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"We have to put people at the centre of change," says Finnish President Tarja Halonen

Feb 03, 2012

Finnish President Tarja Halonen, recipient of this year's Sustainable Development Leadership award at DSDS 2012, speaks about people's choices in sustainable development, in an exclusive interview to OneWorld South Asia.

Tarja Halonen is known for championing issues of human rights, democracy and civil society. She is also a co-chair of the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. It was only appropriate when she won TERI's Sustainable Development Leadership Award for 2012.


Excerpts from an interview with Rajiv Tikoo of OneWorld South Asia:

OneWorld South Asia: Finland is usually prominent at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS). How important is DSDS 2012?

Tarja Halonen: The importance of this summit is great because Finland and India have a long history of bilateral cooperation in sustainable development.

OWSA: You are co-chairman of the High-level United Nations Panel on Global Sustainability. The panel's task is to find ways of achieving sustainable economic growth for eradicating poverty and inequality and to seek sustainable production models.  What has been the panel's achievement so far?

TH: Of course, the easy answer for all chairpersons is to say that they are happy because they could get the consensus. But doing is better than saying. There are different ideas about sustainable development. But it's very important to find a consensus on most important of the ideas, what I would call the modern trinity.

It's about giving resilient people a resilient planet so that modern economic growth is not only welcome but it also includes resources justice. Otherwise, it can't make the situation of people any better. So, we don't have to go by only GDP when we have other broader indices, too.

OWSA: In an evolving development discourse, what kind of indicators would you look at?

TH: If we measure development with GDP, in developing countries, it's possible that people's economic growth has increased but their practical living conditions have not become better. That's why we also want to see that access to natural resources or fresh water should be taken into consideration.

We have to take into account democracy, peace, human rights and other kinds of positive developments and also ensure that people are given choices. How can they push their governments for good governance? How can they make their own choices? So, we have to put people at the centre of this change.

OWSA: What would be your prescription for India to move fast on its development trajectory?

TH: Your country is a huge country, which is responsible for its own people. At the same time, you are also one of the important countries for planetary development. Your example impacts the whole globe. This is also true for countries like China.

Another way round, you are also strong enough to call for a dialogue and political cooperation with developed countries and Western Europeans. While you are doing well for your own country and your own people, you can also do a lot for global development.

OWSA: You have made Internet access a right in Finland. How important it is for development?

TH: It is important. It's based on the understanding that the respect for human rights is the ultimate basis of development. When people feel safe, they also feel that decision makers listen to them and take them seriously.

OWSA: Finland is a leader in clean technology and ICT innovation, especially in mobile phones. What kind of bilateral business potential do you see in India?

TH: Yes, we are leaders in clean technology and ICTs and even in education. Modern technology like computers and phones can be used to modernise old, traditional industry. This is something we have to offer to the world, including India. But vice-versa India is a big country of services. Very often we hear that you are the office of Europe. So, combining our knowledge in IT and your know-how in services, we can do something new.

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