Nordics at forefront for Green, Sustainable Development in China

Kristina Persson, Founder of Independent Think-tank Global Challenge and former Minister of Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation of Sweden, gave this presentation last week in Beijing about how Nordic countries view and act for green sustainable development. 

The creation ofasustainable society is becoming more and more urgent as we learn from IPCC and other sources, that global warming is increasing faster than expected. Governance is key for change. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly complex to achieve real system-changes in a highly technological and interdependent world.

When I first visited China in 1972, awareness about climate warming was very low, both in China and in Europe, including the Nordic countries. And the economic and cultural links between us were very weak. Now we are increasingly connected and we share the same challenges and goals, as expressed in the UN Agenda 2030.

This is both a challenge and a great opportunity; Nations need to work together and learn from one another and the public sector needs to work with the private sector, to find the best solutions. If we don´t speed up the process for change now, life itself on the planet is at risk.

The Nordic countries score very high in international comparisons,no matter if the indicators are economic, social or ecological. This is naturally a reason for pride but constitute at the same time a risk for complacency. Sweden ranked number one, when the Bertelsman institute assessed the position of all countries in the world in relation to the UN Agenda 2030. But last year, CO2 emissions in Sweden increased somewhat, although they should decrease by approximately 7% to 8% on a yearly basis. And from the consumption side our ecological footprint per capita is among the largest in the world.

To be ahead of others means a responsibility to do more and show the way forward for others. Chinas role is of course even more important because of your size and impact. Let me take this opportunity to say that Chinas commitment to The Paris Climate Agreement is of tremendous importance for us all.

Good governance is fundamental on all levels – be it local, national, regional or global. Global governance is – I believe – by far our toughest challenge; we need to find new ways of working together. And in a world of low trust we must reconcile macro-economic conditions with a green transformation and social needs.

The level where the greatest achievements can be noted in the Nordic Countries, is the local level, meaning municipalities, cities and parts of cities like Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, which we will hear more about later from Mr Larsson. If all towns and cities in Sweden would embark on the same process for change as they have, we could reach the climate goals even sooner than planned.

And there are many other good examples, like Copenhagen – the capital of Denmark, Malmö in Sweden, Lahti in Finland and Lilleström in Norway.

So, sustainability is possible and sustainable urbanisation is a condition for achieving the global goals – 80% of the world´s population is expected to live in cities in 2050.

Local governance for sustainability it is about establishing the best possible conditions for social entrepreneurs and individuals to change the local systems – buildings, transport and waste-handling – and thereby diminish the ecological footprint. This is best done in close cooperation with all other relevant actors, outside and within the public sector.

The active participation of the people living in an area is probably the most important resource in order to reach the goals; Therefore, you need to have good conditions for their participation, like physical spaces, means and measures to become owners or at least partners of the process. Job creation should be part of the green investments in areas where unemployment is a problem.Ecological and social sustainability must go hand in hand.

There are other glimmers of light: One is the growing interest taken by the business community and the financial sector in the movement towards a sustainable world. The new thinking represents a combined insight of what the world needs and the fact that there are large, profitable markets out there. A world that is not sustainable is not in the interest of business.

The local level is many times dependent on the National level – for rules and regulation, infrastructure and financial assets. The local process for sustainability must convince the levels above – heads of departments, maires and ministers – to facilitate the local initiatives. Competent and non-corrupt leaders – both locally and nationally – is a prerequisite for a sustainable future.

The Nordic model, based on high taxes and good institutions has produced more equality, better growth and a greater responsibility for the nature than other regions in the world. Our best asset is – I believe – the high level of trust, both in relation to other people and to institutions.

High trust and a low level of corruption are highly dependent on each other. If I believe that the taxes I pay will be used to improve hospital care and schools (and not end up in the pockets of the tax-collector) I gladly pay. If I believe that you are my friend, I treat you like one. This constitutes a splendid basis for cooperation, entrepreneurship and innovation and is indeed an important explanation of the Nordic countries success.

The tasks ahead of us are summarized in the UN Agenda 2030. The whole world has signed it. We know what we must achieve: A transformation to sustainable ecological conditions, coupled with more equitable and just economic and social conditions. The agenda is integrated, meaning that you cannot choose to achieve some goals and leave others out. The success of one goal depends on the success of all goals.

But the agenda doesn´t tell us how to get there. The way forward will of course look different for every country. Sweden has a climate lawsaying that emissions of CO2 shall behalved by 2030 and zero by the year 2045. Our conditions for success are good: Strong support from the people and an energy system that is already almost fossil-free. And it would not be costly – a great number of our companies would benefit from an increasing demand for fossil-free technique and products.

The knowledge how to reduce emissions is there, the technology is well-known and by large affordable – often more competitive than the old fossil ways. What now remain is to start the many parallel processes that will lead to a sustainable future. In short, central politics need to produce an organisation and the means to push for and coordinate the many changes needed.  This is a situation we share with most – if not all – other European countries:  It takes a strong and visionary leadership to break up from old structures, rules and culture.

In order to deliver the system-changes needed, you cannot have an organisation where the silos govern.Silos, or the vertical organisational principle must give way for a more horizontal leadership and planning and be based upon a holistic, long-term thinking. Our reality is complex and this must be reflected in our model for governance.

The three most important concepts for good governance are: High trust, Good institutions and Capacity for innovation.They depend on one another. Sweden and the other Nordic countries score high in all three.

Good institutions and public systems include among other things an efficient tax authority, social security systems, health and education of high quality which is reflected in the size of the public sector.

A high level of innovation is something you get by combining good conditions for entrepreneurs, R&D and collaboration between many different actors. We talk about challenge-driven innovations, focussing on the needs in the society.

Now to the Global level: Even if a nation state has good governance, it does not have all the answers or the capacity for producing fundamental changes, like the ones we are talking about. International cooperation is a must.

The great economic disparities in a global market economy like ours, threaten to have a paralysing effect on economic and social development. If you want durable growth it must be equitable. (This was a quote from the IMF director Christine Lagarde) Reducing inequalities is one of the goals that make up the Agenda 2030.‘

We can see that natural science and new technology are producing the conditions for meeting climate goals, but the social sciences, in particular economics are not. We need to develop a new economic thinking in order to channel the financial flows to the green transformation, create a circular economy and meet the social needs. Politics and economics can never be separated.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about our new initiative to establish a Swedish school of Governance.  Leaders on all levels need to be competent and able to drive change. This is the reason why we – a group of individuals in Sweden – have taken an initiative supported by the Swedish Innovation Agency (Vinnova), to establish a new form of advanced education. We are at a very early stage, but we hope to – within some years – start an Executive Master in Governance and Societal Transformation.

Markets change quickly, institutions don´t – this is true also for the education system. And it is not only the mission to create a sustainable future that constitute strong demands for change. A new world of work is emerging out there, driven by digitalisation, robotization, artificial intelligence and outsourcing. The global market economy has left our political institutions behind.

In order to move away from an outdated system and support change, we need to educate leaders who have a different mindset, who will share goals and focus on the long-term results, at the same time as they operate autonomously and cooperate across disciplines/sectors. In the business sector this is called agility. It is highly needed also in the public sector.

The curriculum will be challenge- and mission-driven, multidisciplinary and system-oriented. Practise and theory will be mixed all along the approximately 1,5 year that it will take. Leadership within existing, complex projects will be an essential part of the skill development curriculum. Our vision is that the school will be open for leaders/students from all over the world.

Our transition towards a sustainable world must be built by a new spirit of solidarity and cooperation.The realisation of Agenda 2030 will require determined political leaders. We need an international cooperation that better match our current reality. We need a more social economy and the mobilisation of people.

Government resources will be nowhere near enough. The private financial markets must begin to serve the interests of society.

The only thing that we can be sure of is that Change is the law of life and that those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

Photo: Green Sustainable Development Conference website

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