The climate fuss, a different perspective

Juho Rönni
Should the people of India reduce their emissions so that Finns, who are 20 times richer, can continue with their current lifestyle?

In the spring I became a father. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel. I watched as this incipient person sniffled in her sleep and I wondered bleary-eyed, why doesn’t she sleep when mum and dad sleep. There are a lot of thoughts going through my head. This week I have mostly been thinking about her future.

A section of Finnish society is of the opinion that Finns should not do anything toward mitigating climate change. According to them, Finland is a small country whose contributions or lack of contributions has no significance. Climate change will be solved in China or India. The problems are over there, not here. We have taken care of our share.

The people with these kinds of opinions often talk about the so-called “climate fuss”. Fuss is a strong word. It brands people as “fusspots” who jabber on about nothing and it turns their point into a joke.

It goes without saying that the person smiling at the “fusspots” places themselves above the other people. Many of these people are former sceptics. First they say that climate change isn’t real. Then they claim that if climate change is real after all, it is not caused by people but by sun spots.

Now that the rug has been pulled from beneath those claims, they say let it be, let’s not do anything.

What if we asked the Indians?

I am, in my own opinion, a fairly calm but busy person. I have other things to do than write blogs. But I will not find peace of mind from this talk about “fuss” before I write down what is so wrong with it.

If combating climate change in Finland is pointless, it must mean that a Finn (carbon footprint 10.7 tonnes) should say to an Indian (carbon footprint 1.8 tonnes) that you have to reduce your emissions, not me. I can consider the issue, but only when the Indians and Chinese (carbon footprint 7.5 tonnes) have done their bit.

Do you think the Chinese will buy this kind of argument? Will the light go on in the Indian’s head, if we remind them of their responsibility?

We could test this kind of logic by sending a high-ranking delegation to Delhi. Our embassy could organise a press conference where we invite a representative of the Indian Ministry for Energy and the local press.

We could tell them how things are.

The delegation’s journey to Delhi would costs thousands of euros, no matter how short it is. One single business-class return flight there causes 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Everyone knows that that is not a journey worth making. It would end unhappily. We could well imagine what the representative of the Ministry of Energy would say:

Finland is a rich and civilised country, which is part of the European Union, correct?

You know full well that India is a developing but poor country that has almost three hundred areas with a similar population to Finland. They could ask to be excused from the battle on climate change for the same reasons as you claim; they are so small that they are of no significance. With the same logic you could also excuse the majority of the states in the USA. What significance does somewhere like Minnesota have?

The representative of the Ministry of Energy could also remind us of the historical carbon footprint of the industrial nations and their overwhelming economic resources. Then he would continue:

Yes, mister. You have said that Indians should reduce their emissions so that Finns, who are 20 times richer and create 5 times more emissions than Indians, can continue with their current lifestyle. Surely you understand that your logic is, forgive me, your logic represents, to be blunt, an absurd, shockingly bold and particularly dangerous way of thinking in its irresponsibility. For this reason, I suggest that from now on we talk in terms of emissions per citizen. CO2 per capita. Is that ok? Thank you?

Increase the standard of living, not reduce it

The citizens of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and other major cities in India already know what climate change means. According to estimates by the OECD, sea-level rise and extreme climate events threaten 14 million residents in Kolkata, worse than any other city.

The Economic Times, one of India’s most important media outlets (the second-most read economy newspaper after the Wall Street Journal) wrote this week after the release of the IPCC report that “aggressive action is a necessity not an option”. On behalf of Finland, I hope that newspaper’s editorial staff never hear of Finland’s cowardly plans.

The message from the International Climate Change Panel is clear. It can be condensed into the following statements:

  • Actions to mitigate global warming must begin immediately
  • The actions of everyone are important
  • Our current path will lead to a 3-degree increase, but 1.5 is possible
  • Benefits of mitigation outstrip the incumbent costs

The IPCC report was prepared by 91 leading experts in climate research from 40 countries. Every Finn who has ever had to prepare a document that they wanted to be taken seriously during their career will understand that that kind of report is the result of numerous compromises and broad consensus. We are not talking about something cobbled together by a small extremist group, rather the best and most refined scientific knowledge for political decision makers.

There is little time. However, low-emission technology already exists, they simply have to be taken into use. There will be costs, but with wise implementation the standard of living will rise not fall.

There have been plenty of speeches. It’s time to stop tinkering.

 Energy efficiency is a huge opportunity

According to the IPCC, the goal of 1.5 degrees demands that the energy systems of the world be renewed during the next decade. The IPCC calculates that global investments in clean energy need to be increased to 2 400 billion dollars per year, an increase of nearly ten times the current amount. This will lead to big changes in the production and use of electricity and heat energy in transportation, industry and real estate.

It is not just a matter of costs, however. The development, design, and implementation of new energy solutions will employ millions of people. The majority of emissions can be stopped in an economically viable way.

The competitiveness of renewable forms of energy is rapidly increasing in comparison to fossil energy sources. The best economical advantages are to be had, however, by investing in energy efficiency, that is, those litres of oil and megawatts that go unused the negawatts.

Real estate uses about 40 per cent of all the energy used in the EU and causes 36 per cent of the CO2 emissions. With the help of modern technology, new buildings can be made almost emission free, but the renewal of existing buildings is slow moving. That’s why reducing the emissions from real estate will need more decisive action in the energy use in old buildings than is currently being taken. According to the EU, almost 75 per cent of existing real estate is energy inefficient.

In Finland too there are tens of thousands of large buildings whose energy efficiency can be improved in an economically viable manner. Some of the more important methods are heat pumps, as-needed control of air conditioning and waste heat capture, as well as automated smart building technology engineering.

Batteries and other energy storage solutions are rapidly being developed. Thanks to smart automation, heat energy (or cold energy when needed) can be stored in the building structures or in the ground.

The efficiency coefficient of geothermal heat pumps can be improved by using them in the summer for cooling. The extra heat is directed into an energy well drilled in the ground from where the stored heat is then made use of in the winter. This activity is just starting in Finland, even though the technical capacity already exists.

Oil heating is an embarrassment

Currently, an investment in the energy efficiency of a property pays for itself. The initial investment is large, but it offers a return on investment many times that of a regular property investment.

With the help of investments in energy efficiency we can reduce the energy use of real estate and industrial plants by 1015 per cent. Emissions can be reduced by as much as 90 per cent when district heating produced by oil heating and coal are replaced by heat pumps whose compressors are powered by electricity from nuclear, wind, and solar power.

Finland should follow Sweden’s example and get rid of oil heating as soon as possible.

During the 2000s, Sweden has succeeded in improving energy efficiency in its housing at a rate many times better than Finland thanks to the use of heat pumps. The government of our western neighbour has taken oil heating of the market with decisive legislation.

The energy efficiency of district heating in Finland is high, but there is still too much reliance on coal and peat in the production of district heat. Coal is a dark, dirty and outdated source of energy no matter how efficiently it is used.

Fuss or wisdom

Economically sensible opportunities in reducing emissions can certainly be found in industry, transportation, agriculture, and forestry. Emissions should be reduced in order of cost efficiency: the cheapest first, followed by those that we want to do despite their cost.

Climate fuss or climate wisdom? Should we do what we can or should we settle for shouting at the bigger countries on the other side of the planet?

Smart energy investments bravely pave the way to solving the climate problem. Reducing emissions is cheaper than doing nothing. Factory and real estate owners save money as well as reducing their energy use and emissions.

Economy and responsibility are not in conflict, in fact quite the opposite: they support one another. The fight against climate change involves principles that cannot be measured financially.

Ensuring a better life for the next generation belongs in this category. If the decision makers of the world fail in controlling climate change, the economic and human losses will be incalculably high. Failure will most certainly be many times more expensive than success.

My daughter will be 12 years old in 2030.

New low-emission energy systems should be ready by that time. She may well be mature enough by then to ask what kind of decisions did you make, Dad, and what did your generation achieve? I don’t want to have to answer that we decided to do nothing.

The author, Juho Rönni, is in charge of corporate development and is co-founder at LeaseGreen, a cleantech service company specialised in energy efficiency solutions for large real estate and industrial processes.

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