Sustainable development as a starting point for decision-making

Introduction/summary by Outi Hakkarainen
Finnish Development NGOS Fingo

The new Finnish government was nominated at 6th June 2019. It has a historic opportunity to establish in a new way how resolutely Finland responds to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda and to the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement. Its programme is the first government programme since these crucial international commitments, made in 2015. Civil society actors had high expectations for the programme, when it was known that the government would be formed by the Social Democratic Party, Centre, Greens, Left Alliance, and Swedish People's Party.

Finland has actively taken up the 2030 Agenda. It made a Voluntary National Review (VNR)1 at the United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York in 2016 and drew up a national implementation plan2 in 2017. Finland has set up an indicator and monitoring system, scrutinised the state budget from the sustainable development perspective, and has openly involved different actors. The government has thus a strong basis from which to promote the SDGs and, promisingly, its programme has a comprehensive approach of sustainable development.3 However, there are also shortcomings, as we discuss below.

The national implementation plan was based on participatory preparation, but many of those involved felt that the programme's specific objectives were modest, replicating the 2015 government programme. But it was great that the plan was published as a government report, which meant it received extensive scrutiny by parliamentary committees, and that its basic principles are sound. Sustainable development activities of Finland will be long-term and transformational, consistent and that they will highlight global partnership, ownership, and participation.

The comprehensive monitoring system is laudable. It includes an external four-yearly evaluation. The first was the PATH 2030 study4 published in March 2019. It provides useful elements for strengthening sustainable development policy, the main ones of which are to clarify national targets and to draw up a roadmap to achieve them.

CS actors have argued the importance to update the implementation plan so that it sets out both long-term goals and clear steps for the government term. More work is needed to reach this task, as updating the plan is not mentioned in the government programme. However, a road map and a schedule to achieve the SDGs will be produced.

Finland is monitoring the realisation of the SDGs in two ways. Under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, the national monitoring network identified 10 monitoring baskets and for each of them 4-5 indicators for which data is already collected. Statistics Finland reports the results according to the nearly 250 indicators defined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, insofar as they are relevant to Finland and are available.

The starting point for the own indicator work has sought indicators that challenge Finland to pursue ambitious goals. Proper monitoring requires clarity on the needed information. If the information is not available, it must be obtained. New types of information gathering require resources, but Finland has designated regrettably little for indicator work.

CS actors have stressed5 that the national indicators should be used as the government’s strategic indicators. The government has not responded to this but has some welcome ideas on indicators in its programme. For example, indicators that describe economic, ecological and social wellbeing will be used as an aid to decision-making and indicators will be adopted for a circular economy programme.

In 2018, the Ministry of Finance took the progressive decision to incorporate sustainable development into the state budget. However, the 2019 draft budget was mainly scrutinised only in relation to the one of the national sustainable development priorities: a carbon neutral and resource wise Finland. The government programme states that development budgeting will be fostered. Hopefully, it will extend the review to the second priority area: a non-discriminating, equal, and competent Finland.

It is recognised that the expertise of all social actors should be used. This can be seen in the sustainable development related government committees, where CS actors have broad representation. Openness is also evident in the creation of a youth 2030 Agenda group and the citizens’ panel to collect information from the public. Some 500 volunteers participated in the first panel in early 2019.

The PATH 2030 report praises such broad participation but notes that young people in particular should be more involved, and that municipalities and cities need more support. The government emphasizes in its programme the importance of different sectors and is eager to increase cooperation with civil society. This is a welcome approach, but clarity is needed on what involvement in different contexts is desired and what scope exists for CS to influence decision-making.

Sustainable development requires coherent policy and the new government expresses good intentions on coherence and global responsibility in its programme, e.g. preparations for a law on mandatory human rights due diligence on based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but the global dimension of sustainable development is not systemically expressed. There are still many steps to take to gain full policy coherence, assess the impact of all our actions on developing countries, and to base all our foreign policy on global responsibility.

Greater coherence is needed to ensure that funding for sustainable development is in line with how Finland talks about global responsibility. Finland should meet its commitments and increase development cooperation funding to the level of 0,7% of GNI. The government programme acknowledges this target but doesn’t indicate when will reach it and makes only a modest funding increase for its term in office.

Towards sustainable development through decisive climate action and protecting biodiversity

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are key sustainable development activities. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)6, published in autumn 2018, is encouraging but solemn. It is possible for humankind to keep earth viable for future generations, but only with rapid, fundamental changes. We need structural changes to solve many difficult and fraught issues. How do we safeguard people's basic needs and promote prosperity without drawing on the limited resources of our planet unsustainably? How do we secure enough decent jobs for people?

Climate action is a global undertaking. The only acceptable goal of climate policy in Finland is to curb the global increase in temperature to 1,5 degrees. The new government expresses a commitment to this aim. However, exact targets are partly lacking, and more ambitious goals are needed in the reduction of emissions and use of peat and in increasing the carbon sinks. The government shows international vanguardism by aiming to reach carbon neutral welfare society by 2035, although it should be done by 2030.

Climate change is strongly linked to the loss of biodiversity and the collapse of ecosystems. The conclusions of the study by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)7 in May 2019 are grim. Up to one million species may be pushed to extinction, most of them in the next few decades. Indigenous peoples and the world's poorest, in particular, are also at risk unless urgent action is taken to especially protect the species we need for food production, pollination, clean water and climate stability.

The efforts by countries to protect and restore habitats are inadequate. The IPBES report does nevertheless offer hope for the possibility of change. However, simply protecting individual species or regions does not repair the damage caused by humans. Attention needs to be paid to the systems at the source of change, such as consumption, trade, and economy. Both global warming and loss of biodiversity can be countered by so-called natural solutions, e.g. restoring habitats, but they must be done with due care. Increasing the use of bioenergy, the afforestation of other habitats, and tree plantations may also increase loss of biodiversity.

At the end of 2020, world leaders will meet in China to decide on 20-year targets to protect biodiversity. Finland must be internationally active to halt species extinction globally and to determine its commitments.

Education, work, equality, climate action, peace, and cooperation

The UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2019 in New York will end the first four-year period of the 2030 Agenda monitoring forums. It was decided in 2016 that in 2017–2019 all the goals would be addressed, highlighting SDG 17, on cooperation and partnership, plus 5-6 other goals each year.

The follow-up reports by Finnish CS follow the same pattern. The 2017 and 2018 reports focused on the SDGs discussed at the New York forums in those years. In addition to SDG 17, the 2019 report includes Good Education (4), Decent Work and Economic Growth (8), Reducing Inequality (10), Climate Action (13) and Peace and Justice (16). The report was published in Finnish in May, and the new government programme in June. For this English version the introduction was updated to include observations on the new government programme but other sections are as they were in May.

Each report has been made by a group of organisations working on the themes for that year. Ten organisations have been responsible for the 2019 report, but other ones have contributed to the content. The report deals with each SDG from a global, national, and local perspective so that reviews of the current situation, visions for tomorrow, and concrete recommendations for decision-makers are presented.


1 Prime Minister’s Office, PMO (2016). National report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Finland. PMO, Helsinki.

2 Prime Minister’s Office, PMO (2017). Government Report on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development in Finland – Long-term, Coherent and Inclusive Action. PMO, Helsinki.

3 Finnish Government (2019). Programme of Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s Government 6 June 2019. Inclusive and competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society. Finnish Government, Helsinki.

4 Berg, Annukka et al. (2019). PATH2030 – An evaluation of Finland’s sustainable development policy. Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki.

5 Finnish Development NGOs Fingo published in March 2019 a leaflet on the elements for a government programme based on sustainable development, its content was formulated in cooperation with the national 2030 Agenda CS network. Available in Finnish: (26.6.2019)

6 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC (2018). Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report. IPCC, Geneve.

7 Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES (2019). The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Eco-system Services. IPBES, Bonn.