Statement by the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, at the High-level Seminar “Climate Action: Results We Can Measure”, Addis Ababa, 15 October 2019

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address this seminar. The topic at hand could hardly be more important.

We all know the main facts on climate change. The scientific evidence has been clear for a long time. We, as a planet, are at a critical crossroads.

More and more, we are also witnessing this with our own eyes, in our daily lives. Climate change is no longer just a concern for the distant future. It is happening today, here and now. And by “here”, I mean everywhere in the world. In Africa as well as in the Arctic.

When the impacts of climate change are global and immediate, the same must be true of our response. Climate action is required here and now. And we cannot afford to focus on either adaptation or mitigation only. We need concrete results in both.

We are no longer able to avoid the climate crisis completely. We have to adapt to the inevitable. At the same time, we will also have to stay focused on preventing further damage. Reducing our emissions, increasing our carbon sinks.

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As I said at the UN in New York a few weeks ago, the climate crisis calls for leaders, not just followers.

I have been very pleased to learn here how Ethiopia is taking the lead. Your commitment to ambitious climate action is a true inspiration to others.

Finland, for its part, wants to lead by example, too. We have recently set ourselves new, ambitious climate targets. The Finnish government is committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. And to be carbon negative soon after that, as the first industrial economy. 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.

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Finland has a good track record on delivering results on our earlier promises. Finland was one of the first countries to adopt a Climate Act in 2015. The Climate Act will now be updated to meet the new objectives.

One of the key tools to speed up decarbonisation in Finland will be sustainable taxation.It includes a reform of our energy and transport taxation.

In fact, I believe that changing the way in which we look at our taxation, and fiscal and economic policies more broadly, will be decisive for the transformation we need. Not only in Finland, but globally.

Therefore I would like to draw your attention to an initiative that can truly make a difference in this respect. The Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, co-chaired by Finland and Chile, has enormous potential. The Helsinki Principles of this coalition aim at turning finance ministers into drivers of a fundamental systemic change.

Finance ministers control powerful instruments for directing incentives and financial flows. If those instruments, from taxation to fiscal planning, from public investments to procurement, really start to work for the benefit of the climate, the results will be immediate and concrete. With them, a carbon-neutral world will become much more realistic a goal.

The Coalition already has over 40 members, including Ethiopia and Finland.

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Reliable and measurable results are also essential for adaptation to climate change. We need better early-warning systems to manage extreme weather events, as they become more severe and more numerous.

Meteorological cooperation is a priority area of Finland’s development cooperation, also in Ethiopia. I am certain we will hear more on this in the panel afterwards, but let me already mention the new project that will be launched between the Finnish and the Ethiopian meteorological institutes and the Finnish company Vaisala. It will provide improved weather forecasting services in Ethiopia to prevent human and economic losses from extreme weather events. This will boost resilience and growth in sectors that are vulnerable to climate change, such as agriculture, water management and transport.

The impacts of climate change not only undermine sustainable economic development. They also threaten peace and security.

Climate change magnifies existing pressures on scarce natural resources, especially water. Resource-based conflict is globally the most prevalent source of violence and marginalization. And those who are already most vulnerable – due to their gender, age, disability or displacement – will suffer the most.

A great majority of all climate-related impacts are felt through changes in the water cycle. Droughts, floods and other water-related crises can escalate conflicts or undermine progress made towards sustaining peace.

Water is thus key for both sustainability and security. In Ethiopia, Finland has supported the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector for 25 years. Over 5 million people in the rural areas of Ethiopia have benefitted from clean water provided by our cooperation. This morning, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ethiopia to continue our fruitful cooperation in this field.

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A global shift to carbon neutrality and climate resilience means a comprehensive transformation of our societies. That change cannot happen without our citizens. On the contrary, citizens will play a decisive role in making it happen.

Taken separately, one individual’s action alone will of course not change the direction of global climate change. The big decisions will have to be taken by larger entities – governments, cities, and companies.

But taken together, the changes in individuals’ behavior do matter, even more than the sum of their parts. They can help accelerate the major top-down changes we need.

The changing mindset of citizens puts bottom-up pressure on the decision-makers who are otherwise unwilling to move. And the changing mindset of citizens makes difficult decisions easier also for those leaders who are already inclined to act.

I believe there is a fitting Ethiopian proverb for this. “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” The challenge we are facing may seem overwhelming. But it is our joint responsibility to unite our forces against it. As global citizens. For a sustainable future, for our planet, for the next generations.