(Press release 20.9.)

Finland has made good progress in many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but in recent years the trend has taken a turn. Sustainable development perspectives are strongly linked to crises and their prevention, which is why they should be placed at the centre of decision-making. The Expert Panel for Sustainable Development assesses Finland’s Government Programme in relation to the recent UN report on sustainable development and sees both positive and worrying features in the Government Programme.

Finland has not learned enough from recent crises. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression, the SDGs have even been distanced. It has not been possible to let go outdated practices, and the causes of problems have not been addressed effectively enough. This is what the experts of the Panel say when they assess Finland’s development in relation to the UN’s global sustainable development goals.

“Currently, we have been satisfied with patch solutions that can be used to treat existing damage but that do not prevent new ones,” says Mikko Mönkkönen, Professor of applied ecology at the University of Jyväskylä, Member of the Expert Panel for Sustainable Development. “If practices do not change, it is inevitable that we will face new crises,” Mönkkönen says.

Measuring the overall sustainability promises progress

The Expert Panel for Sustainable Development has examined the global sustainable development report (GSDR) in relation to Petteri Orpo’s Government Programme. Sustainable development means enabling everyone to lead a good life within the limits of the planet’s carrying capacity. The Expert Panel for Sustainable Development is pleased that the Government has promised to introduce a new operating model measuring overall sustainability alongside GDP. It would measure not only the profitability of the economy but also people’s wellbeing and the state of the environment.

According to Minna Halme, Professor of responsible business conduct at Aalto University, Member of the Expert Panel for Sustainable Development, the new operating model will enable decision-makers to solve many of the current sustainability challenges if the model is introduced efficiently. “Taking overall sustainability into account would make Finland a real forerunner in sustainability and would make us better equipped to respond to crises and sustainability challenges than other countries,” Halme says.

More concreate means needed

The experts of the Panel also praise the promise made in the Government Programme to address biodiversity loss, promote the production of renewable energy and the circular economy, and strengthen the importance of clean nature as a competitive advantage. Many current programmes focusing on nature conservation and restoration will continue, and the Government Programme includes the objective of preserving natural capital as part of responsible economic policy.

According to Mikko Mönkkönen, however, it remains unclear how the Government intends to achieve these goals. In many respects, concrete measures are lacking or are very vague. In addition, funding for nature conservation and restoration will be cut and the measures will be mainly voluntary. “Taking natural debt into account is at least as important as taking into account central government debt, because the functioning of the economy is based on the operation of natural systems,” Mönkkönen says. “If borrowing from natural systems is not taken into account, we are much poorer than we assume by monitoring economic indicators alone.”

Increasing inequality reduces the credibility of democracy

According to the Expert Panel for Sustainable Development’s assessment, the Government Programme will also not curb the growth of inequality. The globally connected economy uses people and nature in an unequal way, and the risks associated with this must be acknowledged and managed. Growing inequality undermines the credibility of democracy. “However, the measures taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression proved that it is possible for the state to take major measures and implement political changes. These would also speed up the ongoing sustainability work,” says Minna Halme.

UN publishes the report every four years

The UN publishes the global report on Sustainable Development (GSDR) every four years. The most recent report was published in New York on 12 September 2023 and was discussed in connection with the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development on 18-19.9. The report examines how sustainable development is realised, for example, from the perspective of the economy, safeguarding natural systems and people’s wellbeing, and how science can help change these systems. This report has been examined by the Expert Panel for Sustainable Development in relation to Petteri Orpo’s Government Programme.