The 1.5-degree target is already beyond us, but we shouldn’t give up on climate change – Mika Anttonen

The founder and principal owner of energy company St1, owning and running over 1300 service stations in three countries, Mika Anttonen sees carbon markets and renewable energy innovations as a way out of our current situation – which, as he sees it, is getting more and more dire by the day.

Mika Anttonen doesn’t think he’s painting an ugly picture when he says that we can’t reach our common goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Despite all commitments and signatures on climate deals, he wants to remain a realist.

It’s simple: we just don’t have enough time left.

“I don’t think it’s in any way possible, and I think it’s good to admit it,” he says. “There are people, particularly abroad, who are sceptical about the whole thing. If they find evident impossibilities in the story, they’ll use it as an excuse to do nothing.”

And doing nothing is, in Anttonen’s view, the worst option. If anything, right now we must do the right thing. This would be to focus on the actions that have real impact and develop technologies that work anywhere and everywhere.

For example, a carbon market would direct the costs of fixing climate change to those who are most responsible for causing it: fossil fuel producers. Through the market, those producing carbon dioxide emissions would pay for doing so, and those either reducing them or adding to carbon sinks that store the already emitted carbon could be compensated.

“Companies have the money and capabilities to make the changes. States don’t.”

Put the money where it matters

Anttonen emphasises that we need to look at the atmosphere as something we all share together, and that our playing field is the entire world. This needs to be considered when developing new technologies, too. At this stage, local actions aren’t sufficient.

“It doesn’t make sense to put money and effort on solutions that only work within the borders of Finland, the Nordics or other small regions,” Anttonen explains. “Scalability is key.”

This is one of the reasons Wärtsilä, St1, software and services company Tieto, state-owned energy company Fortum and independent think tank Demos Helsinki have launched the Innovation Community Initiative. The group’s aim is to dramatically accelerate the global energy sector’s transition to more environmentally sustainable production through collaboration instead of competition.

Anttonen prefers solutions that both reduce carbon emissions and function as carbon sinks, as their benefits would be two-fold. Those are the most important and essential alternatives – the ones worth investing in.

“This is not an exercise we’ve got a limitless supply of money for, no matter what is being said.”

Anttonen believes that many people are disillusioned as to what really makes a difference. Biofuels or electric cars are generally deemed ‘good choices’ but don’t necessarily reduce the consumption of crude oil one bit.

“I can make a list of our current measures that make people think they’re doing good - but it isn’t true.”

We’re not evil, we’re just many

Despite ongoing and increasing investments in renewable energy, the demands for fossil fuels is constantly growing. Anttonen points out that it’s a struggle to respond to this growth with renewable sources, let alone replace fossil fuels when it comes to the existing demand.

Anttonen notes that the growing demand for energy isn’t anyone’s fault.

“It’s not because we’re all evil people on the planet, but because our number is growing at an incredible pace. Every 15 years there’s a billion more inhabitants on the planet, and that’s a number with nine zeros in it,” he says. “No matter how low their level of consumption is, in megajoules it is immense.”

Thus, we also need comprehend the scale of the actions that are needed. Anttonen says even if all factories were blasting at full steam and every capable engineer was working day and night, the speed wouldn’t be sufficient to meet the demand.

Carbon is easy

The global target of reducing carbon emissions to 580 gigatons is as much out of our reach as the 1.5-degree goal. Anttonen doesn’t think this is an irreversible disaster, as although the amount will be exceeded momentarily, there are ways to reduce it.

“This is not a game that will end in 15 years and then we’ll all slash our wrists. This carbon dioxide problem is very much solvable, and I believe we will solve it.”

Anttonen believes that technologies and innovations will, eventually, lead us to improvements. However, he notes that carbon is one of the easiest aspects. The impact climate change can have on biodiversity is much more unpredictable than counting emissions.

“No scientist has been able to come up with a model that could reflect on the shocks in our food supply chain when pollinators disappear. As the number of people as well as consumption climbs higher, nature will eventually hit back.”

Written by
Anne Salomäki