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Speech by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the 40th anniversary seminar of the Labour Institute for Economic Research at the Paasitorni on 22 November 2011

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Speech by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the 40th anniversary seminar of the Labour Institute for Economic Research at the Paasitorni on 22 November 2011

Let me begin by very warmly congratulating the Labour Institute for Economic Research on the 40th anniversary. Your work is truly valuable. Throughout the years, the Institute has brought necessary and important perspectives to social discussion. The theme you have chosen for the anniversary seminar "Economic crisis - a challenge to sustainable development?" is very topical. It is also a question which those of us who defend the Nordic welfare model are often requested to address.

I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome Professor Joseph Stiglitz. I have had the pleasure of working with you in the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. I have learned to know you personally and come to value your work greatly.

Achieving sustainable development is our common challenge. There can be no more "business as usual". This is the leading idea behind the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, which was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to seek bold but practical solutions to sustainable development. The Secretary-General urged us to be revolutionary. The work of the Panel is nearing completion. Its recommendations will be presented to Mr. Ban Ki-moon early next year.

From the outset of its work, the Panel saw it necessary that all three dimensions of sustainable development - the economic, the social and the environmental - are promoted in a balance. What we have found is that this has not been the case in the past twenty years. The social dimension in particular has been neglected.

The current economic and financial crisis is a daily concern for Europeans. Poverty and unemployment are rising in our continent. At the same time, a large part of the world's population lives in constant poverty, with no access to food, health care, livelihood or political rights. The poorest will be hit hardest by the crisis. They are also vulnerable to new risks. Climate change, the food crisis and the economic crisis affect most severely their everyday life.

Acute crises can easily lead to short-sightedness of political decision-makers. I consider it necessary, that while resolving the current economic crisis, we also tackle the global "sustainability crisis". One could hope that the economic crisis can even make people more open to new, radical ways for building a sustainable planet and economy.

Human resources and investing in people is the priority. Markets, institutions and operating models also require effective action. It is about systemic whole in which everything affects everything. Labour policy has often been in the shadow of broader economic policy. We must create new jobs. As far as sustainable development is concerned, it is essential that these jobs are decent and green.

I believe that the importance of women to the economy is not yet fully understood. According to The Economist, women's increased participation in working life during the last 30 years has had an impact on the world economy equal to China's economic growth. Women's resources are still not fully utilized.

Abolishing discrimination against women and achieving equality between women and men are not only necessary for women's human rights, but also for smart economics.

We must invest in young people to ensure sustainable development. Unemployment of young people erodes the very foundations of society by withering the faith in the future. This also undermines stability.

The Global Sustainability Panel is also tackling the long-debated question of indicators of progress. We know that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is much too narrow as an indicator. We need a new more comprehensive indicator to measure development.
I had the opportunity to attend the Third Noble Laureate Symposium last May in Stockholm to discuss issues related to sustainable development, including indicators, with the Nobel Laureates. The meeting as well as the Memorandum handed to us were very inspiring and thought provoking. I would like to commend Professor Stiglitz for his work on this important subject.

The Panel is approaching consensus on the usefulness of so-called sustainable development goals. The Millennium Development Goals - even if not perfect - have proved efficient in mobilising the international community and national governments towards achieving mutually agreed goals. This is a good way to continue. The aim for us is to have sustainable development goals in 2015, when the MDGs expire.

I wish the best of success to the Labour Institute for Economic Research. To achieve sustainable development, we need those who have the courage to speak with a strong voice.

Thank you.