The Finnish Expert Panel for Sustainable Development is a member of the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils Network (EEAC), which organised its annual conference and meeting at the beginning of October in Bucharest, Romania.

The main theme of the conference was Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, i.e. peace, the rule of law and building strong institutions.

Katriina Siivonen, Vice-Chair of the Finnish Expert Panel, was elected as Co-Chair of the Network’s Sustainable Development Working Group for the next two-year term 2024-2025. Secretary General Johanna Kentala-Lehtonen represented the Finnish Expert Panel at the event.

Due to the theme of the conference and the current state of the world, the social dimension of sustainable development was particularly high on the conference agenda. Key topics included inclusion of civil society, just transition and fight against inequality. The important themes from the UN Global Report on Sustainable Development (GSDR), published in September, concerning the consideration of the science-policy-society interface and the capacity building of all actors in sustainability issues were also pointed as topics that science advisers should highlight for the decision-makers.

The EU elections next year will have an impact on the EU’s sustainable development policy

In the EU elections next year, scientific advisers on sustainable development are concerned about a possible wavering of the current Commission’s policy, which at worst would slow down or even take steps backwards in the green transition that has progressed rapidly in recent years. Thus, the speakers at the conference stressed the need to pay particular attention to a just transition.

Instead of Green deal 2.0, the forthcoming EU Commission’s policies were called for to have a broader perspective across policy silos; alongside the development of environmental policy, other key EU policies related to the implementation of global sustainable development, from digital policy to the social pillar and discussion on migration, should  be included. It would be essential to promote a change of mindset in which problems could be solved together, across administrative branches.

Sustainability transition cannot be achieved in the crisis management mode

The conference section on the Future of Sustainable Development highlighted that in recent years, when there has been a continuous crisis situation in Europe – pandemic, war, energy crisis, inflation – solving all problems has become entrenched in some kind of crisis management mode. In it decisions must be made quickly and decision-makers react with a quick mindset without taking the time to assess the impacts of decisions or consider several options.

However, the crisis management model is not optimal for implementing the sustainability transition.

Challenges related to sustainable development – such as climate change, biodiversity loss and increasing inequality among people – are crises, but instead of sudden crises, they are slow, so-called vicious problems, in which rapid solutions and decisions made in the crisis management mode may cause new and larger problems in addition to the old ones. This is why there is a need for a slow administration that investigates impacts, carefully plans changes and transitions, and takes into account fairness issues and the impacts of decisions on different groups of people. This is the only way to build the transition on the basis of public approval.

Finland mentioned!

Naturally, the Finnish representative also paid attention to the fact that Finland was mentioned on both conference days as a good, even excellent example in several discussions – first in the preparation of sustainable development strategies (strategy of the Finnish national Commission on Sustainable Development) and second in consultations of civil society and cooperation between different stakeholders.

However, it is unlikely that the transfer of Finnish good sustainable development practices as such would be easy. In the conference discussion on the future of sustainable development work, it was pointed out that talking about “best practices” and spreading them from one country to another is nonsense, because practices are always cultural and, in addition, the values of society are of great importance to practices. Culture is not changed by exporting best practices; it changes slowly and only as paradigms change. Nor will the values of society be changed by coercion or telling that you have “wrong” values. It is possible to accelerate the change by proposing that society add to its own value base and cultural practices some operating method through which the transition to more sustainable activities would be possible.