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Open lecture “The Climate Sustainable Welfare Society: Is it the Model of the Future?” by Prime Minister Sanna Marin at Columbia University in New York

Government Communications Department
Publication date 7.3.2020 0.27
Speech 119
Prime Minister Sanna Marin

Open lecture “The Climate Sustainable Welfare Society: Is it the Model of the Future?” by Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the Columbia University on 6 March 2020. Check against delivery:

Dear all,

I want to thank the University of Columbia and the Earth Institute for inviting me here today. It is a pleasure to be here with you to discuss how to build climate neutral societies in a socially just manner.

We are now in the midpoint between the year 1990 and the year 2050. In the last 30 years, the world has taken important steps in fighting climate change. Climate science tells us we need to become climate neutral by mid-century in order for the humanity survive. In the 30 years we have left to become climate neutral, we have to do much more than what we have done so far.

Climate change is not a matter of political opinion – it is a scientific fact. But we need political decisions in order to make change happen. We need to implement the Paris Climate Agreement. And we need political choices to make sure that the climate actions are done in a socially just way.

This is my key message to you today: We can build a climate sustainable society and we can build it in a way that is just and fair for all.


I would like to start by telling you a few words about my own country, Finland. We are a country of only 5,5 million residents, beautiful nature and skilled people. Finland is located in the northern part of Europe. Our western neighbor is Sweden and eastern neighbor is Russia. Finland is called the land of a thousand lakes but actually that is underrated because there are over 160 000 lakes in Finland. You may also know that we have a coalition government with five political parties and each party is led by a woman. Four of us are under 35 years old.

When Finland became independent 103 years ago, and still after the second World War, we were one of the poorest countries in the world. Today Finland tops many of the world’s country comparisons, whether for press freedom or for the happiness of citizens.

We have built our modern society and economy based on the Nordic welfare model.

We have an open economy that can adapt to changes. The key to our success is our good quality education system that is free of tuition from daycare in the early childhood all the way to universities. We invest in R&D and we are one of the leading countries when it comes to innovations.

The most important aspect of our education system is that it provides everyone with equal opportunities. We want to make sure that the circumstances you are born into do not define your future. In the heart of our society is the idea that every child can become anything. This is also the reason why our government is investing in daycare, in education, in research and in lifelong learning.

Besides education and Nordic welfare state, one of the reasons why Finland has succeeded is our way of making decisions. We are used to coalition governments and we are used to co-operate with different parties. As an example, a big part of my job as Prime Minister is to negotiate and try to find compromises and build consensus between different parties in the government. And we even co-operate with the opposition parties on many issues. I know it sounds hard work and it is, but what it does is that we have continuity in the decision-making processes. This is how we turned Finland from a poor country to a welfare society.

We need continuity in politics also in order to tackle climate change. We need everyone onboard if we want to reach our climate goals.

The key issue is that the Finnish or Nordic model makes adapting to change easier. That enables us to be leaders in climate change.


Finland aims to be climate neutral by 2035. Our government adopted this ambitious goal based on scientific analyses by our national climate expert panel.

To achieve climate neutrality we will accelerate emissions reduction measures and strengthen our carbon sinks at the same time. In concrete numbers, climate neutrality in 2035 means that:

We need to cut emissions by 35 million tons compared to current levels. This is three times the total transport sector emissions in Finland.

And we must enhance our carbon sinks by 3 million tons. This corresponds to almost half of the agriculture emissions in Finland.

Our climate policies are based on academic research and they are supported by the majority of Finns – our citizens, industries, civil society, businesses and political parties.

The first thing we must do is to say goodbye to fossil fuels. In Finland, we will build the world’s first fossil-free welfare society. Our long-term energy policy goal is to phase out the use of all fossil fuels in the energy sector and move towards an emission-free energy system.

In electricity production, we have already taken big steps. In 2018, nearly 80 per cent of Finland’s electricity production was based on carbon free energy sources. 46 percent of energy was produced by renewables and 32 with nuclear power.

However, as a country with cold winters, heating is a big issue that we have to focus on. In the same year, 2018, 53 percent of district heat was produced with fossil fuels and peat. This is why our government is investing significantly in policy measures to decarbonize heat production.

And how will we do this? Finland has already banned the use of coal for energy by 2029 and we are providing energy companies with incentives for investments to replace coal already by 2025.

By 2030, we will halve the domestic use of imported mineral oil, like petrol, and phase out the use of fossil fuel oil in heating. In properties owned by the central and local governments, oil heating will end already in 2024. The use of peat for energy will be at least halved by 2030.

In building heating, we will encourage investments to move away from fossil fuels to sustainable options such as heat pumps and ground source heat. We also need new technological solutions and of course energy efficiency.

Secondly, we need to decarbonize transportation. The transport sector accounts for one fifth of all our emissions. We will halve these emissions by 2030, but we will not stop there. In the autumn this year, we will publish a national roadmap to fossil-free transportation.

In order to reduce transport emissions, we will need to phase out fossil fuels in transportation as well as to reduce transport performances and to promote the transition towards more sustainable mobility.

Emissions reduction measures will include reducing the use of fossil fuels by increasing the blending obligation of biofuels from 15 % in 2018 to 30 % in 2029 and supporting digitalization and automation of the transport system. In the longer term, we see sustainably produced biofuels mainly as a tool for reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and aviation.

To promote more sustainable mobility, we will encourage cycling, walking and public transportation. We will take climate change mitigation more strongly into account in land use and urban planning.

Furthermore, we are enhancing the charging infrastructure of electric vehicles. In the future, petrol station chains will be obliged to provide a certain number of charging points for electric cars. We will set a national obligation to build charging infrastructure for electric cars in housing companies and business premises.

Thirdly, we will reduce the emissions from our industry. And again, a key element of the work is based on cooperation. We are developing sectoral low-carbon roadmaps together with our industries – including the chemical, technology, forest and energy industry. These roadmaps describe the actions industries can take to reduce their emissions.

We also support our industry in the transition. In early February, our Government decided to set up a new Climate Fund. The fund will focus on combatting climate change, promoting digitalization and boosting low carbon operations in manufacturing industries. The fund will be one way to channel investments in developing the circular economy, clean technology solutions and energy efficiency.

Public funding alone will not be enough to make the urgently needed transition to a climate neutral society happen. Fortunately, Finnish businesses and industries largely see investing in climate friendly, energy efficient circular solutions beneficial for their activities. They see that by being early adopters of new technology they will be in a better place to compete in the global markets.

Particularly in a country of forests and peatlands also the land use sector plays a central role in achieving climate neutrality. So a fourth key element of our government’s climate policy focuses on reducing land use sector emissions and enhancing carbon sinks. At the same time, we need to protect biodiversity.

The government will develop a comprehensive climate program for the land use sector. The program will include a broad set of measures. We wish to safeguard the management, growth and health of our forests, promote afforestation and reduce deforestation. This way, we will increase our carbon sinks.

On the other hand, the program will include measures for reducing the emissions of swamps and peatlands, promoting climate-sustainable management of swamp forests and strengthening the carbon sequestration of agricultural land.

Dear friends,

we will not meet our climate targets or stop the catastrophic loss of biodiversity unless we urgently decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions and the use of natural resources. We must stop overconsuming our planet’s resources and do more with less. We need to think carefully, what products could actually be replaced with services. And we need to make sure that whatever we produce is produced sustainably, resource-efficiently and can be repaired, remanufactured and in the end recycled.

This is why Finland invests a lot in transforming our economy from the linear “make, use, dispose” model to a circular economy.

We are currently developing a long term, horizontal circular economy program to boost our efforts. The program’s focus areas include circular economy in the construction sector, the role of cities and regions, circularity in heavy industry and new technologies and business models. The program is prepared in cooperation with key stakeholders and will be completed this year.

Building and construction entails enormous potential for promoting the circular economy and cutting emissions. In 2017, Finland launched a low carbon roadmap for construction. It aims at including the carbon footprint of building materials in Finnish regulation for new buildings by 2025. This means that we will set threshold values for life cycle emissions of different building types. Now our government aims to enhance the circular economy and increase the recycling of materials in the construction sector.

Promoting the circular economy is also a key element of our government’s sustainable taxation roadmap.

And finally, we are putting our climate ambition into legislation. The Government will present its proposal for a new Climate Change Act in early 2021. The Finnish Climate Act has been in force since 2015 but now we want to strengthen it as a guiding instrument. Emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2040 will be added to the Act, in line with the path to climate neutrality and climate negativity. The land use sector and a target for strengthening carbon sinks will also be included in the Act.

Dear friends,

In order for the climate transition to be fair and just, we need to engage citizens in active dialogue about climate policy. That is why we have just last week set up a new Climate Policy Roundtable, that includes representatives from local communities to the industry, the youth and the trade unions.

We also do concrete measures to implement the just transition. When we announced a raise in fuel taxes, we also lowered the income tax for the least earning citizens.

Some areas of the country are affected disproportionately. This combined with urbanization can mean that negative effects pile up on just some communities.

Local action taken by cities, regions and states is an important driver of low-carbon development. I know that many US states and cities have ambitious emissions reduction targets and climate policies. We are working together with some U. S. states - like Maine and Michigan - on climate action and the research and development of sustainable and green industries.

Also in Finland, several cities have set themselves more ambitious climate neutrality targets than the government and are working actively together to reduce their local emissions.

Dialogue and joint policy development play an important role in preventing people from starting to feel insecure about their future. In Finland, the Nordic welfare model enables a fair, socially just transition and helps us to balance the impacts that for example the decline of polluting industries could have on the regional economies, jobs and services.

A key enabler of a just transition is education. As I mentioned earlier, basic, vocational and even university education in Finland is free of tuition. Educational paths are designed in a way that allows for a smooth transition between different types and levels of studies at different stages of life.

In line with our government’s recently published climate roadmap, we set particular priority on continuous learning, employment services and on-the-job learning to enhance people’s security in the face of change.

Dear friends,

My core message to you is that without a holistic view of sustainable development we cannot fight climate change. Without the social and the economical, the environmental transition is not possible.

This is where the Nordic model comes to play. I believe that open markets, robust social security and a good-quality public health care system are just as essential in tackling climate change, as are energy taxation and carbon pricing. These elements together with free education help to ensure that during challenging times one can focus on seeking new opportunities.


Dear friends,

Climate change is a global challenge. According to UN Environment Programme, if we really aim to limit global temperature rise this century to 1.5 degrees, countries must increase the ambition of their climate policy over fivefold. For reaching even the 2 degrees target, the ambition would need to increase threefold.

The gap between global climate action and emissions is huge. This has to change. We must work harder together to turn the international community to a path towards a safe and sustainable future. It is important that particularly major economies, including the U.S., take action.

Ensuring a successful outcome at the COP26 in Glasgow this November is very important. The meeting will be an important political moment where countries are to think if their climate policy is enough. Ambitious targets and pledges to climate neutrality by mid-century are essential for the world to catch up with science.

The European Union wants to lead by example. Last year during the Finnish presidency of the European Union, the member states decided that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050. We are currently debating how to reach that target all across Europe with the Green Deal proposed by the European Commission.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge that countries are at different stages of development and their readiness to take climate change mitigation or adaptation measures differ.

Finland continues to be committed to contribute our fair share.

Also, the EU and its Member States remain the largest contributor of public climate finance to developing countries, including to the multilateral climate funds. In 2018, contributions from the EU, its Member States and the European Investment Bank totaled 21.7 billion euros.

However, we cannot solve the climate crisis only by public funding. We need to steer private funding to be better aligned with the global climate goals.

Together with the World Bank, the Chilean and Finnish Finance Ministers launched a Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action last year. The Coalition has big transformative potential. Finance Ministers are in charge of many effective policy tools to address the climate crisis, such as all those related to carbon pricing.

Science tells us that all countries must replace fossil fuels with sustainable options and significantly enhance energy efficiency. This means that some natural resources are better left unused.

In the Arctic, the alarming changes caused by climate change are real and rapid, and taking place now. They have profound implications for economies, societies and ecosystems in the region and but also worldwide. If we are committed fighting climate change, we must leave fossil fuel resources untouched in the Arctic.

Dear all,

climate change will not be stopped by individual choices – but by politics.

I mean that our individual actions count, but we require more the systemic change in society, not just switching plastic bags to paper bags.

But having said that, if we can’t get everyone on board with what we are doing, we will fail. We can’t get emissions down if inequality goes up.

This is why I have today outlined to you the Finnish way – combining a welfare society with ambitious climate policy. We believe that is the best, sustainable way into the future.

Thank you.