The Nordics stand by their sustainability promise to future generations

The five Nordic nations – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway – are frequently ranked among the most successful, happy and liveable countries in the world. We are accustomed to top rankings in international comparisons. We are among the most environmentally aware people in the world – recycling is widespread, green products are in high demand, and consumers aspire to make environmentally and ethically sound purchasing decisions.

Yet, at the same time, our ecological footprint is among the biggest in the world. If every country lived as we do, we would need multiple planets to exploit – almost four, in fact. It goes without saying that something needs to change.

In 2015, the Nordic countries, along with all of the other UN member states, committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Agenda 2030. We are committed to pursuing the goals at international level but – even more importantly – also to working towards sustainable societies at home. Even with the Nordic countries’ historically strong commitment to sustainability, this is no easy task.

Although the Nordic countries are well on their way to achieving many of the SDGs, there is still considerable room for improvement on some of them. A recent study commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers shows that the Region needs to up the ante on sustainable consumption and production, low-carbon clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable economic growth, greening of sustainable food systems, and ecosystem conservation. The analysis reveals a harsh truth: the Nordics may be “top of the class” in many areas, but we will struggle to reach our goals if we fail to take urgent action and change our lifestyles and consumption patterns.

The good news is that the Nordic countries are taking this challenge seriously. In addition to national measures, the Council of Ministers has launched two regional initiatives focused on the SDGs. The Nordic prime ministers’ initiative 'Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges' was launched in May and on September 5th the ministers for Nordic cooperation agreed on 'Generation 2030'. The former focuses on Nordic energy and climate solutions as well as food, welfare and gender solutions, the latter on sustainable consumption and production, and on ensuring that we do our very best to leave behind us a prosperous planet for future generations.

With these two new initiatives, both linked closely to implementing Agenda 2030, the Nordic region shows that it is possible – and indeed meaningful – to work with the SDGs in a macro-regional context, with a focus on shared challenges and possibilities for mutual learning.

Generation 2030 also reflects our ambition to mobilise young people as agents of change – because sustainability work needs to continue well beyond 2030. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” In this case, we must try to do both.

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