Finland has experienced an exceptionally warm autumn, and in the summer the heat reached the northern parts of Siberia.
Global warming is advancing faster than expected.
The economic stagnation caused by the corona pandemic did little to boost the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Has the game already been lost with the climate crisis, five years after the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement?
Or would it be possible to dig something positive and hopeful out of climate policy in the midst of gloom?
The climate agreement was signed in Paris on 12 December 2015. The aim is to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The aim is to promote measures that would limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
The agreement is now, in a way, even more relevant, as its actions cover the period after 2020.
The corona pandemic and the US presidential election this year overshadowed the fact that at least four major states - South Korea, Japan, South Africa and China - announced their own national goals for carbon or climate neutrality.
This means that while not all countries ’emissions will be zeroed, they will either be offset or recovered and stored.
Promises are, of course, promises, but in the case of a state the size of China, for example, the issue is beginning to have considerable global significance.
According to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which monitors climate action, China's exclusive access to carbon neutrality could cut global warming by 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius.
The 1.5 degree target has not yet fully escaped
According to Outi Honkatukia, Finland's chief climate negotiator, China will never promise anything that it cannot keep either.
The country can thus reach its carbon neutrality target even before the deadline of 2060.
If the United States joins Carbon Neutralism during Joe Biden’s presidency, the economies of countries that have made such a promise will already account for about two-thirds of world GDP.
According to CAT, this could already mean a "critical mass" that at times brings the seemingly very distant target of warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius again to "stroke distance".
Before the end of the autumn, the figures were rather bleak in terms of the target: with climate action and promises, the global average temperature will rise 2.6 or even 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times by 2100, according to the CAT.
The rise of just over one degree Celsius has already materialized.
Since the latest promises, CAT’s most optimistic estimate has dropped to 2.1 degrees Celsius.
- This is not enough, but the direction is quite right.
It wasn’t long before we looked at the impact of countries ’emission reduction commitments, and at the time it was still close to 3.5 degrees, Honkatukia says.
The so-called emissions gap between promises and actions and targets is therefore narrowing, albeit too slowly.
From burden sharing to benefit sharing
According to Oras Tynkkynen, Sitra's senior advisor, one of the major changes in climate policy in recent years has been to try to get all countries involved by letting them set their own emissions and climate targets.
While this, like traditional work, allows some to do and others just to watch, the approach seems to produce results.
- I would argue that even if not all of the biggest emitters are involved, we have a critical mass under construction that is enough to reverse the direction globally, Tynkkynen says.
According to him, things have happened downright “with a rumble” because only a year ago, only two G20 countries had adopted an official goal of striving for carbon neutrality.
The change is reinforced by another simultaneous development, in which climate policy is moving from burden-sharing to more and more attractive benefit-sharing.
The choice of an individual state, for example in energy production or transport, is more easily targeted at a climate-friendly alternative, such as wind power, if it is also the cheapest and otherwise sensible choice.
- In the new electricity generation, the game is already starting to be clear.
Renewable energy sources have won fossil energy in building new capacity, Tynkkynen says as an example.
Borders do not stop the effects of actions
Another example could be traffic, where California, Britain and most recently Japan, for example, have decided on a timetable for stopping the sale of internal combustion engines.
Such a development would lower the prices of electric cars and make them more attractive in other countries as well.
- It can be assumed that the climate benefits of individual countries' climate measures will also flow outside those countries, Tynkkynen says.
- Of course, this does not eliminate the fact that many small island states and least developed countries are only facing a burden, because adaptation measures are ahead anyway, Honkatukia reminds.
Climate action has progressed at different rates in different sectors, and Tynkkynen would like more positive developments in agriculture, for example, whose emissions on the world stage are still increasing.
Technologies for negative emissions, ie carbon capture and storage, have also not yet become widespread, as the methods are so far hugely expensive.