Speech ”Multilateral Cooperation 2015 in a World of Crises”, Geneva, 9.3.2015


  1. On the megatrends changing the world


Finland has always been and still is a firm supporter of true and inclusive multilateral cooperation. It has equally been and remains our view, that the United Nations, its principles and achievements, forms the heart and backbone of this cooperation. This does not mean that we should shy away from the many problems and shortcomings the UN has faced over the past years. On the contrary, Finland has been an active partner in many initiatives aiming at enhancing and reforming the UN and global governance in general.  The Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy is one example of our efforts in the recent past in this regard.


There is a number of megatrends in the world development that add to challenges the global community and the UN face.  I’ll point to four of them as one background for our conversation here today.


                   During my lifetime, the world’s population has grown more than threefold from about 2,3 billion in the mid-Forties to  over 7 billion today. The growth continues at a slower pace, and most forecasts predict that we will reach the peak between 2050-2100 with a world population somewhere between 9 and 10 billion people. Population growth is the single most important factor when it comes to understanding how the world has irrevocably changed.


                   Population growth combined with all aspects of globalization is the driving factor for why we are living in an increasingly interdependent world, in ways both good and bad.  We have different views on the pro’s and con’s of economic globalization in particular, and there are different means of trying to steer its direction.  However, the interdependence this development has created is an undisputable fact that no country, be it a superpower with nuclear weapons or a small island micro-state, can escape irrespective of its desires.



                   Population growth plays a part also in the third megatrend I wish to refer to, namely our way we manage our coexistence with the natural environment. Or, I dare say, our failure to manage it in a sustainable way. Desertification has advanced, the loss of biodiversity has continued, and last but not least, global warming and climate change have proceeded.  The scientific advice is clear, the global awareness has grown, but the political will to achieve a real change in this course has not yet matured. The Rio Conventions have made a certain difference, but not enough. My prediction is that we have only a few decades to reach a path of ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.


                   The fourth megatrend is the deep-going transformation in international relations and geopolitics. The cold war East-West divide is history, although some aftershocks can be observed every now and then.  Also the North-South divide, as it emerged during the post-colonial period as a complex relationship between developed industrialized countries and developing countries, is to a lesser and lesser extent reflecting   the evolving realities of the world today.  The old divide in levels of development is being gradually blurred by the fact, that inequality occurs more and more within states and between regions of states. This emerging transformation towards an increasingly multipolar and differentiated world is not yet adequately reflected in the multilateral system.


It is unfortunately necessary to add another worrying aspect to the consideration of these megatrends.  In light of the emergence of ISIS and other new forms of international terrorism, the crises in Syria and in Ukraine – to mention just the most pertinent examples – are we facing a new upsurge of power politics to the world scene? And if so, how would that affect our ways and means of trying to cope with the megatrends and huge challenges I sketched above?


No one has a definitive answer to that. One thing is certain though, most of the problems and threats the world is facing today cannot be solved by military means.  And many of the advantages that states and governments sought to achieve in the past through power politics  to promote their own national interests at the cost of others, can no longer be attained in a sustainable way in today’s world through the use of power and violence. It is also a broadly accepted view, that there is a high degree of correlation between the lack of security and inequality.


At the very least we should try to avoid that the key multilateral processes at hand this year get caught hostage of the pressure of power politics. We should strive to take the post-2015 agenda, the conference on Financing for Development, and the negotiations on a new global protocol on climate change further on their own merits. These highly interlinked processes and events provide a real momentum to put us on a constructive and positive path forward.


  1. Is the Global Governance System fit to cope with the growing challenges ?


Before addressing briefly some key issues related to these three processes, some thoughts on the broader state of play of multilateral cooperation and the need for further reforms and enhancement of global governance.


I don’t want to dwell on the long list of shortcomings of the multilateral system in its efforts to face different challenges during the past few years: no adequate response to the financial crisis, no credible solution to the climate change challenge, the unresolved regional military conflicts in different parts of the world, etc.


Instead, I want to turn up the other side of the coin, and point to some positive developments.


Ten years ago, one of the ideas that emerged from the Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy was to replace the then G 7/8 with a broader grouping, a “G-20 (or thereabouts) annual summit of the heads of leading governments from the North and the South”. It was suggested that this “leader-level group could act as an effective co-ordination mechanism for global economic governance with coherence and legitimacy”.


It would be too much to claim that the Helsinki Process was the initial cradle of the idea of the G- 20 Summit concept, but we were definitely in the forefront of bringing this proposal to the political agenda.


The G-20 is now a reality, a cornerstone of global economic governance. The formation of G-20 has not profoundly changed the world either. But the underlying processes and many of the political proposals and statements made within and through the G-20 have definitely brought added value to multilateral cooperation.


One much more radical idea, also discussed but never proposed by the Helsinki Process, was to use the G-20 concept as a key element in the debate about the UN reform, and particularly the reform of the Security Council. In the end, to have a body combining both the tasks of the present Security Council and the need for enhanced global economic governance. And with a composition that would cover both the interests of all major powers and economies as well as the voice of smaller countries and the most vulnerable groups in the communities. This idea does not fly today, but tomorrow is another day…


The other aspect related to the Helsinki Process I wish to bring up, is the concept of multistakeholder cooperation. The process itself was, from the very outset, built on cooperation between different stakeholders – coordinated by the Finnish and Tanzanian governments but engaging representatives of multilateral organizations, civil society, business and academia in a joint dialogue.  In this sense the Helsinki Process was one of the first networks to successfully experiment on the use of the multistakeholder approach in international relations.


The final report of the Helsinki Process suggested three areas in particular where multistakeholder cooperation can bring value-added, confidence building, idea-shaping or innovation, and implementation and adding scale. The report also included a number of recommendations, some addressed in particular towards the UN system, on how the multistakeholder concept could be further integrated into the practices of the organization.


Today multistakeholder cooperation is an integral part of the work of all serious multilateral organisations and networks , starting with the UN itself, but including many other fora such as the World Bank, OECD and the World Economic Forum, to mention a few.  And it is not only a concept. It has also been an essential practical element in mobilizing the political will needed behind some of the positive achievements in the recent past. One example I wish to mention here is the adoption of the resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty last autumn in the General Assembly. In the last phase of the negotiations the governments were naturally in the driver’s seat, but the momentum needed to get to the point of a final compromise was very much the result of a multistakeholder dialogue and process.


Another fresh example that the system works after all, in spite of all deficiencies and stumbling blocks, is how the world responded to the Ebola crisis. While much has been said about how slow the initial response was, we should not forget that joint efforts  – under the leadership of the UN and the WHO, but also here with an important ingredient of multistakeholder cooperation –   have contributed to the epidemic being brought under control in several parts of the affected region. These efforts show the immense value of multilateral cooperation. The challenge is now how to sustain these efforts until the present outbreak is eradicated. This is high on our agenda, as Finland is currently chairing the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) which focuses on preventing and reducing the emergence of disease outbreaks, detecting threats in a timely manner and using international coordination and communication to create multisectoral rapid response.


  1. The “Big Three” in 2015


The three major  processes underway this year –  post-2015 negotiations, the conference on Financing for Development, and the climate change negotiations culminating at COP 21 in Paris – provide – separately and interlinked – a real opportunity to break the negative spirals we otherwise face in too many areas, and to create a new momentum that opens a positive outlook towards the future.  (Having said this I want to underline that this is not an exclusive list of positive opportunities this year. There are other events, like the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction starting in a couple of days’ time in Sendai, Japan, and the WTO Ministerial later this year.)


The most compelling and significant feature of the ongoing negotiations under the post-2015 agenda is the universal nature of the goals to be set. We are negotiating goals that are common to all of us, regardless of the category of development in which our country happens to be placed in the present system.


This is in my mind exactly the paradigm shift required in order to cope with the global megatrends I have described above.


In a world where the growing population and the on-going globalization enhance the interdependence of all peoples, where climate change is threatening us all, and  where the past divide between developed and developing nations is crumbling and we are moving towards a multipolar and differentiated world, common goals for a sustainable development are the only durable way forward.


A universal agenda is also the natural outcome of the merger between the development and the Rio agendas. Poverty eradication, safeguarding the biodiversity of the planet, and securing decent jobs for as many as possible are goals where each and every country has its own responsibilities, but where  a reasonable outcome requires joint efforts and changes in the course of action by everyone.


This is not just wishful thinking. The fact that we are building this effort on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals shows that we are on firm ground, in the real world. All of this requires a mutual responsibility for the future, while acknowledging the fact that national circumstances among countries vary greatly, and that the spectre of capabilities and resources available is still extremely broad.


Please allow me, at this point, to present a short “commercial break”. Finland has already adopted what we call “The Finland we want by 2050”. This is a vision of how sustainable development can and will be promoted and implemented in our country, creating the space for all possible actors, from the Government itself to individual citizens, to promote this. In addition, this new Finnish model also provides a practical way of committing oneself to self-adopted concrete goals for promoting sustainable development and thus becoming a kind of social contract called ‘Society’s Commitment for Social Development’.  We are happy to share more information on this project with all interested partners!


Turning briefly to the finance agenda, also here we should be aiming at a paradigm shift, supporting in a coherent way the shift we are promoting in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda as a whole.


We are ultimately talking about a merger of the finance agendas for development and sustainable development, including climate finance. The big shift we are talking about is to break away from the narrow approach of traditional public funding from the North to the South for development and climate change.  Instead, we should broaden the concept to entail a transformation of our economies, both North and South, to promote a low-carbon development and to redirect international investment flows in this same direction. In fact we should strive for implementing the transformative proposal put forward by the International Committee on Sustainable Development Finance, that all human economic activities – whether private or public – should be required to have a positive economic, environmental, social and governance impact.


Without this broader global transformation of the economy, no public budgetary funding will ever be enough to reach the goals we have set for further poverty eradication or to enhance climate mitigation and adaptation. We should also recognize importance of the rapidly growing South-South cooperation in all key spheres of development. And a close interaction with the private sector, ranging from the large multinationals to small and midsize enterprises both in the North and the South, is a key to delivering this transformation.


Having said this, it is not about giving up on our existing commitments, be it the 0,7 percent goal for development cooperation or the mobilization of 100 billion USD per annually by 2020 for climate change. It is about using these commitments as catalysts for a much broader transformation of investment flows to support the sustainable development goals at stake.  The New Climate Economy report is a fresh and extremely useful illustration of how the pathway for such a transformation could be structured.


And finally, we should do our utmost to reach a robust climate deal in Paris in December this year.  I don’t think anyone believes that we’ll come up with the “final solution” in Paris, i.e. a legally binding agreement that once and for all would put us on a secure path to curb the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. But what is well within reach is an agreement based on an ambition level high and credible enough to keep us on the route to the ultimate goal. This would include commitments and contributions by all parties while – once again – recognizing the existing differences in national circumstances and capabilities, and contain a dynamic element allowing for a continuous iterative increase of the ambition levels of all parties over time.


At the end of the day, what will be required this year in July in Addis Abeba, in September in New York and in December in Paris, is a good portion of a kind of political will we never witnessed before. It is possible to break the vicious circles of low or lousy performance and replace them with outcomes that show the way forward towards a real sustainable development.