Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Finnish Climate Summit at Finlandia Hall on 13th June 2018

It is a pleasure to join you all here this morning. 

”What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This quote from the former U.S. President Eisenhower is often used to describe pressures on decision-making in turbulent times. It is easy to lose sight of the really important things when new pressing issues compete for our attention every day. 

By now, most of us decision-makers have fully understood that combatting climate change is important. The problem is that we are still not sufficiently grasping the urgency of it. 

Yet climate change is one of those rare phenomena that are both important and urgent. There is no time to wait. Action is needed right now.

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Climate change is not only an environmental matter. It also has direct implications for questions of peace and security. 

I have sometimes spoken about three different kinds of peace that are fundamental to our wellbeing: peace as the absence of war, peace within our societies, and peace with the environment.  

Climate change has an impact on all three. If we fail to make peace with the environment, domestic and international conflicts are likely to follow. If we allow global warming to proceed, it will quickly turn into a hard security issue as well. Rising sea levels and extreme weather events can lead to wars over territory and resources. Migration will grow dramatically, as some areas become uninhabitable. 

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Sooner or later, climate change will require major changes to our entire lifestyle. We will have to reconsider how we produce our energy, how we move from one place to another, and how we live, behave and consume. Such a transformation will never be easy or cost-free. But delaying the inevitable will only make it more difficult and more expensive.  

The question is: do we want to make those changes only when they are forced upon us, when there is no longer an alternative? Or are we willing to act in time, and by doing so prevent some of the most worrying scenarios?

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In other contexts I have often stressed the need to rediscover a sense of community. Understanding that we belong to the same community, despite all our differences, also helps us to take responsibility for it. Seeing the welfare of the entire community as our personal interest should turn us into more active members of it. Instead of passively waiting for others to contribute first, we can decide to take action ourselves. 

This most certainly applies to combating climate change. Finding solutions is our common responsibility. Every single one of us is needed. As individuals, as companies, as cities, as states. But above all: as a community, whether local or national, regional or global.

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The key concepts chosen for this event are Ambition, Action and Acceleration. Three important headlines, all beginning with the letter A. For a former finance minister, the triple A also brings something else to mind: the highest rating to the most trust-worthy economies. 

And trust is of course an essential ingredient of any community worth its name. As a global community, despite all our differences, we have for decades been able to trust the rules-based international order. Old agreements have been kept, although new ones have been increasingly difficult to arrive at. 

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In this regard, December 2015 was a remarkable milestone. Under the skillful chairmanship of Laurent Fabius, who is with us here today, the Paris Agreement brought great news for the environment, and great news for the international order. Paris returned our trust in international negotiations and agreements. 

Two and a half years later, the picture is unfortunately a lot more somber. The voluntary contributions from the state parties are nowhere near to keeping the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius. One of the largest emitters has announced its intention to withdraw from the agreement altogether. And beyond climate policies, the trust in the entire rules-based international order is sinking rapidly.   

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The obstacles are real, but giving up is not an option. The importance and the urgency of the climate challenge are not about to disappear. On top of fulfilling our existing commitments, all of us need to do even more. Every step in the right direction helps. And I believe that concrete steps, even small ones, are much more valuable than grand gestures. 

As the current chair of the Arctic Council, Finland is pushing to reduce the emissions of black carbon in the Arctic area.

Black carbon is a global problem. Unlike the long-term impacts of CO2, black carbon has immediate effects. In the Arctic, it accelerates the melting of the sea ice. This creates a negative feedback loop, making climate change even faster. But the positive side to the story is that our action can also have an immediate impact. 

If we are able to cut down black carbon emissions – for instance from maritime transport, from old-fashioned power plants and from flaring in oil and gas fields – we will make a significant contribution to combating climate change in the Arctic. And saving the Arctic is essential in saving the globe.

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Focusing on this goal, Finland is advocating a first-ever Arctic Summit, bringing together the heads of state and government from the eight members of the Council: the United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic states. 

A firm high-level commitment to reduce black carbon emissions in the Arctic would be welcome news for the environment. And it would also benefit the other key themes I have touched upon here: peace, a sense of community and trust. Success is not guaranteed, but the potential rewards are high. For the sake of our common future, we must not leave a single stone unturned.   

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In this spirit, I wish you all a successful meeting today.