Climate change will not wait for politicians

University of Helsinki researchers are working on the big questions of climate and energy through cooperation between centres of excellence in climate research and Russian studies.

"It is the duty of the University to see beyond quarterly results and the trends of day-to-day politics to comprehensively study long-term challenges," says Markku Kivinen, Research Director at the Aleksanteri Institute, the centre for research into Russia and Eastern Europe.

The strained relations between Russia and the West as well as the day-to-day politics of our eastern neighbour are widely debated issues in the academic world, as well as the topic of the 17 August release event of the Grand Challenges & Northern Societies manifesto, penned by climate researchers and Russia specialists. The new research initiative combines climate research with Russian studies, two top fields of the University of Helsinki.

Despite political obstacles, there is a need for more effective academic cooperation, and the big issues will not wait for the geopolitical situation to calm down – they must be tackled immediately.

“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently more than 400 parts per million, and if the current trend continues, in a hundred years it will be more than 500. This is far too much. We must reduce emissions and boost carbon sinks within the next 40 years,” says climate researcher, Academy Professor Markku Kulmala.

Huge challenges, scientific solutions

One of the first goals of northern climate cooperation is to create a comprehensive network of measuring stations for the northern area. In addition to greenhouse gases, these stations would conduct aerosol and biosphere measurements, as at the Hyytiälä SMEAR station.

Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, professor in Russian energy policy, points out that the largest economies are also the biggest polluters. They are understandably reluctant to relinquish their economic status.

At the moment, the future could be brighter. Russia is dependent on energy production, and there seems to be no room for environmental perspectives in political discussions.

“This is why we must find a way that is beneficial to both energy policy and the climate,” Tynkkynen states.

Research can only point policy in a sustainable direction if it is available to policy-makers. Coordinated from Helsinki, the goal of the PEEX project is to cooperate in climate research with Russian and Chinese researchers. The work is already well underway.

“The PEEX is as ambitious a research community in its field as CERN is in particle physics," says Hanna Lappalainen, research coordinator at PEEX.

Finland is a gateway to Russia

Academy Professor Kulmala has been involved in long-term research cooperation with his colleagues and officials from both Russia and China. Russia’s actions are crucial for our climate, and Finland can be a key player in coaxing Russia to make climate-friendly decisions.

Professor Markku Kulmala received the Feodor P.Lithe Gold Medal from the Russian Geographical Society on Wednesday, the 19th of August in Moscow, in recognition of Russian appreciation.

The honorary medal is awarded on the basis of Professor Kulmala’s merits in atmospheric sciences, meteorology and climatology. The gesture is exceptional, since the medal, which has been awarded since 1874, rarely has been given outside Russia.

Professor Kulmala, the most cited climate researcher in the world, considers the University of Helsinki's research on the topic to be at an excellent level, and cooperation with Aleksanteri Institute a natural extension of ongoing work. According to the professor, he could not imagine a more competent partner. Professor Kivinen of the Aleksanteri Institute points out that opportunities come with responsibility.

“Finland is one of the leaders in terms of Russian studies. This position involves great responsibility.”

When working with countries which have very authoritarian leadership, such as China or Russia, an understanding of the political system as well as good, long-term relations are even more important than usual.

The Grand Challenges & Northern Societies manifesto