Guest blog: Sustainable development report 2021: Finland is the tops

Laura Kotila/PMO Finland
Guest blog by: Marja Innanen Chief specialist, deputy secretary general National Commission on Sustainable Development/Prime minister’s office Finland

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Bertelsmann Foundation have ranked Finland as a number one in their international comparison of sustainable development. Annually published Sustainable development report and Index assesses countries’ progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

For Finland, it is an honor to be at the top of the list this year. This has not happened over night - it has required hard work and long-term dedication from the whole of society. We have built common understanding, dialogue and – most importantly, trust – among all stakeholders for almost 30 years. When Finland celebrated her 100th anniversary, there was one word that summed up and was the theme of the celebration: together. In Finland, cities, municipalities, business, organizations and other actors have worked together for years – also for implementing the 2030 Agenda. Finland has also received international recognition of its participatory model of sustainable development, for example, this spring Finland received the Catalyst 2030 award.

The core idea of sustainable development - to ensure human well-being within planetary boundaries – is at the heart of the Nordic model. Good indication of that is the fact that the Nordic countries have positioned at the top of the list for year after year. Our social foundation, i.e.  safeguarding the human well-being, is on a solid base:  the report reveals that Finland has achieved - or is close to achieving - the SDGs on poverty alleviation, health, education, reducing inequality, peace and the rule of law.

However, this kind of recognition also makes us humble. We clearly understand that we still have a way to go to reach all the SDGs. Our biggest challenges relate to the planetary boundaries and our capability to operate within them. We have significant challenges on climate change, consumption and production patterns, and biodiversity. The most urgent question for us is this: how to ensure the wellbeing of the people of world’s happiest country within the limits of our planet’s carrying capacity?

The gap between the most successful and the poorest performing countries should be narrowed sooner than later. In the future, also Finland’s focus should be more and more on supporting the countries at the bottom of the index. For example, the level of funding for development cooperation needs to be increased, especially for the least developed countries. ODA is one indicator in the report’s Spillover Score section. Spillovers show that each country's actions can have positive or negative effects on other countries' abilities to achieve the SDGs. Report examines countries’ spillovers by addressing international trade, cross-border air and water pollution, international economic and financial flows, and peace keeping and security. It is important to make spillovers visible and more widely known. We cannot promote our own national sustainable development at the expense of other countries.

The Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development is currently preparing a national roadmap for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The 2030 Agenda roadmap is a plan for the Finnish society as a whole to achieve all the SDGs by 2030. The path to achieving all targets will be constructed by focusing on six areas of transformation, where systemic changes need to take place (for example the  food system,  energy system, the use of land and forests to strengthen biodiversity and carbon neutrality, economy that promotes well-being, work and sustainable consumption).

I believe that by working together - globally with countries and locally with all the stakeholders and actors of the society - it is possible to achieve all the goals of the 2030 Agenda. In addition, we have had over the years one “secret asset”. It is Finland’s high-level political commitment on sustainable development and the SDGs. Regardless of the colour of the political party, composition of the Government coalition, or interest of a stakeholder group, sustainable development has always been seen as a shared goal. The high-level political commitment has enabled progress beyond government terms and given us tools to build our common understanding and practical approaches to sustainable development.  Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government and its programme “Inclusive and competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society” continues this good development.


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