Suomen ulkopolitiikan asiakirja-arkisto ja kronologia
Poista kirjanmerkki

Foreign minister Pertti Paasio; Finland's international environment policy in the 1990s

Advisory Board for UN Affairs seminar February 6, 1990


The past year has strengthened my belief that the solution of our ever-growing environmental problems will be the crucial issue of international cooperation in the '90s. I am more convinced than ever that in the long term the future of the world is just as threatened by pollution of the environment, shortsighted exploitation of natural resources and impoverishment of the developing nations as it is by armed conflict, including the threat of nuclear war - indeed, as things look at the moment, possibly even more so. Ultimately, what is at stake is the whole future of mankind.

Though the overall picture is depressing, there are some encouraging signs of a new awareness, of new attitudes. People are waking up. Governments are becoming conscious of their responsibilities. The first major agreements have been signed on reducing pollution and environmental issues feature high on the international affairs agenda. Last autumn's session of the UN General Assembly bore witness to this. My colleagues and I took part in the open debate at the session, and for the first time in the history of the UN, practically all the various delegation leaders clearly viewed the solution of environmental problems as an urgent challenge for international cooperation.

Finland has been a front line country in international environmental cooperation. It is well in line with our foreign policy activity for us to continue along this course. Our own environment and economic development are vitally affected by what happens elsewhere in the world. I am convinced that it is well worth investing in international environmental cooperation. This will ultimately pay for itself, not only in a healthy environment and nation, but also through growing markets, stable economic development and greater international security.

We are preparing ourselves for the challenges of the '90s. This is not easy, because we need action which is at one and the same time global and comprehensive, and practical and close to home. It is obvious that the primary focus of Finland's international environment policy lies in areas nearby, whose pollution has a direct effect on the health of our environment and whose conditions we can actually do something about. At the same time we must also have the wisdom to see beyond the problems close at hand.

The environment and development as a whole are intimately bound up with one another. Expansion of the world economy, trade problems, raw material prices and the indebtedness of the developing nations have a crucial impact on the state of the environment and on sensible use of natural resources. If we act jointly with other governments we can help find the kind of multilateral solutions which will support economic growth based on rational use of natural resources. We are aware of the proposals of the Brundtland Commission. It is indisputable that the poverty spiral of the Third World is leading increasingly to shortsighted destruction of resources and the use of pollutive production technology.

In the 1990s the UN will be playing an even more important role in international environmental cooperation. At the beginning of the decade one of the biggest challenges faced by the whole UN organization will be the Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. This conference is supposed to approve an action strategy for the '90s designed to solve what are considered to be the nine most urgent problems. Of these nine areas, detrimental changes in the atmosphere are the most difficult. Others include protection of the oceans and seas, preventing desertification and the destruction of tropical forests, and ensuring the continuing diversity of organisms and species.

The most important political result of the conference is expected to be a convention on the prevention of climatic change. The effects of global warming show clearly the worldwide dependence of environment problems on decisions taken in other countries.

We know that greater emissions of carbon dioxide are the main element in global warming. As over a third of the world's coal resources are in China, that country's energy policies in the '90s will in the long term obviously affect the condition of the Finnish forests, the foundation of our economy, more than anything we ourselves can do. We also know that developments in our immediate neighbourhood - let us say, pollution from the Kola Peninsula and Poland - is felt here more rapidly and directly.

We cannot start behaving like imperialists under the pretext of environmental risk. As the industrialized countries have caused most of the present problems, they cannot dictate conditions to the rest of the world in the name of the common good. We must carry our own responsibility for finding solutions and developing the necessary technology and forms of financing. We cannot prevent any country from using its natural resources unless we have viable and environmentally useful solutions to offer in their stead. We must therefore help to create an international energy programme, for instance, and also develop solutions which may not necessarily be feasible in Finland itself.

As well as working out its nine action strategies, the important political issues faced by the UN Conference on Development and Environment will be technological cooperation with the developing nations, extra funding for these same nations, and the future development of UN operations. The UN's present cooperation programmes, disposable resources and organization reflect the scale of need measured when the first UN environment conference was held in Stockholm, twenty years ago. The seriousness of the problems today forces us to take a completely new look at the UN's organization and resources. On a Finnish initiative, the UN General Assembly decided last autumn to ask the Secretary General for a proposal on how the UN organization should be developed to allow it to respond more effectively to the enormous challenges ahead.

There have been several proposals for developing the UN's Environment Programmes. The foundation of new bodies such as an environment council has been suggested, or the transfer of environmental matters to bodies whose work is coming to an end, or then rationalization of the workings of present bodies. It has also been suggested that the authority of the Security Council on these matters should be increased. What decisions are finally taken remains to be seen.

The permanent members of the Security Council are unlikely to give their support to decisions calling for changes in the UN Charter. In any case, it is important to strengthen UNEP, the UN Environment Programme, and to give it more financial backing. Finland has already done this. Finland last autumn prepared and coordinated the Environment Programme in the General Assembly, together with a resolution on the operations of the whole UN organization. This year Finland's contribution to UNEP will increase over 50%. I am alsO ready to propose a substantial increase in next year's budget.

Secondly, the status of the General Assembly should be reinforced. Possibly a body representing all the member countries should be set up to coordinate environmental issues, with extensive supranational powers.

Though the current authority of the Security Council allows it to interfere in acute, unexpected environmental problems which may lead to disputes between nations, it seems poorly suited to the handling of broad environmental issues of slow impact, even if the threat they pose to international security is much greater by far than some incidental catastrophe.

In financing cooperation we face issues of quite a different magnitude. We need some completely new approaches if we are to solve them. Protection of the ozone layer is the first field in which calculations have been made about the amounts of money needed. The assumption has been that the industrial countries will pay for themselves the cost of changing over to materials that are environmentally safe. The developing countries, on the other hand, have neither the necessary technology nor the money. They have quite rightly demanded that, because it is primarily the industrial nations that are causing ozone depletion, it is their job to help the Third World to change over to acceptable substitutes.

Present estimates about the backing needed by the developing nations range between 800 million and 2 billion Finnish marks a year, for about 10 years. The annual budget of the entire UN Environment Programme is only about one tenth of the lowest estimate. I do not believe that any nation is ready to raise its contribution ten-fold over the next few years.

An alternative that deserves serious consideration is a product- specific charge determined on the basis of present consumption. For instance, this would add 4-10 Finnish marks to the price of a new refrigerator. I doubt that any Finnish consumer would fail to buy a fridge because of this surcharge. If this kind of charge could be put into affect, it would produce the funds needed for international action. We understand, however, how difficult this would be to implement worldwide, when even Finland has not managed to implement environment charges for protection purposes. This matter is being discussed, however, under Finland's lead. If no solution in principle is found by next summer, the ban on substances which destroy the ozone layer, already decided on last spring in Helsinki at the political level, will not be implemented. Decision-makers must also continue to face up to their responsibilities, now that the Helsinki ozone conference is over.

The resources needed for protection of the ozone layer are relatively small, however, compared with those needed to prevent climatic changes. This calls for a completely new energy, agricultural and forestry policy.

No such transfers of funds can be made out of the development cooperation budget. Yet development cooperation is extremely important, if faster progress is to be made in the right direction. The content of our development cooperation must be adjusted to make it serve sustainable development vis à vis natural resources more effectively. Last week I proposed that our development cooperation contribution should be raised to 1% of GNP, and 0.3% of this devoted to international environmental cooperation in neighbouring areas and the Third World.

Whether we must go even farther than this can be pondered when this first goal has been reached. The decision-makers must also be brought to understand that it is not possible, indeed hardly honest, to support protection of the environment internationally yet deny it funds.

Whatever financing models are eventually adopted, environmental protection will demand really substantial economic sacrifices from us in the future. A clean environment is so precious to the Finns that I believe they will be ready to make these sacrifices. However, people will want to be certain that the money they provide is really used on the environment. This certainty they must be given.

Our immediate neighbours, the source of most of the air-borne impurities reaching Finland, will be the focus of Finnish environment policy in the near future. We must be able to protect our most precious natural resource, our forests.

This primarily means cooperating with the Soviet Onion, Poland and the German Democratic Republic. An open exchange of views and collaboration have already been launched with these countries. The first agreements have also been signed. Initially, we need effective agreements to reduce emissions. Next, we must reach agreement on financing systems and programmes related to the transfer of technology. The 'polluter pays' principle can probably be used with the rich OECD countries, but strict observance of it with countries in Eastern Europe struggling with other economic problems, not to mention the developing nations, does not seem realistic at present.

We must join the other Western industrial nations in contributing to the reconstruction of Eastern Europe, for instance through the new reconstruction bank. Because the restructuring of production in the countries of Eastern Europe will take time, greater economic activity may initially result in heavy emissions of pollution. Environmental protection must therefore be at the forefront right from the start of reconstruction programmes. Special action is needed both bilaterally and on a broader basis. The idea of setting up a European environment fund should be worked on further.

In bilateral cooperation we have started to work out a cooperation strategy with the emphasis on training and environmental protection. Negotiations with Poland on collaboration in environmental protection and energy saving have already been concluded, and the first collaboration projects are being worked out. Measures affecting air pollution control take priority. Over 50 million Finnish marks have been allocated in this year's budget for this purpose.

There is also extensive cooperation with the Soviet Union. During President Gorbachev's visit to Finland three new conventions on environmental protection were signed. The most important concerns the reduction of air-borne pollutants from areas close to our common border. This bilateral programme has
laid down much stricter measures to cut emissions than have been agreed on anywhere else in Europe. We are currently negotiating on economic cooperation to limit emissions. The Finnish company Outokumpu is ready to modernize the world's biggest nickel production plants, on the Kola Peninsula, thus reducing their emissions by over 95%. For this purpose, the Government has granted a loan guarantee and interest subsidy more favourable than the support provided for air protection investments in Finland itself. Progress has been made in the negotiations and I believe that agreement will be reached at the next session of the Economic Commission.

The Baltic must be protected. Some important initiatives have been made on closer cooperation in the Baltic area. Finland is ready to participate at a high political level in the meeting of Baltic countries being held next autumn to deal with the protection of the Baltic environment and other cooperation. The time is ripe for more effective cooperation affecting the whole environment in the Baltic area, and not just the protection of the sea itself. The various initiatives put forward for further collaboration in the Baltic should be integrated into a coordinated action programme.

I have now touched on the most important aspects of environmental cooperation in the '90s. I would crystallize our line of action in the near future as follows:

1) The Government considers that environmental questions will become an increasingly important issue of international cooperation and attaches great importance to environmental cooperation in its foreign policy.

2) We will join actively with other countries in developing international economic relations which promote the sensible use of natural resources.

3) We will take the initiative in the UN, its special agencies, other international organizations and financial institutions to ensure sustainable development vis à vis natural resources and the consideration of environmental aspects in all development.

4) We will work particularly actively in preparations for the UN Conference on Environment and Development and strive to achieve binding action programmes to solve the world's main environmental problems, particularly to prevent climatic changes.

5) We will work actively to develop the UN organization so that it can deal more effactively with environmental problems.

6) We will develop technological cooperation and financing systems to allow the developing nations to acquire clean production technology and products that do not endanger the environment at reasonable cost.

7) Our future development cooperation will take environmental considerations into account in every aspect. Our development cooperation budget will be raised to 1% of GNP, and 0.3% of this will be used on environment projects in neighbouring areas and the Third World, in addition to the regular development cooperation appropriations.

8) The focus of our immediate action is neighbouring areas. Cooperation in the European area will be developed in line with the recommendations of the CSCE environment conference and a stricter line will be adopted on programmes to reduce the long-distance transportation of air-borne impurities. We will work further on our initiative to protect the susceptible wildlife of Arctic areas.

9) There will be greater urgency with the preparation and implementation of an environment-oriented action strategy for cooperation with Eastern Europe. We will play an active part in protection of and cooperation in the Baltic area.

10) Cooperation with the Soviet Union will be intensified, particularly that with neighbouring areas in the field of air and water pollution control. Cooperation affecting the Kola Peninsula is especially important.

The new dimensions and challenges of cooperation also call for an increase in national resources. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is currently negotiating with the Ministry of the Environment on intensifying cooperation and increasing resources. An office for international environmental cooperation is to be set up at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

I am very happy that Prime Minister Holkeri has proposed the holding of a special high-level discussion forum in the autumn involving politicians, representatives of business and industry, and high government officials to ponder our environment policy. I believe that international trends and prospects in environment policy will then be strongly to the fore.

Poista kirjanmerkki