“Now it is time to move forward and take what we have agreed on into practice. We need the same kind of ‘we-spirit’ and partnership in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as we had when agreeing on the programme”, said Prime Minister Juha Sipilä in September 2016 when Finland celebrated the first anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The conditions for implementing the SDGs’ 2030 Agenda in Finland are excellent, among the best in the world, but like in all other countries the challenges are enormous. While the preceding Millennium Development Goals focused on third-world countries far away from Finland, SDGs are like a mirror to us: these are our issues and responsibilities, and we really need to change the ways we act.
In the beginning of the year Finland reorganised the coordination mechanisms of the work on sustainable development. Now the main responsibility for the coordination of both the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the national work rests with the Prime Minister's Office. The engine and key body in this work is the over 20-year-old Commission on Sustainable Development, with representatives from all ministries, the Parliament, business life, trade unions, civil, municipalities, environmental and social organisations, the church and research institutes. This hybrid model brings together top political leaders and actors of the civil society in a way that is quite unique. The Expert Panel on Sustainable Development hosted by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra serves as a support body as well as watchdog for the Commission by giving opinions and feedback.
The Commission on Sustainable Development has introduced a low-threshold tool by which anyone from a daycare centre to large enterprises may contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. Society's Commitment to Sustainable Development is the current Finnish strategy for sustainable development, including a vision and 8 objectives as well as cross-cutting principles. In spring 2016 the national objectives of Finland were harmonised with the goals of the 2030 Agenda. The commitment is a functional tool that allows any party or actor to join in and give a concrete, creative and measurable contribution to promote the common cause. So far more than 300 commitments have been made, mostly by companies, towns and cities and schools.
"Complacency is the worst obstacle to improvement, which is why we need to be on the alert."
Even if we are doing fine with many of the SDGs in Finland, there are some major pains. These include combatting climate change (SDG), which is closely linked to the challenges in energy production, manufacturing, and sustainable consumption and production. Another main theme that needs more attention is non-discrimination and participation. These messages were confirmed in the gap analysis conducted in Finland last spring to determine our baseline situation. Complacency is the worst obstacle to improvement, which is why we need to be on the alert.
Animation highlighting Finland's strengths and weaknesses in implementing the SDGs. (Source: Kestävä kehitys)
Maintaining and strengthening policy coherence is one of the main challenges and objectives in the national implementation of the SDGs. Society's Commitment to Sustainable Development and its 8 objectives are among the most important tools in support of coherence. The shift of the national sustainable development policy coordination to the Prime Minister's Office in the beginning of 2016 allows even more systematic approaches to improving policy coherence.
Finland is taking the implementation of the 2030 Agenda very seriously indeed. The Finnish Government will prepare a national implementation plan for Agenda 2030 by the end of 2016. This decision has been incorporated into the Government Programme. We have the mechanisms to take action, monitor and get people and organisations involved, we know our weaknesses and strengths, and we have the will to work. In the years to come we will see if we had enough will and ambition. We know our challenges with regard to climate change and economy – now all parts of society need to work together to change our direction.
Marja Innanen is currently the Deputy Secretary General of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development (FNCSD). She works on building frames and operations for society’s commitment to sustainable development.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.