Secretary General Paula Lehtomäki of the Nordic Council of Ministers - Photographer Kristian Septimius Krogh, norden.org

Secretary General Paula Lehtomäki of the Nordic Council of Ministers - Photographer Kristian Septimius Krogh, norden.org

31 Oct 2019

Vision 2030: Clear focus needed in leading Nordic cooperation

In August, the Nordic Prime Ministers declared that the Nordic region will become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers says there is a need to focus the scope of Nordic cooperation. “Also when it comes to perhaps consolidating our activities somewhat, so that we ensure efficiency and results.”

The Nordic Prime ministers want to prioritise:

A green Nordic region – together, we will promote a green transition of our societies and work towards carbon neutrality and a sustainable circular and bio-based economy.

A competitive Nordic region – together, we will promote green growth in the Nordic region based on knowledge, innovation, mobility and digital integration.

A socially sustainable Nordic Region – together, we will promote an inclusive, equal and interconnected region with shared values and strengthened cultural exchange and welfare.

The prime ministers stated that the co-operation we see in the context of the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) must serve this vision. Hence, the secretary general is currently in the midst of anchoring Vision 2030 in the Nordic Council of Ministers' sectors, the Nordic Council and in the Nordic countries. The anchoring process is part of the preparation of NCM’s action plans for 2021–24, based on the above-mentioned strategic priorities. The final action plans will guide the preparation of the budget.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges and opportunities for increasing green growth and a sustainable Nordic region?

“One of the most important aspects of the new vision is that it provides a clear and common objective. A big challenge that I experience in my Nordic cooperation work is that there is so much of everything. Perhaps not of everything, but there really are many different types of cooperation and many different projects in several sectors. The biggest challenge is to gain a holistic understanding of what is going on within Nordic cooperation,” says Ms Lehtomäki.

“Clearly, there is a need for an overview of Nordic cooperation in order to lead it. I believe the common objective in Vision 2030 can be of help in this—also when it comes to perhaps consolidating our activities somewhat—so that we ensure efficiency and results. It was evident in the prime ministers’ discussion that they wanted more tangible results. That means we must also be able to make those results visible. However, it is not that easy to show what is happening when you have many results. It can be hard to see the forest for all the trees, as the saying goes.”

“We will do our outmost to realise the vision and have already started a strategy process to implement it. We have asked the NCM sectors and Nordic institutions to provide inputs to formulate concrete and measurable targets within the three parts of the vision 2030.”

Paula Lehtomäki took over as Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers in March 2019. Her previous job was as State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office in Finland. She was elected to the Finnish parliament in 1999, and served as a Centre Party MP for 16 years. She was Minister of Foreign Trade and Development 2003–2007 and Minister of the Environment 2007–2011. She took six months of maternity leave during both periods as a minister. She was also a member of the Nordic Council from 1999 to 2003 and sat on the Adjacent Areas Committee.

A window of opportunity

Ms Lehtomäki emphasises that the green transition is a central theme in the new vision.

“Precisely now, we have strong political support for this. We must however recognise that it is not an easy task, and that not every citizen agrees with it, not even in the Nordics. We should be able to make the green transition in such a way that it increases employment in the Nordic countries. This is important to ensure that everyone can participate—that it is not just someone else’s business—and we are all included.”

“If we look at sustainable consumption, production and climate—which are the UN Sustainable Development Goal numbers 12 and 13 respectively—we are quite far from being perfect.”

“We have significant challenges due to our living standards being very high, meaning that we consume quite a lot. Therefore, it will not be easy to change. On the other hand, we do have very good possibilities to make a great change thanks to our high level of technology and a highly educated population.”

How do you see the role of finance institutions, and especially NIB, in reaching Vision 2030, and what are your wishes?

“My wish is that all areas of Nordic corporation—which includes the Nordic Investment Bank, even though it is also owned by the Baltic countries also—are all members of the same family. The idea now is that we look at the new vision and think about our own role in implementing the vision.”

“I know that NIB is already involved in a range of activities that contribute to sustainability. It is, however, hard for someone on the outside to come and say, ‘Do this, do that’. It is important to act within one’s own rules and in a way that is natural for any institution to work. It is important that we all turn to Vision 2030 and start working for the same objective. There certainly exists financing opportunities regarding more sustainable infrastructure, technology and so on.”

Where and how can the Nordic countries reap optimal benefits for the environment and climate improvement policy and action?

“In my opinion, there are three aspects to this. First, we need to act within the Nordic region to work towards the ambitious objectives that we have set for ourselves. Secondly, we need to develop and spread technological and other solutions that can contribute to sustainable development globally. Thirdly, we must utilise international forums where together we can cooperate and help facilitate changes also in other parts of the world. We have to remember that the Nordic countries are big actors in international aid politics, so we really have opportunities to have an influence outside the Nordic region.”

“The starting points is national, so the Nordic countries can do a lot themselves. Then there are actions that are more profitable and efficient to be done in cooperation. Research and technological development are good examples of this. Then again, we need to find those sectors where we cannot act alone as nations. These sectors are very valuable to find in order to cooperate efficiently. Certainly, we are not that strong individually in the international arena.”

“Together, we have a much bigger role to play,” says Ms Lehtomäki.