President Niinistö at the UN General Assembly: The mindset of ordinary people plays a major role in the efforts to mitigate climate change

President Niinistö met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 22 September. UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist

The President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö attended the opening week of the 74th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations during 22–25 September 2019. One of this year’s main topics was the prevention of climate change.

We want to lead by example

On Monday 23 September, President Niinistö addressed the UN Climate Summit hosted by Secretary General António Guterres. The objective of the summit was to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In his statement, Niinistö pointed out that Finland’s current climate objectives are among the most ambitious ones in the world. “Our government is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035.  We aim to become carbon negative soon after that, as the first industrial economy. The bar has been set very high. We want to lead by example.”

Aside from the climate summit, President Niinistö attended the COP25 Leaders Call for Climate Action meeting hosted by the President of France Emmanuel Macron and the President of Chile Sebastian Piñera.

Photo: Jouni Mölsä/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The climate crisis calls for leaders, not just followers

On Tuesday, the opening week of the UN General Assembly continued with the national statements of the countries. In his address, President Niinistö underlined trust and climate change: “Without trust, even the best of institutions cannot deliver. Without trust in institutions, we are less capable of acting together to address the challenges of the future. And without trust in a sustainable future, we will not trust each other. This vicious cycle needs to be broken,” the President said.

President Niinistö went on to say that we are no longer able to avoid the climate crisis completely. “We all have to accelerate our efforts. Reduce our emissions, increase our carbon sinks. We cannot afford to wait for others to move first. The climate crisis calls for leaders, not just followers.”

Tuesday’s programme also included a reception hosted by the U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ordinary people and a change in the mindset

Wednesday 25 September began with the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, in which President Niinistö gave an interview on climate change to Kate Bolduan of the CNN. In the interview, he underlined the role of ordinary people in the efforts to combat climate change.

“If we take into account how our actions affect climate change, we will at the same time push others to think in the same way. As a politician, I’m fully aware of how hard it is to make difficult decisions. But if the mindset is there and there is solid support, decision making becomes much easier.”

As well as the forum, President Niinistö participated in the UN summit on sustainable development serving as one of the chairmen on the debate on the measures to be taken. The summit assessed the progress made in the implementation of Agenda 2030, the UN sustainable development programme.

In his statement, President Niinistö brought up the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action co-chaired by Finland and Chile and its role in preventing climate change and promoting sustainable development: “When we get the finance ministers involved, we’ll start seeing real changes. The Helsinki principles will help us achieve the required systemic change.”

Additionally, President Niinistö highlighted the actions of ordinary people: “The mindset of ordinary people, matters. The more committed people are to a cause, the more they push governments and parliaments to be more active.”

President Niinistö co-chaired the debates at the UN summit on sustainable development. Photo: Jouni Mölsä/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

During the opening week, President Niinistö’s schedule included a number of other bilateral meetings with parties such as the UN Secretary General António Guterres and the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

President Niinistö led the Finnish delegation to the UN General Assembly. It included Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru, Minister for Development Co-operation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen.

Speech at the Opening of the General Debate of the UNGA