Statement by the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, at the 74th General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 24 September 2019


Mr. President, Secretary-General, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me congratulate Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande for the election as the President of the 74th session of the General Assembly. You can count on Finland’s strong support for your work in guiding this important body.

I would also like to thank the Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, for his tireless efforts in leading the United Nations.

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I have been glad to note how the new President of the General Assembly has stressed a “trust deficit” as a key concern for the world today. I could not agree more. I believe trust to be a central pre-requisite for any functioning community – local or national, regional or global.

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.

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First, let me begin with trust in a sustainable future. Crucial questions of that trust are at the heart of two major summits here in New York this week. One on sustainable development in general, another on climate action in particular.

Under both headings, we already have the framework for the transformation we need. And yet, despite our joint commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, the results are far too meagre. Recent reports show that we are not nearly on track to achieve the goals we have commonly agreed.

Inability to keep our promises in matters of this magnitude will inevitably erode trust. Trust of citizens in their leaders, to be sure. But also trust between generations. And above all: trust of us all in our common future. Nothing less than the fate of our planet is at stake.

For yesterday’s Climate Action Summit, the Secretary-General asked us to come with a plan, not with a speech. Indeed, a good plan is already more concrete than a speech. But it is only a beginning. What we really need, in order to build trust in our common future, are results. Deeds, not just promises. Action, not just targets.

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The pressing need for action applies to all of the seventeen sustainable development goals. Still, goal number thirteen, Climate Action, stands out as the most urgent one. The rapidly growing impact of climate change also makes achieving the other SDGs more difficult.

The scientific evidence on climate change has been clear for a long time. But it is no longer just a question for future scenarios. Climate change is here already: Melting glaciers, large-scale forest fires, extreme weather events. Across the globe, from the Arctic to the Amazon.

Even if we were able to stop all of our CO2 emissions tomorrow, we would have to live, for decades to come, with the climate change we have already caused. We are no longer able to avoid the climate crisis completely. We also have to achieve concrete results in adapting to the inevitable.

This should not distract us from what we can do to prevent further damage. 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.

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As for Finland, we have recently set ourselves new climate targets. The Finnish government is committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. And to be carbon negative soon after that. We have already banned the energy use of coal by 2029. We will stop using fossil oil in heating by 2030.

We are rightly proud of these targets. But targets are just a beginning. Only verifiable results matter. Only concrete deeds serve as a credible example to others.

I would like to draw your attention to one example. Finland and Chile are co-chairing the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action. The Helsinki Principles of this coalition are driving the systemic change we need. With concrete deeds, with the strong tools of the finance ministers. Taxation and budgeting, public investment and procurement – when these instruments work for climate action, the prospects for a carbon-neutral world are much better. There are now 40 committed members in this coalition. We warmly welcome new ones.

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Another issue I want to raise is trust in institutions. We have all seen how rapidly that trust has evaporated in recent years. The whole concept of multilateralism is increasingly under threat: Threat from great-power competition. Threat from lack of respect for existing agreements. The entire rules-based order is endangered.

Passively complaining about the crisis of multilateralism will not help. Instead, we have to become more active and determined in defending it. The trust in institutions is ours to rebuild. The international order is ours to shape. We, together, are the United Nations.

The United Nations as an organization also bears a responsibility here. It has to show that it deserves the trust of its members. Finland has steadfastly supported the Secretary-General in his reform agenda. Again, the results are what matters.

The disappearing trust in institutions and regimes is particularly dangerous in the field of arms control. On nuclear weapons, we are actually losing the last elements of control altogether. With the collapse of the INF and the uncertain future of New START, the NPT Review Conference next year is now of utmost importance.

We should also be able to address other weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons – and completely new weapon technologies. We can only manage these challenges together. Therefore Finland fully supports the Secretary-General’s efforts to bring the disarmament agenda back to the core of the United Nations.

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Thirdly, to conclude, I will turn to trust in each other. Trust between states, trust between individuals, is the fundamental basis for peace and security. In the absence of trust, the potential for conflict grows. And once conflicts have erupted, their resolution always requires rebuilding trust.

It is our collective duty to seek solutions to the many ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East, in Africa, in Ukraine, and elsewhere. At least equally important is to prevent new conflicts from breaking out in the first place. Finland has always emphasized the value of dialogue in its own diplomatic relations. We are also happy to provide our “good offices” for others.

Trust in each other is also closely linked to equality between genders and generations. The future of our planet lies on the shoulders of today’s young women and men. The inclusion of women and youth in peace processes, conflict prevention and mediation has proven to be decisive.

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We are approaching the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, the most progressive policy document ever for advancing the rights of women. Unfortunately, there is not much cause for celebration. We are deeply worried to see that sexual and reproductive health and rights are now being questioned. Finland remains strongly committed to advancing the rights of women.

Respect for universal human rights is the key to a peaceful and just world. Finland strongly believes in multilateral cooperation on human rights, with the Human Rights Council as its cornerstone. Accordingly, we have announced Finland’s candidature to the Human Rights Council for the period from 2022 to 2024.

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As the United Nations is entering its 75th anniversary, it could well be more important than ever. Our common global problems cry for common global solutions. Together, we are also better able to seize new global opportunities. There is no organization better placed to lead that work than the United Nations. To unleash its full potential, it is our responsibility to reduce the trust deficit.