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Niinistö cites importance of climate action, women's rights in UN address

Finland’s President spoke to the UN’s General Assembly via video link on Wednesday.

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö tapaa mediaa YK:n yleiskokouspuheenvuoronsa jälkeen Presidentinlinnassa Helsingissä.
Finland's President Sauli Niinistö speaking to the media after his speech to the UN General Assemby on Wednesday. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö expressed concern about the ability of the world’s nations to jointly address global threats during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

"When this pandemic broke out, our initial reaction was not to unite behind multilateral efforts. Instead of a much-needed global response, we witnessed a series of national responses," Niinistö said, adding that while this may have been understandable under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, "it does raise concerns on how we will be able to combat other global challenges".

The world’s heads of state meet once a year in New York for the UN’s General Assembly, during which each leader is given an opportunity to deliver a statement on global issues during the General Debate.

This year however, due to the ongoing pandemic, Niinistö delivered Finland's statement via a video link, as did other heads of state.

Climate change the biggest threat

Niinistö used his platform to remind global leaders that what he termed the most "persistent existential threat to humanity", climate change, should not be forgotten in the midst of the pandemic.

He added that states need to ensure the climate issue is at the heart of post-pandemic recovery strategies.

"We must make a virtue out of necessity. As the entire world now needs a recovery strategy, we have to make sure that we choose a road towards a sustainable future. Instead of returning to our unsustainable habits, we truly have to "Build Back Better and Greener"," Niinistö said, adding that he believes the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement must be achieved.

In terms of Finland’s role, Niinistö said his nation was ready to take a leading position in climate action.

"The Finnish Government stands firmly behind its aim to make Finland climate neutral by 2035, and thus the world's first fossil-free welfare society. We will continue to integrate sustainable development into our state budget," he said.

Finland seeks membership of human rights council

Niinistö also made a concrete promise during his speech that Finland would apply for membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2022 to 2024.

The council, which meets in Switzerland, is the UN's highest human rights body and membership would demonstrate Finland’s "long-term commitment to promoting human rights", Niinistö said. He also expressed particular concern over the current position of women in the world, which he said has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic.

"For Finland, advancing women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality is of fundamental importance," he said.

"The harsh economic and social implications for women have reversed the progress achieved during the last decades. The attempts to undermine women’s and girls’ rights, especially sexual and reproductive health and rights, continue."

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