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The President of the Republic of Finland: Baltic Sea

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 4/7/2011

Speech by the President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the HENVI Science Days on interdisciplinary environmental research and teaching on 7 April 2011

Sustainable development in the global politics with the reflections to local: the Baltic Sea as an example

The role of science in promoting sustainable development is important. Sustainable development consists of three dimensions – economic, environmental and social. The notion of these three dimensions of sustainable development was accepted by the so-called Brundtland Commission more than 20 years ago. To my mind, we do not need to redefine the concept, the difficulties lie in the implementation.

Each dimension has its own scientific base. But science faces the same challenge as politics: how to build bridges between different disciplines.
Therefore, events like this – the Science Days on Environmental Research – are indeed welcomed. I hope that someday an interdisciplinary approach could be applied to sustainable development in its full extent.

So, the concept of sustainable development has existed in global politics for some twenty years, especially since the Rio Summit of 1992. It is even more topical now when the United Nations is preparing for so-called Rio+20 Conference. It will be held in Rio next year.

As usual for global events, the Rio+20 Conference is being prepared in an intergovernmental process. In addition to this, the UN Secretary-General set up a High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability to produce fresh ideas for the Conference and beyond. A sectoral search for solutions to global problems such as climate change, food security or growing inequality is good, but not enough. What we need is effective implementation of sustainable development in its all three dimensions at the same time.

The Global Sustainability Panel that I am chairing together with President of South Africa has started to work out a practical blueprint for sustainable, low-carbon and inclusive growth. Our aim is to seek a balance between economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainable development – which I have often called a modern trinity.

Often one of the dimensions has been more in the front, while the other two have taken a back seat. And for most of the past 20 years, it has been the social dimension that has been neglected. In order to truly reduce inequality and enhance social justice, we should place more emphasis on the social pillar. And in this respect, empowerment of women is crucial to build the missing balance.

Also, creation of decent jobs is a key in combining economic and environmental sustainability to the social one.

Global sustainability is not hardly – or not at all – possible without sustainability at a state level. Nor should we ignore the local level either. Nation-states build bridges between the local and the global level. And the United Nations plays the leading role in global issues.

Deep changes in production and consumption as well as in attitudes call for even wider collaboration. Therefore, we have to build partnerships between different actors such as business sector and civil society organizations – including trade unions.

* * *

Cooperation in the Baltic Sea region serves as an encouraging and inspiring example of a new approach. In order to save our common Sea, we have forgotten traditional working methods and have initiated new models. We borrowed the idea from the UN Global Compact and the Clinton Global Initiative and invited Baltic Sea coastal states, cities, businesses and NGOs to work together. And this is how the Baltic Sea Action process started. It is based on a joint initiative of a private foundation – Baltic Sea Action Group –, the Finnish Government and myself.

The BSAS process is based on the fact that the task of improving the ecological state of the Baltic Sea is so immense that the public sector cannot do it alone. We need the private sector, businesses, NGO’s as well as individuals to commit themselves to voluntary action for our common Sea. But they cannot do it alone either. The word is co-operation.

In this spirit, Finland organized a Baltic Sea Action Summit last year. All the Baltic Sea countries – and also Belarus – participated in the Summit together with representatives from cities, business and NGOs. All the participants made concrete commitments to save the Baltic Sea.

I would like to highlight some positive examples on action to save our common Sea: the existing waste water plants in St. Petersburg, the planned waste water system in Kaliningrad, aimed restrictions on the use of polyphosphates in laundry detergents in Poland and in Latvia, as well as new means that some cities provide to ships to get rid of the bilge water. The biggest remaining challenge for all of us is agriculture.

The substantive approach of the Baltic Sea Action process is based on HELCOM Action Plan. The objective is to cooperate with all existing Baltic Sea organizations – and neither to create a new organization nor new agreements.

In addition, the process supports the implementation of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea, which was adopted in 2009. Eight out of the nine coastal states of the Sea are EU Member States. In order to improve the state of the Sea, we must intensify our regional cooperation within the Union. For this, the EU's Baltic Sea strategy is a very good tool. And, at the same time we must cooperate with Russia in order to achieve concrete results.

Since the Summit, more commitments have been made. By, now we have some 170 commitments. The next milestone in this process will be the second Summit, which will be hosted by Russia in 2012. So, our work continues.

In practice, Baltic Sea Action Group monitors constantly the implementation of the commitments. If you want to check where we are with the process, you can visit their home page To my mind, it is also important to evaluate why some commitments are not successfully implemented.

It is my firm belief that this type of a public-private working method could be applied to promoting sustainable development in other areas, too. So, feel free to copy and promote this working model.

Finally, let me still come back to the role of science in sustainable development in the context of the Baltic Sea region. As I said already, also in the field of science building bridges between different disciplines is essential when addressing the complex domain of sustainable development. I am convinced that our research community will soon be able to provide us with even more efficient solutions based on scientific results to guarantee a sustainable prosperous future for our region.

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Updated 4/14/2011

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