Do you remember the final moments of the last millennium? The world had shaken off the dust of the Cold War and was optimistically welcoming the new millennium. Through European eyes, the global market economy and the liberal democracy seemed like the inevitable recipes for success. Finland had left behind a historically bad recession and was taking over the world with its mobile phones. The economy was growing, the internet made anything possible, and the international community swore in the name of peace.

18 years have passed since the turn of the millennium. Even though time has gone quickly, a lot has also happened. The outlook on the future has gained some new meanings. The international situation has culminated in conflicts and wars, and even the Western world has had to learn to live in the shadow of a new kind of terrorism and violence. The unsuccessful aftercare of the financial crisis of 2008 and the Eurozone crisis that followed have created a rich soil for xenophobia and the rise of the far right. Of course many things have also improved in the world of the 21st century.

However, there is one thing that will revolutionise our future more than anything else. The further into this new millennium we get, then clearer the nightmare scenarios of climate change have become.  Awareness of climate change has grown, and it has taken the top spot amongst the nightmare scenarios in the assessments of e.g. leading economic and security organisations. These days the majority of Europeans see climate change as a substantial threat. In America, Generation Y feels that climate change is the main threat of our times, and are prepared to completely change their lifestyle in order to protect the environment. Finns are well aware of the importance of controlling climate change, but their actions leave a lot to be desired.

In order to stop global warming, historically quick and extensive action will be required. All the main measures to prevent dangerous climate change will need to be taken within as many years as have passed since we celebrated the turn of the millennium. In other words, when a child born today comes of age in the 2030s, societies must have gone through a fundamental change. What sort of changes do we mean?

Science Magazine published a roadmap for rapid decarbonisation which summarises the steps that need to be taken. In the 2030s, the energy systems, traffic, housing and industry of industrialised countries (including Finland) must be carbon neutral. Oil will have disappeared as an energy source, and cars with combustion engines will no longer be in use. All air traffic, as well as the production of concrete and steel, will be carbon neutral. The energy markets of the world will be dominated by a brand-new generation of low-carbon energy solutions instead of fossil fuels. Simultaneously, the earth’s natural ability to absorb carbon will have been greatly improved by increasing the number of carbon sinks in the shape of forests, and reducing the amount of emissions caused by agriculture. There will also be tens or hundreds of thousands of carbon capture and storage units in use to capture several tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which are currently only at the trial stage. It is only through these kinds of measures that the world can achieve net-zero

Tero Toivanen

The author is a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki and in the independent research unit BIOS

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