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The President of the Republic of Finland: Presidential Forum

The President of the Republic of Finland
News, 11/10/2009

Presidential Forum on climate change: Inaction would be the costliest option

The participants at the Presidential Forum that was hosted by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen on Tuesday, 10 November 2009 agreed unanimously that inaction in the face of climate change would have the greatest costs for humanity. President Halonen pointed out that climate change is not just about challenges, but also about new opportunities. As an example she cited the application and commercial development of Finnish environmental technology.

"Global warming will increase poverty and inequality. In this sense it is truly an unfair phenomenon," President Halonen said in her opening remarks. Climate change will particularly affect areas where people are already in the weakest and most vulnerable position and will have the most drastic effects on the poor people of the world, the majority of whom are women. President Halonen emphasized that women must be given a visible role in negotiating a global climate change agreement.

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President Halonen brought greetings from Berlin, where she attended a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall the evening before. "Many speakers noted that twenty years ago, something happened in Berlin that experts and politicians would never have thought possible. The people took matters into their own hands. You represent the people here in many different ways. Twenty years from now, 2009 could be a similar year of change, if we want.

Dr Petteri Taalas, the Director General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the chairman of Finland's IPCC working group, said that over 90 per cent of the observed change in temperature over the past 100 years has been caused by human emissions. "We are already living in the midst of change, but with the help of emission limits we can do something about it. If the use of fossil fuels is not restricted, by the end of the century the rise in temperature will be 5 degrees globally," he said.

"We should keep in mind, however, that not all fluctuations and deviations in weather are due to climate change," Mr Taalas added. The warm winters of 2007 and 2008 were due more to the movements of low fronts and only partly to climate change.

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Green technology a new pillar of the economy?

Mr Velipekka Nummikoski, State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, said in his remarks that mitigating climate change will cost money, but inaction would be even more expensive. He believes that people have a good awareness of the costs that are involved. The price of energy will rise, since renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels. Economic instruments such as emissions trading and taxes are effective and necessary.

According to Mr Nummikoski, low-emission goods and services could become a new pillar of Finland's economy and exports. Finland has been a pioneer in developing variable-frequency drives, for instance. In 2008 Finland's energy technology exports were worth 5 billion euros.

Political will is there

Ms Sirkka Haunia, Finland's Principal Negotiator in climate matters, said that there will be no lack of political will at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. The main goal in Copenhagen will be to agree on objectives for reducing emissions in developing countries and further measures in the developed countries as well as financing the costs of adapting climate change.

Ms Haunia pointed out, however, that there is simply not enough time to achieve a legally binding agreement in December. "Climate negotiations have proceeded relatively well considering that the United States only got on board at the beginning of this year. With nearly two hundred countries participating, the negotiation process is cumbersome and time-consuming in practice." Ms Haunia will still optimistic and hoped that clear decisions could be reached on major issues in Copenhagen and that details could be worked out next year.

Ms Liisa Rohweder, the Secretary General of WWF Finland, reminded the forum that climate change affects not only people, but also the entire ecosystem. Most habitats and species cannot adjust to rapid change. A rise of 2 degrees in average temperature is a critical limit beyond which the number of extinctions will increase, harvests will fall and the destruction of habitats will accelerate. In Finland species that require a cold climate are in danger, since plants such as the glacier buttercup, island purslane and arctic mouse-ear and animals such as the arctic fox, shore lark and Saimaa ringed seal are not viable in warmer habitats.

Members of Parliament and representatives of the business community, organizations, research institutes and other spheres of society were invited to participate in the 12th Presidential Forum. Mr Tarmo Ropponen, a journalist, served as moderator.

Presidential Forums have been arranged since 2006. Themes on previous occasions have included Finnish labour competitiveness, expertise and innovations, foreign policy, care for the elderly, the Baltic Sea, tolerance, municipal services, the "silent years" in Finnish history, Finland in the face of change, fundamental and human rights, and most recently - in September - jobs and unemployment.

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Opening remarks by President Halonen

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Updated 12/14/2009

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