We Have a Plan: Ecological Reconstruction Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

Press Release
12 November 2019
BIOS Research Unit

Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

According to the latest scientific consensus reports (IPCC, IPBES, IRP, GSDR), societies need to rapidly and radically lower their climate emissions and natural resource use while ensuring equal opportunities for a good life. The recent calls for a Green New Deal, particularly in the US and to some extent in Europe, have managed to move the twin crisis of climate change and inequality to the center of the political debate. One of the key messages rising from the debates is that the transition is not bounded by money but by natural resources, ecosystems, technologies, skills, and – political imagination and capabilities.

What is now needed in all countries is 1) a comprehensive understanding of the social and material tasks that need to be accomplished internationally and locally, 2) a set of political tools that can be readily used to develop and build low-carbon infrastructure and practices, and 3) a meaningful, orienting narrative that invites people and organisations along.

Ecological Reconstruction is our answer to these three demands for Finland. Based on multidisciplinary research, we have identified key reconstruction sites and outlined a set of tools to accomplish something similar to the post-WWII reconstruction period, during which the basic infrastructure was rebuilt and the ground was laid to later welfare state developments. Unfortunately, the post-war developments also locked in the massive use of fossil fuels. This time, one of the most urgent tasks is to phase out fossil fuels.

Ecological Reconstruction continues the work that was summarised in our background report for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, noted, for example, by Vice, Huffington Post, and the Independent, and expanded later in LSE Business Review.

BIOS is an independent, multidisciplinary research unit which studies the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and the European Union – on the economy, politics, and culture – and develops the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. If you wish to contact us, please email paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi.

Problematic statements by secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization

The Finnish climate scientist Petteri Taalas works as the secretary general of the UN affiliated World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that also hosts the secretariat of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). WMO and IPCC have a central role in climate change research. Statements by these organizations and their personnel rightfully carry a lot of weight. For instance, statements by secretary general Taalas are often relied on by Finnish commentators and politicians. However, it has not always been clear on which research sources Taalas’ statements are based on, or if he presents them as the secretary general or as a private citizen. If the grounds for the statements are unknown or the point of view from which they are presented is unclear, public discussion may suffer.

Several different areas of public interest, such as politics and science, are crucial for grappling with climate change. The phenomena connected to climate change are varied and dispersed both temporally and spatially. A huge network of measuring instruments, long periods of observation and collaboration of thousands of scientists is needed for collecting the whole picture. As climate change also poses an existential challenge to societies, the scientific views have to be thoroughly vetted. The work done by IPCC is a prime example of high priority and top quality international scientific collaboration.

Consequently, part of the gravitas of science is transferred to scientists in the public sphere. Scientists have every right to present views on matters pertaining to the future of all humanity. To think that scientists have to stick to presenting only facts within their specific area of expertise is based on a too restricted understanding on both the concept of facts and the public role of science.

This means that a delicate balance needs to be struck. A scientist can and should speak up, and it is good and right that the weight of their views benefits from the overall prestige of science. At the same time the message should be presented in a manner that makes it possible to distinguish between statements presented as parts of well-established knowledge within the scientist’s field of expertise and statements presented as opinions whether as a scientist, as a citizen or as a participant of political discussion.

As a representative of their field, a scientist speaks with the authority of science. The personal integrity of the scientist is evaluated both within the relevant scientific discipline and more publicly. The scientific integrity and the public integrity are, however, two different things. Consequently, the public needs to be able to distinguish between views that are to be evaluated as peer-reviewed facts of the relevant field, and views that are to be evaluated on the basis of the personal integrity of the presenter.

Due to his scientific merits and his position in the WMO, the views of Petteri Taalas have rightfully received a lot of attention and have been very influential in the Finnish discussion. They are repeatedly referred to as grounds for particular policy positions. Unfortunately, the views presented by Taalas have also created some unclarities, as it has not always been clear whether they have been presented from the position of the secretary general of the WMO or from the position of a citizen or scientist taking part in public debate. More particularly, it has not been clear on what kind of scientific evidence Taalas’ views are based on.

In August 2018, shortly before the publication of the IPCC report “Global Warming of 1,5°C”, Taalas gave an interview in which he said that “warming over 3°C is realism” (ref).

The first problem in interpreting this statement is that it is unclear what kind of realism is meant here. Realism from the perspective of climate science or from the perspective of politics? And is the statement presented from the position of a climate scientist or from the position of a citizen? Like the senior adviser of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra Oras Tynkkynen wrote in a reply to Taalas’ interview, scientifically, technically and economically it is possible to stop global warming to 1,5°C. Furthermore, as Tynkkynen put it, the scope of political realism is decided by politicians. It seems natural to interpret Taalas’ statement as saying that three degrees of warming is the outcome one can expect from the perspective of political realism, since one of the main tenets of the IPCC report was that there are pathways to considerably lower degrees of warming. This interpretation, however would mean that the view presented by the secretary general of the WMO, overseeing the secretary of the IPCC, is quite different from the views presented, for instance, by Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the report, who in connection to the publishing of the report said: “I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Taalas has also given his support to the current Finnish forest policies that emphasise fellings for bioeconomy over the development of carbon sinks. He has said, for instance, that from the perspective of climate science and the atmosphere it is not a problem if forest carbon sinks temporarily shrink, if the emitted carbon is eventually captured (by the re-grown forests) (ref). The problem with this claim is that it directly contradicts the IPCC report. The report points out, first, that climate related risks, including potentially long-lasting or irreversible changes, depend on the peak of warming and carbon dioxide rates (A3.2.). It emphasises also that “Carbon cycle and climate system understanding is still limited about the effectiveness of net negative emissions to reduce temperatures after they peak”, which means that letting warming and GHG concentrations overshoot safe limits means taking unknown risks (C3.3.). All in all, the report emphasises the importance of the timescale with regard to emission reductions.

In addition, Taalas has stated that increasing carbon storage in old forests is not possible, as old forests are a source of carbon (ref). However, research suggests that old forests act as carbon sinks for a very long time, also in the boreal areas (1, 2, 3).(*) Old forests also have a major impact for biodiversity. Therefore a view according to which, from the climate perspective, old forests are a good target for logging (maybe even more preferable than younger forests) is doubly harmful.

Together the statements on forests contain the idea that a relatively rapid circulation of felling and regrowth is neutral from the carbon perspective. However, each felling causes a carbon debt that needs to be repaid by (re)growing biomass before neutrality is achieved. The carbon debt is greatest compared to a situation where no felling is done, when both the carbon sink and storage would have been preserved. The payback time is at least several decades (1, 2, 3). On top of this comes the problem mentioned above: even if the carbon is captured in the decades to come, it has already performed radiative forcing in the atmosphere, possibly contributing to warming and irreversible changes.

In connection to presenting these statements Taalas has said that the Finnish Climate Change Panel (an independent, interdisciplinary think tank serving as an advisor to the Finnish ministerial working group on energy and climate policy) has emphasised too much the opinions of researchers instead of doing forest research: “It is good that there is in Finland an entity that can present the views of the scientific community. But care should be taken, so that opinions do not get too much weight, but rather the task is to produce scientific knowledge for decision makers.” The irony is that it seems that in the statements mentioned above, Taalas has not been clear whether he is presenting opinions or established scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, his views seem to be in direct conflict with the views presented by the IPCC and by forest science.  

We asked directly both from Taalas and his colleagues in the WMO secretariat if they see a contradiction between the statements by Taalas and the research sources referred to above. Taalas replied to the message, but did not address the question. WMO personnel has not replied at all.

The report Biodiversity, carbon storage and dynamics of old northern forests contains from page 76 on a survey of research on carbon sinks and storage in old forests.

It is good to note that less than 5 percent of Finnish forests are untouched and more than two thirds less than 80 years old. The carbon balance of Finnish forests will be decided in the woods used for forestry and aging is not a threat to continued carbon capture in the near-to-mid term.

Governance of economic transition: a scientific background document for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019

The BIOS Research Unit was invited to produce a scientific background document on transformation of economies to support work on the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

What will happen during the oncoming years and decades when we enter the era of energy transition, combined with emission cuts, and start to witness more severe effects of climate change? What kind of economic understanding and governance models do we need, now that economies are undergoing dramatic rather than incremental change?

While economists typically emphasize carbon pricing as a policy tool for tackling climate change, natural scientists and multidisciplinary environmental research groups argue for more profound political engagement and proactive governance of economic transition.

It can be safely said that no widely applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era. In the background document we highlight underutilized tenets of existing economic-theoretical thinking that can assist governments in channeling economies toward activity that causes a radically lighter burden on natural ecosystems and simultaneously ensures more equal opportunities for a good human life. Our focus is on the transition period, the next few decades.

The document builds on the multidisciplinary work of BIOS since its launch in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015. The main task of the research unit has been to study the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and to develop the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. In the background document we review existing socio-ecological-economic studies and utilize our own findings in the Finnish context to construct tools for governance of economic transition on the global level.

Download the background document.

For more information about the upcoming UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/globalsdreport/2019

For more information on the BIOS Research Unit: https://bios.fi/en

Corresponding author: Paavo Järvensivu, D.Sc. (Econ.), paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi

Researchers’ statement: Finland’s forest utilisation plans would accelerate climate change and reduce diversity of nature

The release event was held on 24 March 2017 in Eurooppasali, Malminkatu 16, Helsinki. The programme of the event (in Finnish) can be found here.

Download the public statement here.

Selection of scientific literature.

A wide group of authoritative Finnish researchers is worried about the effects of Finland’s forest utilisation plans and bioeconomy strategy on the climate and biodiversity. The researchers, who have studied the use of forests from different viewpoints, have signed a statement by which they endeavour to correct the prevailing notions on the subject.

The statement notes that the felling of forests and the increase in current timber use will not control climate change. In addition, the increase in felling will weaken the diversity of nature. “From the point of view of the atmosphere, the sink-diminishing effects of wood harvesting can be compared to emissions,” sums up academy professor Timo Vesala. “The era of easy and slow climate policy is over. Right now we need a rapid increase in the amount of carbon stored in forests and timber products,” adds professor Janne Hukkinen.

The undersigned are worried that the research on such effects has not reached the decision-makers and the greater public in the correct form. The research results must be taken into account better in the decision-making concerning forest utilisation. The undersigned wish to stimulate discussion on the solutions which will help timber use serve the reaching of global climate goals and secure biodiversity.

The compiling of the researcher-initiated public statement has been facilitated by the BIOS Research Unit. The Forum for Environmental Information offers an arena for discussion by organising the publication event. The representatives of the Finnish Parliament’s Energy Renovation group will be present at the event to comment on the statement.