Opening remarks of Minister Soini at the Arctic Spirit Conference

Opening remarks of Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Arctic Spirit Conference. Rovaniemi, 15 November 2017.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Arctic friends,

It all started here, in Rovaniemi, a quarter of a century ago. The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy was adopted in Rovaniemi in 1991. This paved the way to the establishment of the Arctic Council five years later. The focus was in the environment and sustainability, but the message was broader. Need to foster peace and cooperation in the Artic.

We have come a long way in the Arctic cooperation. Now climate change and the global need for sustainable development have brought the Arctic and the rest of the world closer together.

Global interest towards the Arctic has grown – and so have the concerns - when the climate and the living conditions are rapidly changing. Combining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Arctic issues underlines the reality: the Arctic is both local and global. It is a home for four million people. They have developed a way of life that is well-adapted to Arctic circumstances.

The international community has made a commitment to implement the UN Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development. Today, sustainable development is not just wishful thinking. It is a survival strategy for us all.  This Agenda is meant not only for governments. Its’ implementation requires the involvement of businesses, organizations, local administrations, cities and individuals. What we need are innovative approaches in combining economic, social and environmental aspects of life and development.

We have no illusions. Sustainability does not come automatically.  We believe that Finland’s strengths are education, stability and democratic institutions.  The implementation of Agenda 2030 focuses on a carbon neutral and resource-wise Finland and  a non-discriminating, competent and equal Finland. These two areas are strongly interdependent – they cannot be achieved without each other.

The Government is now further reflecting how sustainable development could be fed into the annual budgetary process. The ministries are encouraged to think how to operationalize sustainable development. These will include promotion of rights of women and children; the Government’s climate and energy strategy; recirculation of nutrients or restoration of fish stocks. The Parliament, Saami indigenous representatives, NGOs and many other stakeholders are involved.

Dear friends,

We should discuss actively what sustainable economy means. In the end, the economy should be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development. Technological development should support the economy. The key is how to link the different sectoral decisions together.

And -  how do we achieve a carbon-neutral and resource-wise Finland?

Firstly,we should enhance our citizens’ competence, skills and knowledge. This way we can create jobs with higher added value and productivity. Secondly, technological competence and digital solutions play a great role. To become carbon neutral and resource wise, we need to increase efficiency in the use of energy and materials. Climate friendly products, services, innovations and business models are the key to achieve this goal.

And - How to create a non-discriminating, equal and competent Finland? We need to increase  youth employment  and tackle the long-term unemployment, social exclusion and segregation. In order to achieve this, we need to reduce inequalities in health, to promote equality between men and women, to support lifelong learning and equality in education. The government is on the right track on this, but there is still work to be done.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is no surprise that the goals of Agenda 2030 come also very close to the Finland’s Chairmanship priorities of the Arctic Council: environmental protection, education, connectivity and meteorological cooperation. The same way as Finland identifies itself as an arctic country, we need to promote sustainable development across the country and across the Arctic region.

A few weeks ago, the Arctic Council met in Oulu. The focus was preventing pollution of the Arctic environment and in providing educational opportunities in the Arctic. These issues are important for the sustainable development in the Arctic. In September, the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council met in Inari. Many concrete projects are carried out under this working group: health and education among them.

The international debate on the Arctic and sustainability has continued to grow. As my colleague Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy stressed in the EU High Level event on the Arctic in Oulu last June: “the Arctic is a gateway and a crossroads for international cooperation and partnerships”. Or as Commissioner responsible for the Arctic Karmenu Vella put it: “the Arctic is a laboratory for global sustainable development”.

To build on this, I would like to stress the Arctic region’s positive potentialon sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy that the Arctic and sustainable development are being discussed increasingly together. This relates also to investments. Sustainable development goals (SDG’s) are being utilized by private companies across the world. There will hardly be a meaningful implementation of the Agenda 2030 without public private partnerships. For companies, sustainability means new business opportunities. It is for the governments to speed up this development.

In Finland, all sectors of the society – public and private organizations, businesses, even private persons –  are asked to give their concrete Commitments to the implementation of Agenda 2030. These Commitments – 700 at the moment in Finland - are registered on open Commitment 2050 database to inspire others.

Local viewpoints should be taken into account when implementing the Agenda. Identifying common interests together provides the best success.

In this, there must be a respect for indigenous people’s cultural identity and languages. In the Arctic Council we are happy that the indigenous peoples’ organizations across Europe, Asia and North-America are participating actively in its work.

In Finland, the Government made recently a decision to start a reconciliation process with the Saami people in order to deal with the painful experiences of the past.

To conclude,

It is my wish that in the future we will see more commitments internationally coming from the different corners of the Arctic to promote sustainability and the Agenda 2030. We – the different actors across the Arctic have a great opportunity to promote individual SDGs in the Arctic.  The world is watching us.

This is why we have gathered here today. I want to thank the organizers for the comprehensive program. The discussion on the Arctic and the SDG’s has just started internationally. It is our opportunity to provide fresh elements to this debate from Rovaniemi!