Keynote speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Cooling our Planet seminar in Beijing on 14 January 2019


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year was again a record-breaker. Global land and ocean surface temperatures were among the highest in the past 140 years, when reliable statistics have existed. Temperatures well above average were measured across the world, pointing in a very concrete way to an acceleration of climate change. In many parts of Europe, people remember vividly that last summer was both record-warm and record-dry.

A few weeks ago, I took part in the climate meeting in Katowice, Poland. At the end of those negotiations, the international community succeeded in agreeing on the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This result may sound modest and technical, but the rulebook is fundamental for enabling and encouraging climate action at all levels worldwide.

The outcome of Katowice is not only good news for the climate, but it also speaks clearly about the value of multilateralism and the rules-based international order. The vast majority of states are able and willing to tackle the global challenges together.

Finland highly appreciates China’s role in the climate negotiations. The close cooperation between China and the European Union was crucial for the success of the Katowice meeting. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss these issues here in Beijing, both in this event and in my other meetings.

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Despite the encouraging signs of growing climate awareness, we have a lot of work ahead of us. The year 2018 witnessed not only rising global temperatures, but also a further increase in worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. We have to reverse this trend, and act quickly. Our commitments have to be strengthened globally.

In this regard, I look forward to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit next September. All nations should work together to make the Summit a real showcase of our determination to act.

The European Union is working towards becoming climate neutral by 2050. It would be the first major economy to set such an ambitious goal. This long-term vision of the European Commission is based on the recent 1.5 degree report of the IPCC, which was a real wake-up call for many of us.

Our goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to be a low-carbon, resource-efficient society without sacrificing our wellbeing. On the contrary, such a course of action would bring our citizens tangible benefits – like breathing clean air and enjoying better health. The EU aims to submit its plans to the UN by 2020, and we encourage others, including China, to do the same.

Finland aims to achieve carbon neutrality already by 2045. We have also decided to ban the use of coal for energy production from 2029 onwards. Finland’s forthcoming EU presidency in the second half of this year gives us a good opportunity to push for more climate ambition at the EU level as well.

Setting a price on carbon is an efficient way to encourage emission reductions. Carbon pricing is a key tool for implementing the Paris agreement.

As the host of the world’s largest emissions trading scheme, China has a vital role in expanding the reach of carbon pricing. With China onboard, already a fifth of global emissions are covered by a carbon price. The cooperation between China and the EU on emissions trading has been valuable. We look forward to its continuation and enhancement in the future.

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The Arctic region is changing much faster than the rest of the world. We now see Arctic temperatures climbing to figures that clearly deviate from previous records. Expert reports confirm that up to 75 per cent of Arctic Sea ice has been lost during the past 30 to 40 years.

The Arctic is closely linked with the global climate system. A warmer Arctic is weaker in stabilizing the world’s weather patterns. The melting of Arctic ice sheets and glaciers contributes to the global sea level rise. There is a risk of large-scale releases of greenhouse gases from the previously frozen ground.

The rapid changes in the Arctic increase the urgency of climate action. We should not give up efforts to stay below the 1.5 degrees limit of global warming. In short: we simply cannot afford to lose the Arctic.

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As the current chair of the Arctic Council, Finland has stressed the significance of black carbon. In addition to greenhouse gases, black carbon is a major contributor to climate change, particularly in the Arctic. Black, sooty particles accelerate the warming of snow and ice, but they are also air pollutants harmful for people’s health. The technologies to reduce these emissions already exist – they just have to be taken widely into use.

Reducing emissions of black carbon from transportation and heat and power production will result in almost immediate climate and health benefits. Tighter regulation of emissions will bring also business opportunities for providers of soot-free technologies.

Finland promotes black carbon reductions by supporting expert work and development of investments. We also channel funding to global initiatives such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the zero gas flaring initiative of the World Bank.

By reducing black carbon emissions, we can make a difference quickly and efficiently. I would call on all to join the efforts to reduce black carbon emissions in the Arctic and globally.


To achieve the results our planet requires, we need commitments by governments. But that is not enough. We also need the full participation of local authorities and the private sector, universities and research institutes as well as civil society.

The energy sector produces three quarters of Finland’s emissions. Cutting these emissions is a difficult task but one we cannot avoid. This is also the big challenge facing China, which has seen an unparalleled growth in the previous decades. China has made significant pledges to make its growth more green and sustainable. I wholeheartedly welcome this development.

I believe there is great potential for more cooperation between Finland and China in this field. The co-organisers of this seminar demonstrate the potential of finding broad-based solutions in private-public partnerships, including the academia and the wider civil society.

Finland and China are actively involved in joint efforts that improve climate monitoring and air quality monitoring worldwide. Finnish and Chinese experts have also cooperated to gain experience on sustainable use of water resources – an area of increasing importance in view of the changing climate. I trust that today’s event will help in developing these kinds of important partnerships further.

We as humans are adaptive and resourceful. I am confident that we can join hands and find a more sustainable future way of life together.