Nice words do not save the planet
Article in the European voice 8th December 2004
”A Canary in the coal mine”, that was the title of Financial Times’ article about the recently published study on climate change in the Arctic area. The Arctic gives the first warning signals showing that the climate is changing.
In my country, Finland, where 5 million people live above the 60th latitude, the spring months have warmed up by 2 degrees. Anyone living in Finland can notice the change. Satellite pictures which you can easily find in the NASA webpages show a shocking shrinking of the ice cover on the Arctic Oecan. The volume of the Arctic sea ice has decreased by 50 % in a couple of decades. It is possible that Arctic summertime sea ice disappears totally during this century.
I am afraid that most people do not understand some basic facts about climate change. First: Kyoto is only the first step in the effort of curbing the emissions, and a minor step compared to the next steps that are needed, if we really want to limit the global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as EU has set the goal. Second: Some climate change is unavoidable due to the emissions which the humankind already has released to the atmosphere. For example the Arctic area is going to warm up by 4 to 7 degrees even if emissions are reduced in a remarkable way compared to business as usual. Third: Although most forecasts are given for this century, the climate change does not stop in 2100. The warming of the planet continues, as well as the rising of the sea level.
The scientists have told us that during this century the planet will warm by about 1,5 to 6 degrees. If the warming is closer to the upper limit, the warming will continue for several centuries and the sea level rise possibly not only centuries but thousands of years. The upper limit given by scientists to the sea level rise by 2100 is 90 cm.
If the sea level is going to rise by almost one metre by 2100, coastal cities will face severe difficulties. But the worst fact is that in this case the sea level rise will continue, maybe one more meter by 2200, and a third meter by 2300. Most present day big cities will turn to underwater archaelogical sites: Helsinki, Stockholm, Kopenhagen, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Venice, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Dar Es Salaam, Capetown, Djakarta, Shanghai, Tokyo …
But what are we going to do after the Kyoto commitment period, after 2012? The sad fact is that nobody knows. We know only that to limit the global warming to 2 degrees the global emissions must peak in next two decades and fall rapidly after that, by 2050 half of the present day emissions should be cut. But so far mainly scientists and NGOs have presented models about how to share this effort between countries.
We are not going to save the planet by the effort on industrialized countries alone. But developing countries have a good argument to resist emission ceilings for them: their emissions per capita are a fraction of ours. E.g. in China the emissions per capita are 20 % and in India 10 % of the emissions of EU15. These countries have the right to develop their economies. What is the model which can be acepted by both developing countries and us?
Personally I think that the only models fair for developing countries are models which a approaching the ”climate equity” principle, equal emission right for each human being living in this world. This would mean very rapid emission reduction in the industrialized world.
I think the world still has a change. What we need is technology change. As a person with educational background in engineering, I am convinced that it is possible to improve the energy efficiency and develop the technology using renewable energy sources as rapidly as needed. But this will only happen if the market incentive is strong enough. We already have numerous technical solutions, and every year even better solutions are invented.
It is in the hands of the political decision makers to create the strong market incentive, which encourages investors to invest to the existing clean energy technology and in that way to accelerate the development of new technology which we need to save this planet.