January 27, 2023

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What do we expect from the 2022 World Circular Economy Forum? A Conversation with Terhi Lehtonen, Vice Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Finland

Terhi Lehtonen, Vice Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Finland speaking to the host

Terhi Lehtonen

Thank you. First of all, let me thank the government of Rwanda for hosting and allowing us to take part in this wonderful forum here in Africa this year, and I am very pleased that we can meet live, and that we can have this forum in Africa. I think it’s been brilliant. It’s a conversation until now. And I just would like to stress what we can learn from each other. I think we are having similar conversations, but we see that we can exchange best practices, and we can learn from each other. And I think this applies to global north and global south and we all need to be finding solutions together.

There’s something I know you care deeply about. And that’s climate action. Because at the end of the day, we heard earlier that NDC is all of these ambitious plans, they come down to country level action, share a little bit about What do you think about integrating climate biodiversity at the country level?

Terhi Lehtonen: For what we do in Finland, first of all, climate has been a big priority, too. We take our commitments under the Paris Agreement very seriously. So our climate science panel has advice for us, or is consistent for Finland to be in line with the Paris Agreement which is a one and a half degree commitment. And we have said that climate neutrality means for us climate neutrality by 2035 and being carbon negative, or climate positive thereafter, we have set that in law, and we have put in place greenhouse gas reduction targets that are aligned with that approach. We have the policies and measures and we have sorted out what we need to do on biodiversity, we have a further way to go. We have in the past few years increased our funding for nature conservation, and for nature restoration quite a bit. And we are expecting very strong results from Montreal, for the global biodiversity framework and we are already in the process of setting those goals into our domestic strategy.

To come back to Circular Economy: circular economy is to address both the climate and the biodiversity crisis and we have also a new Circular Economy strategy where we have for the first time also good quantitative targets on our nature or natural resource consumption, and efficiency. So that’s what we work through these programmes and it’s been a core of this work.

That’s good to hear that because I have one or two of the things that came up in the dialogue and the first one was on Finance features. So the quality of finance, velocity of finance is the real Achilles heel of how we move forward, and especially then with loss and damage, this idea of data, the data gap, what are your thoughts about how we bridge both of those gaps as we move forward?

Terhi Lehtonen: That’s correct. Also, that access to finance is also a key enabler for us in our economy. So for example, in our COVID-19 recovery programme, we decided to dedicate at least half of those funds to direct climate action and leading the economy and digital transformation. So most of those resources are accelerating our transformation towards a circular carbon neutral economy. But I think this is also an area where the international community and multiple multinational development banks, which was in the previous discussion very rightly said, I think in both discussions and both panels that we need to ensure that there’s access to funders. I know that an entrepreneur in Finland has a very different interest rate in Finland than a Rwandan entrepreneur or an African company. So I think this is where we need to work together to de-risk to fund and find those instruments to make sure that finance is there.

I just wanted to ask you, what gives you hope, as we move forward into this year, and every year after this becoming so critical, what must we do better?

Terhi Lehtonen: Well, what gives me hope is this kind of events and the entrepreneurs that were on stage earlier, and the kind of synergy that we see also in Finland and the kind of recognition also the way innovation has led and this is clear indication that we have the solutions are around so that it’s now up to politicians, like the minister and ourselves to put the circular economy on track and to make the right decisions. And I think the tools are available, and we have the think tanks and research organizations that have put forward the measures and the tools and it’s now time to act.

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