In Conversation with Wärtsilä’s sustainability expert

In Conversation with Wärtsilä’s sustainability expert

5 min read

02 Mar 2020

Text

Lara McCoy

Photo

Marja Väänänen

5 min read

02 Mar 2020

Text:

Lara McCoy

Photo:

Marja Väänänen

Reducing global emissions depends largely on governments, corporations, and individuals thereby making it a priority, says Marko Vainikka, Director of Corporate Relations and Sustainability at Wärtsilä in an interview that centred on the fight against climate change.

1. In December last year the most recent international climate talks, the COP 25, ended with no substantial action. It seems like nations are abandoning leadership in the field of climate change. Is it time for corporations to step up?

I think everybody needs to step up more or less, but who is leading this change is a different question. 

It’s a global challenge. It doesn’t matter who releases these gases into the atmosphere. Everybody suffers. But despite the fact climate change is not a local or regional ambition or challenge, there should be some countries or regions that can show the leadership in climate action. 

There are already many stakeholders who have chosen to take the path forward for the future and have made commitments for sustainable development and climate actions. The problem is that we are so far away from the track that scientists have said is necessary that even though there are ambitious climate commitments made by some companies or some governments, it's not enough.

First, we need to have enough ambitious commitments, after that we come to an even more challenging question: what are the necessary policies and actions that can lead us to the right track. As a global challenge, we should be able to assess the impact on a global scale rather than the local scale. Can we find a consensus on a roadmap for the future or not?

2. Do corporations need encouragement or incentives from governments to take action? 

There are things governments can do, like promoting the right kind of infrastructure and setting policies and targets for energy generation. Think about, for example, renewable power generation. In the past, there were many initiatives to push renewable energy to the market and finally, now, it is starting to be the most cost-efficient way of producing electricity. So sometimes you need these pushes. More ambitious climate change initiatives, such as a significant reduction of greenhouse gases, will require governments to engage in even more analysis to make climate efficient policies that are not overlapping. Various value chains will become interlinked to each other.

When it comes to promoting new technologies and new ways of working, government incentives are crucial. But I think that there is also room for companies to take some actions on their own and be successful. 

3. Recently the European Commission announced an initiative to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent. The Commission hopes to achieve this goal by 2050. Do you think this target is realistic? 

I think so. Finland has a target to be carbon neutral in 2035 – that’s 15 years earlier. So, in that sense, 30 years sounds quite reasonable. It’s not easy, and it might be the case that some countries achieve this goal faster and others need a bit more time to adapt.

For every country, it’s a question of priorities: what are the biggest challenges it faces? I think this is one of the problems with climate change in general. When things are running smoothly, then there’s more willingness from governments to do something on climate change. If there are economic or social challenges, for example, it’s more difficult. It kind of feels that there is new crisis almost every day in some part of the world. 

It seems that this commission has put climate issues at the centre of its activities, so hopefully Europe will take the leadership and creates a roadmap that is achievable and provides an optimal path to a low carbon economy. If Europe will be successful in this, I am quite sure that corporations will be contributing to climate action in remarkable way by providing solutions and technologies that enable such a development.

4. What is the role of a company like Wärtsilä in this process?

We hope to have a crucial role because our energy and marine visions support the overall goal of decarbonising both the energy and maritime sectors. Wärtsilä can contribute to climate action in many different ways. We can provide the technologies that make power systems more efficient and enable optimal utilisation of renewable energy, and we can provide technologies that enable the shipping sector to become more sustainable. 

For example, in the maritime sector, there is a lot of discussion about future fuels. We have done quite extensive analyses about what the sources of future fuels could be because we need cleaner fuels in order to meet emissions standards in the shipping sector. Our technology can utilise the cleaner fuels already today.

In the energy sector, we have defined the optimal path to a 100 percent renewable future. With help of our technology, the path for 100 percent renewable power generation will be much cheaper and more reliable and probably even more reliable than building the future without flexible thermal capacity. If there is not flexibility in the system, it means that you cannot utilise all the renewable energy that is potentially there. 

One interesting future path is related to sector coupling. In the future, the synthetic fuels generated by renewable electricity can be utilised both in flexible thermal generation and in shipping - helping both sectors meet their forthcoming emissions targets.

5. Recently some financial institutions have announced new policies to focus on financing mainly renewable energy sources. Do you think that’s a viable way forward?

It is clear that effective climate action will require efforts from the financial sector as well. This is a clear signal of on-going change in the attitude towards climate. Our energy vision strongly believes in a 100 percent renewable future. From that perspective, this kind of development is welcomed. However, the optimal path to a 100 percent renewable future in our view requires flexible thermal generation capacity, which in the beginning operates on natural gas, and later on bio or synthetic gases, when available. Some of these policies lack a system-level approach, meaning that the policies do not take into account the enabling elements needed for renewable future. Flexible thermal capacity is needed even in 100 percent renewable power systems.