Finland’s Statement at the General Assembly Commemoration of 15th Anniversary of ICPD, 12 October 2009

Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Under-Secretary of State

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the General Assembly. It is a great honour for me to be present at this event. In addition to the common statement of the European Union, Finland would like to address a few additional items.

The Programme of the International Conference on Population and Development set forth a broad agenda which is still very relevant. I would like to focus on the parts of the programme that relate to population issues.

It is even clearer now than before that population issues are closely linked to poverty and sustainable development. Poverty can be overcome only if development is ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.

Demographic dynamics have a strong influence on all our aspirations towards sustainable futures. Aggregate demand in world markets is key to overcome the global economic crisis and to reach economic sustainability. Obviously, poverty reduction among the rapidly growing populations in the South is the most promising way to increase global demand.

Population growth associated with unsustainable production and consumption patterns are threatening poverty eradication. Furthermore the cohesion and stability of societies are threatened as economic opportunities and service provision are unable to meet the demand equitably.

How to generate growth for all mankind, without compromising sustainability? As the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization concluded: Global Governance has to be fair, it has to be sustainable. We cannot achieve global consensus in climate negotiations unless we show serious interest not only in saving the planet but also in securing decent work opportunities and social protection for the people in developing countries.

Having said that, I would like to highlight the links between population growth, climate change and food security. These are issues no country can tackle on its own. We have a shared responsibility as we are all accountable for our planets survival for future generations.

The links between climate and population have basically two dimensions. On one hand, the impacts of climate change are already apparent, from droughts and floods to destabilized livelihoods, and they are being felt most by those who are already impoverished. But on the other hand, uncontrolled population growth will further increase these effects.  Most environmental problems, including those arising from climate change, tend to be aggravated by population size and growth. Therefore, the fact that the world’s population has reached almost 7 billion and continues to grow by some 78 million each year is unquestionably relevant.

The demand for food is projected to double by 2030. It is estimated that 20 percent of this increase is related to population growth. The fastest population growth is taken place in the poorest nations of the world, many facing already now serious difficulty in meeting current food needs. To respond to food security in the medium and long term, we need to integrate trade and aid policies as well as increase agricultural production.

Mr. President,

At the heart of all this is the individual and the choices she or he makes. Population stabilization will occur naturally, not as a matter of coercion, when individual women and men have equal rights to make choices, access to sexual and reproductive health care, old age security through decent work and social pensions. Access to health care and contraceptives is a right that belongs to all, and is crucial for all women: wed and unwed.

The number of women of reproductive age will rise dramatically by 2050 and we will have the largest generation ever in reproductive age. Maternal mortality is among those health indicators that show the greatest gap between the rich and the poor — both between and inside countries. There is a huge unmet need for family planning. The need for services and education for young people is therefore dire.

Healthy women mean an increase in both local and global productivity, they play a central role in poverty reduction and in creating sustainable development. But to focus on women alone isn’t enough: we need, as stated in the ICPD, the constructive involvement of men.

Sustainable development requires a comprehensive approach where the social, economic and environmental dimensions of national policies and global governance are developed side-by-side. This needs to happen on both levels, global and local. Global governance is needed since we are dealing with problems without passports, but we must also recognize that all nations are responsible for their own development.

Mr. President,

In the late 19th century, Finland had a poor, agrarian and scattered population. Births took place at home with the assistance of lay midwifes. Today, the Finnish maternity and child care system is unique in the world.

After the Second World War, a legislation was passed to guarantee free-of-charge maternity care for all Finnish women. Nowadays the service reaches 99 percent of all families. Maternity clinics focus on the health and well-being of pregnant women and their children. The progress of pregnancy is screened regularly and the clinics provide information on everyday-life and proper nutrition for pregnant women. Men are also included and strongly encouraged to accompany their partners. After birth, the baby’s health is monitored with regular visits to a child care clinic until she or he attends school. 

The effects of this system were and are enormous. After the legislation was passed in 1944, Finland’s infant mortality rate more than halved in ten years. Since then, the infant mortality rate has been in steady decline, being now one of the lowest in the world (0.26 %). 

The Cairo programme and the Millennium Development Goals complement each other. The United Nations, along with its specialised agencies and funds, such as United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), are essential to achieving these goals. The UN system has a central role in the Finnish development policy both in funding and political significance. UNFPA has a unique mandate in achieving the rights-based development goals related to population development and reproductive health globally. UNFPA is our valued, long time partner with which we have worked for example to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health, to reduce maternal mortality and to ensure reproductive health commodity security. Finland is among the 10 major donors to UNFPA giving core support. 

In conclusion, we should adopt an integrated long term approach to population issues. One that takes into account all aspects, both global and individual. We must make sure each individual has access to means, care and information. Success will then be mirrored at the global level as sustainable population growth. 

While we recognize the progress made, we feel that now more than ever we must keep our priorities straight. We must keep our commitments. Finland remains committed, we  are increasing our official development assistance and we also remain committed to the targets set in Cairo 15 years ago. We know what works and the time to act is now.