Tuomioja about the Rio+20 Conference: “The best we can get there is hope”
While on the sustainable development panel at the World Village Festival, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja sounded out the Earth’s future realistically – that is, pessimistically. “I want to make a new prediction after Rio. If we fail there, I will be still more pessimistic.”
“We live in a world the likes of which has never existed before,” said Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja on stage at the World Village Festival on 27 May.
Now don’t misunderstand, he did not mean his remark to be taken as the base for profound existential-philosophical reflection; rather, the context was a panel discussion contemplating sustainable development and the Foreign Minister was stark and practical: There are more people on Earth than ever before and man modifies the environment in an unprecedented way.
“Personally, I have assessed that even in the best of cases, we have only a few decades to bring human activities to an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable basis,” Tuomioja stated.
“No one can be certain about whether or not this will succeed. It can even be asked whether this is possible any longer,” he said, continuing: “I do not want to be a pessimist, but a realist and say that we do not know.”
Tuomioja took part in a panel discussion, held on Sunday, 27 May, together Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö and two students from Etelä-Tapiola Senior Secondary School, Joonas Koljonen and Kaisa Matikainen.
Foreign Minister Tuomioja wanted, however, to reserve the right to change his statement.
“I want to make a new prediction after Rio. If we fail there, I will be still more pessimistic.”
Clean water is as valuable as oil
“Rio” in Minister Tuomioja’s comments refers to the Rio+20 Conference, which is a continuation of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The purpose of the Rio+20 Conference, to take place around Midsummer, is to secure the commitment of the UN Member States to sustainable development and to assess the implementation of previous commitments.
“No legally binding decisions are taken there. The best that can be achieved is clarity that processes [aiming at sustainable development] are maintained and that everyone is committed to them,” Tuomioja stated.
“The best we can get there is hope.”
Finland has two priority projects at the Rio Conference: water and sustainable development indicators.
“In today’s world, clean water is at least as valuable and rare as oil,” Tuomioja said, explaining the reasons for the choice.
“Oil has been fought over for decades, but future conflicts will be linked with access to water. Although Finland need not worry in this respect – yet –, there are many places in the world where this is already the biggest problem.”
The size of the economy is not enough as an indicator of well-being
Stirring up the discussion on sustainable development indicators, Finland for its part wants to air the age-old, mainstreamed way in which the gross domestic product is taken as the only indication of the well-being of nations, though this has repeatedly been proved to be irrelevant.
“It does not measure well-being, it only indicates the size of the public economy,” Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö said. “It is neither good nor bad, it’s the size of the economy.”
Indicators should depart from the well-being of individuals. But Minister Niinistö stressed that even then, the overall picture must be global. Even at their best, indicators stuck at the local level can give only a partial, fragmented picture of the state of humanity and the Earth.
Niinistö put defenders of the “old days” in their place
The key concept of the Rio+20 Conference is sustainable development – and a roadmap of how to achieve it.
Speeches have been heard according to which sustainable development and green economy would be luxuries that only rich countries can afford. Niinistö disagrees: the green economy is suitable for all stages of development in society.
“While in industrialised countries green economy means a high level of engineering science, in developing countries it could mean better cooking equipment that burns wood better and does not need to burn as much,” Niinistö said.
“Further, we need policy that steers and encourages so that more environment-friendly choices are more comfortable and easier to make,” he continued, collectively admonishing civil society organisations, employers and employees.
“Politicians cannot make changes if at the same time there is a wish to defend the old times and resistance to reform. Some think that the green economy is a threat to jobs, but I’m sure it is an opportunity to create new jobs.”
Joonas Koljonen was critical of choices
At the end of the half-hour panel discussion, journalist Johanna Korhonen, the panel presenter, asked the panellists to predict the future: What will the world be like if we were to meet on this very same stage 20 years from now?
Minister of the Environment Niinistö hoped that people would have the opportunity to combine their everyday choices with a sustainable lifestyle.
“If we can act locally in a sustainable way, at the global level it would mean a sustainable environment.”
Senior secondary school student Joonas Koljonen criticised the “choices” mentioned by Niinistö.
"I hope that there wouldn’t even be any choices – that there would only be environment-friendly alternatives.”
Kaisa Matikainen hoped that climate change would have slowed down and that individuals would have become more aware of environmental problems. Foreign Minister Tuomioja hoped that at the time of Rio+40, humanity would have hope – something he does not see as certain today.
“Twenty years from now we will know with certainty whether we have reached a turning point that makes it possible to be confident that sustainable development has become a reality.”