufficient observational means and resources. At the same time, cuts in public expenditure have further impact on national institutions’ abilities. To this end, Finland is supporting 11 ongoing projects through development cooperation. These projects are implemented in collaboration with national hydro-meteorological institutions in Africa, Asia, and South America.


Professor Taalas is highly motivated to provide better services for WMO Members and their National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) through enhanced service and observing capabilities, capacity development and resource mobilization at national and regional levels. Effective and modern management of the WMO are means to that end. National weather, climate and hydrological services have proven to be good investments on the national level. We see the important role of the WMO to enhance the ability of the NMHSs to serve their countries.


We are convinced that Mr. Taalas is the right person for the position and very much appreciate your support for his candidacy.


Thank you.