Now talking Oras Tynkkynena stalwart who is one of the Finns who has followed international climate meetings and climate diplomacy the most.
Since 1997, Tynkkynen has participated in 21 climate meetings in Finnish delegations as an expert member, a member of parliament, a climate policy expert of the Prime Minister’s Office and a representative of Friends of the Earth. Most recently, he has been Sitra’s senior advisor at the Glasgow Climate Summit last year.
Why are climate issues still being negotiated after 30 years? Shouldn’t everything be clear by now?
– The basic issues have already been clear from the Paris climate agreement since 2015. There are the goals of one and a half and two degrees and the goal of a carbon-neutral world. So the goal is clear, but how to get there and how to support is much more complicated. There is still a lot to agree on and especially to negotiate regarding the implementation of the agreement.
What is the most memorable thing from 30 years of meetings?
– Perhaps the most memorable and historic moments are those when you can be present in the room, when far-reaching decisions are made. Such was the case at the Paris climate conference in 2015, when the then French foreign minister Laurent Fabius hammer on the table for the climate agreement. It was a great moment in human history. The Paris climate meeting was the biggest success. At the other extreme is the Hague meeting, which had to be suspended as it was without results. Most often, the meaning of the meetings lies in the middle ground between the extremes.
What have you learned from climate meetings in 25 years?
– My first climate meeting at the age of 20 in Kyoto in 1997 was a life-changing experience. The first time made international climate policy concrete and important to me in a completely different way. It was already seen then that climate warming is one of civilization’s biggest problems in the future. Whereas now climate issues are cross-cuttingly on society’s agenda, back then there were very few people who followed climate issues. It was a memorable trip anyway; there was a bigger group of us who went to the meeting by train. We held a kind of seminar on the train for seven days straight.
What is the greatest success of climate meetings?
– The fact that we are now in a decisively better situation in international climate policy than 10 years ago. At that time, we were progressing to about 3.5 degrees of warming, which would have been catastrophic by any measure. Now, if all countries in the world implement all their emission commitments, we could reach 1.8 degrees. First, with the official 2030 commitments of the Paris Agreement, we will reach 2.4-2.6 degrees, and on top of that, with long-term carbon neutrality goals, we will reach 1.8 degrees. If we only look at the pledges which countries have already accepted, we will go to 2.8 degrees of warming.
What is the biggest failure of climate meetings?
– Certainly the fact that all progress has been achieved far too slowly and far too late. If what was achieved in Kyoto in 2015 in Paris, the climate crisis would have been limited to 1.5 degrees much more cheaply, and with much greater certainty. Now, in the last tinga, we are trying to crank the world’s emissions down. It’s risky and expensive. There is also a big chance that it won’t even succeed.
What is the most important goal in the current climate meeting in Egypt?
– No single climate meeting will solve the climate crisis. If an international peace conference were to be organized, it would be unreasonable to demand that wars would end on that basis alone. Both in Egypt and in other meetings, you have to try to push towards that ultimate goal. Since it is a meeting organized on African soil, it must also be possible to make progress there in climate finance and in compensating developing countries for damages and losses caused by climate change. Individual symbolic openings have already been received.
Why aren’t you on site in Egypt this year?
– I am not involved in Egypt now, because the climate meetings are just a tool that has no independent value. I always wonder if the benefits outweigh the costs, such as the time spent and the carbon footprint. European meetings can be attended by train, but not Egypt. So there was more of a minus under the line this time.
The world’s emissions must be halved in seven years in order to reach the 1.5 degree goal. How is it possible?
– What is needed is the same as before, but only much more and faster: stricter goals from more countries, larger sums for climate finance to avoid a future with high emissions. The 1.5 degree goal is already partly based on the fact that sometimes carbon dioxide is sucked out of the atmosphere. In theory, it is possible to suck up carbon dioxide from the earth, but it is not realistic at all.
Is the game already lost?
– It is impossible to achieve the 1.5 degree goal on a linear path, but development often does not progress linearly. When a new technology is born, the implementation seems to proceed very slowly at first, for example the use of wind power crawled for a long time with zero knowledge. At some point, it would explode into explosive growth, like an S-curve. Likewise, if cultured meat technology becomes common, animals that cause emissions will not be needed for food production. Then it is possible to cut a lot of emissions from food production and slow down deforestation. Technical solutions for emission-free steel production are also beginning to be known, but it is not yet visible in any of the figures.
Is it possible to make decisions that lead to a safe path?
– Changes are scientifically, technically and economically possible, but politically impossible. There is no political path in sight for the world’s decision-makers to limit emissions sufficiently fast enough. On the other hand, things have happened before that seem impossible. I would not have thought that the Paris Agreement would set the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees or that China, India and Saudi Arabia would make carbon neutrality goals. But that’s how it is now. The dynamics of decision-making can quickly shift to a completely new position.
What is the most difficult thing about climate action? Why haven’t emissions been cut more already?
– Because it has never been tried seriously. Despite 30 years of negotiations, the world still spends hundreds of billions every year on fossil fuel subsidies. If even a small price were put on all emissions, emissions would start to decrease very quickly, very much. For example, in Finland you pay heavy taxes for driving your own car, and at the same time, air travel is exempted from almost all taxes. It is direct support for the most polluting way of moving.
Are there any reasons to be optimistic about climate change?
– Familiar things give reason for hope. Low-emission technology has developed rapidly, a considerable majority of citizens support climate work, also in other parts of the world, for example in countries like India. Now the system is more ready than before to solve the climate problem. Almost all the countries of the world are in the Paris Agreement. The climate-neutral goals cover about 4/5 of the world’s emissions. We got started in a few years. A tremendous turn has been made in the history of mankind in a few years. The necessary solutions exist. When it is possible, would it be any crazier for humanity to not take this opportunity and consciously choose the path of causing a worse future?
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