Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Zero Emission Summit on Citizens’ Role in Mitigating Climate Change in New York on 21 September 2017

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I want to thank the organisers of this event. This event is an important reminder of the responsibility, but also the ability of individuals to act in mitigating climate change.

The time for decisive climate action is now. Climate change is proceeding at an alarming rate. With current national emission targets the global warming is forecasted to be at least three degrees. This would be well above what the Paris Agreement stipulated.

Citizens’ role is much more important than many think. Around seventy per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption. Our individual choices matter. We can decrease our carbon footprint by changing our consumption patterns. For example, I made my own Citizens Climate Pledge two years ago. The Pledge was initially developed by a Finnish Stormwarning association. The campaign urges people to study their personal carbon footprint and reduce it by half within ten years.

My carbon footprint reduction campaign began already a few years before the pledge, when I had a geothermal heating system installed in our home. This cut our electricity consumption by about half. Since then we have switched to CO2-free electricity and are using more and more LED light bulbs.

I have also paid more attention to reducing food wastage. Finnish households throw away a total of 120–160 tonnes of food every year. This is equivalent to the environmental impact of 100,000 cars and a loss of 500 million euros.

Luckily I am not alone with my actions. A growing number of cities, businesses and financing communities have also become activate in developing solutions for climate mitigation. But these actions need to be supported by citizens to reach the scale and speed needed for effective change.

Experts have calculated that if, for example, 100 million citizens would reduce their carbon footprint to half, the emission reductions potential would amount to one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is roughly ten times the current emissions of Finland. If these citizens would also offset unavoidable emissions, the monetary value of offsets could in the beginning be $500 million per year. When offsetting the emissions, for example with UN-certified emission reductions, all the money could be allocated into developing countries and their climate projects. This would enable sustainable economic development. And the reduction potential, as well as offset incomes, would be even larger, if the citizens producing the highest emissions would join. 

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Finland has a long tradition of promoting sustainable development through interaction and broad-based participation. We are in a good position to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We focus on establishing partnerships between government, the private sector, universities and civil society. This work is supported by the long-term and integrated sustainable development approach that is adopted in early education, schools, educational institutions and universities, and the work carried out by the NGOs and businesses.

We have worked with citizens’ engagement already for years. Finland was among the first countries completing the national Programme to Promote Sustainable Consumption and Production in 2005. The aim of the programme was to reduce environmental burden and CO2 emissions of both homes and public sector. Organisations in Finland are inspiring and empowering people to mitigate climate change. For example, today the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, will release a service that will help Finns lower their personal environmental impact by making smarter day-to-day choices.

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Today is the Zero Emission Day. The idea, originally from Canada, is to give our planet a break from the use of fossil fuels. The day is a good opportunity to pause and think what we can do to reduce carbon emissions, the most significant driver of climate change. I would like to invite everyone to join the Citizens Climate Pledge campaign. Building a sustainable future is more important than ever. As individuals we can and must make a difference. I wish every success to this initiative.