Speech Developing Strong Northern Societies, Arctic Frontiers Conference​​, Tromsö 21.1.2014​

Madame Prime Minister Solberg

Mr. Prime Minister Hammond


Ladies and Gentlemen!

Each year The Fund for Peace publishes the Index of Failed States. In its listing of 178 countries Finland is rated the ”least failed state” in the world. All five Nordic countries are among the eight least failed, with Iceland as number eight. Recalling the serious crisis which Iceland went through only a few years ago this is a powerful testimony to the resilience and strength of our Nordic Model of society.

Indeed, our consistently strong showings in these comparisons measuring our performance in education, innovation, competitiveness, the environment, social cohesion, equality and quality of life in general has been notes by the world at large. It is no wonder, therefore, that there is more and more interest in the so called Nordic Model.

Our social innovations have contributed to the high levels of overall well-being in the Nordic countries as is evident in for example an active employment policy, a social insurance system, freedom of movement, family policy and a bold redistribution policy. Perhaps most of all, the Nordic countries are known for their relative equality, and not least with respect to gender issues. Non-discrimination and the inclusion of all groups in the workings of society is an enormous asset which contributes to our wellbeing and enhances the vital perception of social justice, trust and systemic legitimacy.

The Nordic model has shown that not only can international competitiveness and a well-functioning welfare system based on universal benefits and public services be successfully combined, but they need to be combined in order to develop society in a sustainable way. We know both from our experience as well as from extensive comparative research that an equal distribution of income is a recipe for better and more prosperous and secure societies for all.

Our competitiveness is in many ways based on inclusion and social justice, a high level of education for all, and a stable and reliable democratic system. It is important to keep everybody on-board, active and participating. When the proportion of marginalized people exceeds a certain threshold, there is a risk that the system becomes dysfunctional. We cannot afford social exclusion, neither from an economic nor a moral point of view.

But all our relative success notwithstanding, we must not be complacent about our achievements. We cannot take them for granted in the future unless we are ready to continuously adjust and develop our model in answer to the challenges we are facing. In other words, we need to continue our tradition of successful piecemeal social engineering.

The challenges we face include the ageing of our populations. As people live longer the demand for different social and health services will increase while the share of our working-age population decreases. Irrespective of how pension systems are funded it is always those at work who ultimately pay for the pensions and services for those not at work, and thus we need to maintain and increase our levels of employment. Any failures in this respect will fuel xenophobia and populist nationalism.

As important and challenging all of this and many other issues are, they pale in comparison with the necessity for the world as whole to achieve sustainable development.

27 years ago the World Commission on Environment and Development led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland defined sustainable development as ”development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The concept supports strong economic and social development, in particular for people with a low standard of living. At the same time it underlines the importance of protecting the natural resource base and the environment. Economic and social well-being cannot be improved with measures that destroy the environment. Intergenerational solidarity is also crucial: all development has to take into account its impact on the opportunities for future generations.

We have been, however, too slow in responding to this challenge. This means that we may have, at best, only a few decades time to reach ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development. And while climate change is of course the biggest challenge, there are also others, such as the accelerating loss of biodiversity, which needs to be brought under control to make sustainable development a reality.

Thus addressing the challenge of sustainable development will be the crucial litmus test for the success or failure of the Nordic model.  And here in the high north we will be closely observed and judged on how well our model works in addressing the challenges and opportunities we are facing in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is taking sustainable development seriously. Indeed the main impetus for establishing the Council came from environmental concerns.

The main work of the Council is carried out in six permanent working groups. The Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), established just two years after the Council itself, focuses on the human dimension in the Arctic. The guiding tenet running throughout the work of the working group is to pursue initiatives that provide practical knowledge and contribute to building the capacity of indigenous peoples and Arctic communities to respond to the challenges and benefit from the opportunities emerging in the Arctic region. As an example, the SDWG has been able to broaden the scope and strengthen the integration of human health activities within the Council by developing concrete initiatives to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples and other Arctic residents.

We welcome the fact that Canada as the incumbent Chair of the Arctic Council has highlighted the development of the people of the North in her Chairmanship programme. We share the Canadian emphasis on responsible Arctic resource development, safe Arctic shipping and sustainable circumpolar communities.

Climate change poses a serious immediate risk to biodiversity. Special attention must be paid to the vulnerability of the natural environment and the need to foresee developments threatening biodiversity. Closely linked to biodiversity is the preservation of the traditional knowledge possessed by the indigenous peoples. The network of conservation areas in the Arctic region, particularly in the sea areas surrounding the North Pole, must be developed both in order to promote nature preservation and to clarify the framework for economic activity.

The first international agreement drafted under the auspices of the Council was our agreement on cooperation in cases of oils spills or other accidents. Important as this is, it is even more important to see to it that the international treaty framework is comprehensive and strong enough to prevent such catastrophes from occurring in the first place. The international law of the sea is a good basis that all our Arctic countries respect, even if the treaty is still to be ratified by the US. Finland is also examing the need and possibilities for new international agreements in the Arctic.

This year’s Arctic Frontiers Conference with the theme of the Conference – “Humans in the Arctic” – is an excellent Forum to address these questions. While the Nordic welfare model is the basis for social structure of the five Nordic countries, we need to pay special attention to the situation in the northern regions of our countries, if we truly want to develop stronger northern societies.

In this respect I would like to draw your attention to Finland’s new Arctic Strategy adopted last year and presented to the Finnish parliament.

The Arctic Strategy in relation to Finland’s Arctic population focuses on social sustainability, a well-functioning society and working conditions. It emphasizes the welfare of the people living in Finland’s northern parts. Welfare encompasses mental and material well-being, access to work, efficient basic services, equality, security and education. A thriving local population contributes to economic stability and enhances competitiveness, as well. Finnish Lapland boasts an efficient infrastructure, and the international developments described in the Strategy offer bright prospects for the local economy. This again creates favourable conditions for securing a high quality of life for the people living in the northern environment.

The Saami are part of the local population in Lapland. They are the only indigenous people in the European Union and the status of the Saami in Finland is guaranteed by our Constitution. Finland is committed to further reinforcing the position of the Saami language and culture, and securing the availability of services in the Saami language. At the international level, Finland seeks to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples when issues affecting their status are addressed. It is important to assure that the organizations of the indigenous peoples represented in the Arctic Council are able to participate in the work of the Council at all levels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Council are important instruments in Arctic co-operation. The “People First” approach in the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Arctic Co-operation Programme for 2012–2014 is designed to promote sustainable development. The basic objective of the programme is to support processes, projects and initiatives that will help promote sustainable development and benefit the people of the Arctic under the conditions generated by globalisation and climate change.

About one million one hundred and sixty thousand (1 160 000) people live in the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The populations of Iceland, Greenland and the Färoe Islands constitute some four hundred thirty thousand (430 000) people more. All of these people live in a region where the global warming is twice as rapid as in other parts of the world. Life in Lapland of Norway, Sweden and Finland is furthermore complicated by long distances, ageing population, labour market issues and in some cased also by inadequate resources for providing government services.

Finland shares with its neighbours the ambition to secure a good quality of life for all our Northern peoples. So what does a good life in the Arctic call for? Basically the same as in other parts of our countries: access to education and work, efficient basic services, equality and security. Our young people should have the possibility to study close to home and also have the opportunity to study abroad as well. It is also important to promote the mobility of labour in the Arctic region. The Nordic Mining School, jointly launched by the Universities of Oulu and Luleå, is a good example of how the efforts to respond to the challenges of the future labour market should begin already in education.

In the Arctic regions we have to understand and act on the necessity to reconcile traditional livelihoods with the modern industrial exploitation of natural resources. For example, reindeer husbandry is of deep-seated social and cultural significance while at the same being a source of income. For the Saami, reindeer husbandry is an integral part of the indigenous language and culture.

Concerning the sustainable use of renewable natural resources in the Arctic region there are a number of ways to accomplish this ranging from the gathering and use of natural resources to the forest industry and bioenergy production. In addition to projects of major economic importance, small-scale, nature-based businesses, crafts and local food production are important in shaping local identities and diversifying the range of local livelihoods. Additionally, the importance of solutions using local, renewable wood materials is highlighted in energy production. Natural resources are also important in terms of well-being and recreation. Favourable operating conditions need to be secured for the game and fishery industries as well as for the preservation and survival of Arctic species.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arctic region is undergoing a number of rapid and also conflicting developments. The Arctic areas are witnessing the effects of climate change more dramatically than any other part of the world; new transport routes are opening up; energy resources and minerals are being exploited; and tourism is on the increase. For the security of the Arctic region combating climate change and mitigating its impact are vital.

I am convinced that we will be able to meet the challenges in an open, active and innovative manner and find positive solutions where economic efficiency, welfare, equity and equality are not seen as contradictory but as complementary and mutually reinforcing factors. This is the way to build strong northern societies.