How to Adapt to Climate Change? Interview with Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

How to Adapt to Climate Change? Interview with Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The emission reductions agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement have not progressed quickly enough. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres organizes a climate summit in New York to speed up the implementation of the Agreement.

How to Adapt to Climate Change?

The emission reductions agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement have not progressed quickly enough. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres organizes a climate summit in New York to speed up the implementation of the Agreement.

“Despite carbon dioxide reduction commitments, emissions have increased by 2% per year over the past three years. We are not moving in the right direction and thus, need new initiatives to combat climate change. Besides, we need new investments in climate adaptation and early warning services,” says the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

Taalas acts as a climate advisor to Secretary-General Guterres and heads the scientific advisory group that is preparing an update on the state of the climate and the science based on, e.g. the latest reports from WMO, UNEP and the IPCC, for the meeting. Taalas is also a member of the Global Adaptation Commission led by Ban-Ki Moon.

Threat to humanity

UN Secretary-General Guterres has said that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. A ministerial meeting held in Abu Dhabi in July discussed new proposals for a more ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Taalas, who attended the meeting, estimates that it is difficult for many countries to accept the 1.5°C target, set in the Paris Agreement as a lower limit instead of the previously set two-degree ceiling.

He emphasizes that it is important to set a goal that provides the best possible commitment by countries and citizens as being too ambitious can lead to a reduction in commitment. Within the UN, Taalas has also stressed the fact that it is necessary to pay attention to the population growth.

The Abu Dhabi meeting highlighted also the need to invest in climate change adaptation. For decades, Finland has developed weather and climate services that are an important means of adaptation. Despite the emission reductions, the number of weather disasters will increase over the coming decades.

Finance is a driving force

In addition to industry, energy, agriculture, forestry and transport sectors, the financial sector is a major driving force for successful climate policy.

“The Ministers of the Environment are responsible for organizing climate negotiations while the Foreign Ministers manage UN activities. Linking the executive power of the Finance Ministers to climate actions would clearly increase the weight of climate policies,” explains Taalas.

WMO cooperates with UN funding organizations, such as the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, and with international and national development agencies.

“We help those organizations in directing the investments and ensuring that projects funded by them are sustainable and well targeted, in particular in developing countries,” he adds.

 

Abandoning fossil fuels

Taalas confirms that phasing out fossil fuels is the only way to stop climate change. Energy production must be based on renewable energy sources and on water and nuclear power that both do not produce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Due to strict security regulations, the construction of nuclear power plants has become expensive and does not attract investors in Western countries. E.g. China, India and Russia are still building nuclear power in addition to fossil and renewable energy. The electrification of traffic and the development of new renewable fuels are progressing but not yet fast enough.”

“The use of fossil fuels continues to grow. However, without current low-emission means the carbon dioxide emissions would today be even higher than the actual levels,” he points out.

Taalas explains that carbon sinks can only slow down climate change. Many countries have been speculating with carbons sinks instead of giving up fossil energy. He emphasizes that the most important thing is to prevent deforestation in areas such as rainforests where destroyed forests do not regrow in the same way as in the northern coniferous forest zone.

According to Taalas, the debate on Finnish forests should carefully weigh the relationship between the economic benefits of forests and the carbon sinks.

“As a result of good forest management Finnish forests are now absorbing more carbon dioxide than ever before. If Finns do not produce goods using renewable raw materials originating from these well-maintained forests, others would produce the same products causing potentially even higher carbon dioxide emissions as they have speculated on their emissions cutting targets using carbon sinks,” Taalas points out.

WMO Fact Box

The Geneva based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is the United Nations Organization for the Weather, Climate and Water Resources. WMO hosts also the IPCC, intergovernmental panel on climate change.

WMO has developed the World Climate Research Program, Global Framework for Climate Services and Global Climate Observation System, the Early Warning System for Natural Disasters, and it is the UN's leading expert in climate and air pollution issues.

WMO has 193 member states and territories, and invests in the development of air, sea and ground transportation, public safety, renewable energy, health, and urban services in cooperation with over 200,000 national experts.