An interview with Mai Kivelä, Finnish Member of Parliament
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regularly hosts high-level politicians, diplomats and civil servants, among others, at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. In January 2020, six Finnish parliamentarians came to learn about how resident United Nations agencies and programmes collaborate to respond to the challenges the world is facing today.
The visit coincided with the Finnish government’s work on its first Africa strategy and gave the Finnish representatives an opportunity to meet and discuss issues with local civil society, government representatives such as Nairobi’s Senator, and representatives from a variety of United Nations organizations and programmes, including UN-Habitat, UNICEF, UN Women and the World Food Programme.
The parliamentarians met with UNEP’s Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya and other UNEP experts to discuss the organization’s work and to exchange views on pressing environmental questions and among other things, the role of the United Nations in addressing these. In this context, the participants discussed the ongoing United Nations reform as an opportunity for UNEP to ensure that the environmental dimensions of sustainable development are integrated in the United Nations’ work at country level.
Finland is a strong supporter of UNEP, both financially and politically.
One of the visiting Finnish parliamentarians, Mai Kivelä, is a member of the Left Party and member of Agriculture and Forestry Committee, Environment Committee and Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference. She specializes in climate, the environment and animal rights issues and has worked with non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace for a decade. We asked her about her views on environmental challenges and the future of Finnish environmental politics.
How was your visit to Kenya and meeting with representatives from UNEP?
We experienced a lot in a week. I have done development cooperation projects in the past in Asia and the Middle East, but this was my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. During the trip, my view of Kenya and the work of the United Nations has become more diverse and expanded. I'm really happy with the delegation’s trip and I am glad that I have been able to deepen my understanding of international cooperation. Meeting with UNEP was important to me personally because, in my work, I focus specifically on climate and environmental issues. However, I was also pleased that climate and environmental policy was raised at every meeting with other United Nations organizations.
What are the most pressing environmental challenges we face today and how do you think we can solve them?
I think the biggest challenge is that we are facing many huge challenges at the same time. Even though climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing human history, the alarming decline of biodiversity is no less a problem. We are in a hurry, and yet we still do not take these challenges with the seriousness they require.
As we are changing our societies to be more ecologically sustainable, we need to address the social justice questions simultaneously. For example, the transition to climate sustainability must be fair and reduce inequality. At the global level, the challenge is immense. However, our only alternative is that we must do everything to succeed in this.
In addition, it is important that issues related to animal rights be addressed at the same time because the exploitation of the animals is also one of the biggest injustices of our time. At the heart of all these issues is how we succeed in development policy and especially in the policy coherence for development. In other words, the Sustainable Development Goals must be cross-cutting across all policies, not a separate sector.
What can you tell about Finland’s new government’s policy on environment?
I was negotiating the Finnish government's climate and environmental policy goals, and I am satisfied with the level of ambition which the government has on climate and environmental objectives. Finland's target is to be carbon neutral in 2035 and carbon negative soon thereafter. We are committed to stopping the loss of biodiversity.
We have agreed that we will promptly implement emission reduction measures, double the allocation for nature conservation and promote the circular economy, for the overconsumption of natural resources to be tackled.
At the same time, I would have wanted an even more ambitious programme, and especially more concrete decisions, to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are met. It is important for all of us!