World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas has been named “European of the Year” by Readers Digest magazine for his role in galvanizing action on climate change.
Each year Reader’s Digest editors in Europe nominate a shortlist of Europeans who have had a major influence on a pressing contemporary issue and are helping to make the world a better place. The award recognizes Prof Taalas’s prominent role in Europe and at international level in in efforts to tackle climate change and its impacts.
“Growing numbers of states and individuals are aware of the facts and motivated. You have to have international consensus and the science has to be solid enough to convince the decision makers to act,” Prof Taalas told the magazine.
Prof. Taalas has been Secretary-General of the Geneva-based WMO since 1 January 2016 and prior to that headed the Finnish Meteorological Institute. WMO is the UN system’s authoritative voice on weather, climate and water and Prof. Taalas is part of the inner core of climate leaders advising UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Recognized for its scientific expertise, WMO provides regular input to U.N. Climate Change negotiations and to decision makers about climate change – namely, increasing greenhouse gases and global temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, glacier and sea ice retreat, and extreme weather. WMO has just confirmed that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record.
WMO also works to help countries become more resilient to extreme weather and adapt to climate change by improving early warning systems, climate and hydrological services such as seasonal forecasts. It is placing increasing focus on the water-related impacts of climate change, which plays out through an increased risk of floods and water shortages.
Prof. Taalas regularly speaks about the need – and increasing opportunities – to protect the planet by transitioning to clean energy and through transport sector changes. The father of five adult children, he says it is important to prioritize the welfare of future generations and not just short term economic interests.
“We need to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, notably from energy production, industry and transport. This is critical if we are to mitigate climate change and meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change,” says Prof. Taalas.
“To stop a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the level of ambition needs to be tripled. And to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, it needs to be multiplied by five,” he says.
“Both technical and economic means for success exist. The transition offers new business opportunities, and can be done with relatively small changes to our everyday life. We must not be driven to despair, given that reasonable, consensus-based solutions are available to the international community, governments and civil society,” comments Prof. Taalas. “It is doable.”