Jari Niemelä: We must not leave future generations behind
In his speech opening the anniversary week of the University of Helsinki on 22 March, Rector Jari Niemelä, who currently attends to special duties at the University, emphasised the urgency of finding solutions to problems caused by climate change and biodiversity loss, a wicked pair of problems.

This week, the University of Helsinki is celebrating its 381st anniversary. The anniversary week opened with Jari Niemelä’s speech focusing on inclusivity. According to him, inclusivity can be promoted by directing the question “How are you doing?” not only to other people, but also to nature and other species. By doing so, we can foster inclusivity in the entire natural world.

A communion between humanity and nature is paramount, for human action has made more than two-thirds of all vertebrates in the world disappear in a short time. In Finland alone, the sixth mass extinction event brought about by humans has eradicated more than 300 species. It is also highly likely that global warming will already exceed the critical increase of 1.5 centigrade in the next five years.

In his opening speech of the anniversary week, Rector Niemelä emphasised that finding solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss – a wicked pair of problems – is extremely urgent. Niemelä, who for the time being is working part-time and attending to special duties as rector (while Sari Lindblom is attending to the overall duties of rector), stated:

“The current coronavirus crisis can serve to spur the social sustainability transformation forward, as stated by the University’s post-coronavirus task force in its report published in the autumn. The pandemic is a catalyst after which there is no returning to how things were before. In other words, this is a time of transition.”

We must not leave young climate activists with the burden of saving the world on their own

Addressing the problems of climate change and biodiversity loss requires action. The University of Helsinki intends to do its share.

“Action for the climate and environment concerns each and every one of us. It is a responsibility that young climate activists should not be burdened with on their own,” Niemelä says.

The University of Helsinki has selected the building of a sustainable future as a strategic choice that it promotes through various concrete actions. At the turn of the year, the University succeeded in divesting its remaining investments in the production of fossil fuels, and during the current teaching period, the University is offering, for the first time, a multidisciplinary sustainability course designed for all its students. In the near future, the course will also be made available to students engaged in continuous learning.

Efforts for a better future are being made not only at the University of Helsinki, but also across the whole higher education sector.

“Together with other Finnish universities, last autumn we published the sustainability theses of Universities Finland UNIFI. Among other goals, the entire Finnish university sector intends to become carbon neutral by the year 2030," explains Niemelä.

The climate and biodiversity objectives of the government programme must be implemented

The University of Helsinki demands that the climate and biodiversity objectives included in the programme of the Finnish government are implemented. Besides willingness, science is needed to identify solutions.

“Finland has made a pledge to transform itself into a sustainable society by 2030. That objective is less than 10 years in the future. The challenge is great, but success is our only option.” The University promises to offer all available research-based knowledge and expertise needed to save the world.

“We must not leave future generations behind. Human children, Javan rhinoceroses, freshwater trout, Saimaa ringed seals, yellow wagtails, right whales and white-tailed eagles must be able to inhabit our planet also in the future,” Niemelä states.

Niemelä’s speech launched the celebration of the University’s 381st anniversary

The University of Helsinki, reaching the ripe age of 381, will celebrate its anniversary for a whole week from Monday, 22 March to Friday, 26 March 2021. The week features remote events and speeches both on the University’s YouTube channel and on the Think Corner website. All those interested are warmly welcome to follow the anniversary programme, available here.

Watch Jari Niemelä’s speech opening the University’s anniversary week on 22 March 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEIlyU2CGhk