President Kaljulaid: Estonia could be climate crisis trailblazer

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Kersti Kaljulaid.
Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: Elmo Riig / Sakala

Over the past six months, the UN has completed two comprehensive studies that conclude the planet is on the verge of a climate disaster. Kersti Kaljulaid is the first Estonian president to have a climate adviser and who is direct in describing the planet as experiencing a climate crisis. Kaljulaid says that Estonia should be a trailblazer and move toward a carbon neutral economy by skipping over half-baked solutions.

To start, I would like to congratulate you. I cannot recall seeing such sincere jubilation as when Estonia was chosen a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council after any other international vote.

We had worked very hard in the campaign team. A lot of time, energy, long flights were put into it. At times, every minute counts and one must attend an unconceivable number of meetings. The foreign minister, myself and the campaign team…

You’ve said that when visiting far-away countries that will be hit first by rising sea levels…

Yes, Tuvalu. Three meters above sea level. While three meters might sound like a lot, a single tall wave is all it takes to eradicate your freshwater reserves and your people. The helplessness of these countries in this matter is absolute. All they can do is urge mankind to change how things are done.

And will we see change?

I hope so. Covering an area the size of Spain in solar panels somewhere around the equator where there is nothing but desert would satisfy the entire planet’s energy needs.

In an ideal world, we would come together and agree to spend 1 percent of the global GDP on getting it done. And we would get it done. But the world is not ideal, which does not mean we should not work toward it.

At the same time, the US has pulled out of the Paris agreement.

And yet they are meeting its targets. When USA said it does not believe it important to stick to the agreement, its people, companies and cities said that they do. And they are. They are meeting the targets through civil and business initiative.

Estonia is a world champion in jumping over its own shadow, as evidenced by this UN campaign.

A month ago, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Katharine Viner instructed her staff to refer to climate change as the climate crisis in the future. The comprehensive UN climate study published last fall is referred to as the doomsday report. Do you believe this is an emergency?

Yes, I believe it is. Looking at the Antarctic ice shield that is our oldest time series, at the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, we see that there have been spikes in the past. The difference is that change happened gradually back then. Slow change leaves living creatures time to adjust. We can always say that Homo sapiens is just one species and that the planet will be fine in the end.

The report emphasizes that we now have just 12 years to contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees as 2 degrees would spell disaster.

We don’t really know whether it is a sufficiently pessimistic scenario because simply acknowledging that temperatures are rising is not enough to say whether the curve is logarithmical, parabolical… It does not seem to be linear. But how quickly is the temperature rising? Where is the point where it can no longer be stopped? We do not know.

It is a great shame if major countries do not perceive this crisis, perceive the longer perspective. This mindset of I still have 30-40 years in politics. Or that we can hold on for another two elections cycles. We cannot afford this cast of mind in climate matters.