Schoolchildren converge in Finland for world summit on climate change

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Malaysians should also emulate the Finns in this respect by continually raising awareness about the dangers of climate change, writes Benedict Lopez.

Not many countries in the world have been as passionate as Finland in tackling what is perhaps the most critical concern facing humankind – climate change.

Finland has shown others how it is possible to cut carbon emissions and thus reduce global warming.

Currently at the forefront of such efforts, Finland will become a low-carbon society by 2050 – mainly due to its innovative scientific solutions and progressive government policies.

Finland is evolving towards a carbon-neutral bio-economy by permitting the improved use of biomass from its forests. It is also strongly encouraging the idea of a circular economy in key areas of economic development. This has been the thrust of the country’s economic development over the past few years.

Moving towards a circular economy requires a shift in a broad range of activities. Besides waste recycling, the transition should also consider various types of raw materials, new product designs and service models.

Most importantly, it requires a change in the mindset of the people to embrace change. From schoolchildren to senior citizens, everyone must play a key role for this goal to succeed.

Finland today is a model for other countries striving to reduce their carbon emissions. It was against this backdrop that Finland recently hosted the World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) in Helsinki, which brought together key circular economy thinkers from around the world. The conference on 2-5 June placed strong emphasis on the next focus for a circular economy.

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Meanwhile, students from all over Finland have been regularly organising school strikes to voice their grave concerns on this global crisis.

From 29 May to 5 June 2019, another international summit was held: the World Summit of Students for Climate. Some 200 schoolchildren and 90 teachers from 70 countries all over the world converged in Finland for a week to highlight their concerns about climate change.

The summit in the first half of the week-long event took place in the city of Joensuu and the municipality of Liperi in North Kareli. It then moved to Helsinki, where the students affirmed their climate agreement on 5 June, World Environment Day. The patron of the summit was Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

The summit was organised by ENO (Environment Online) Schoolnet, a global school network and web community for sustainable development initiated in 2000 by Mika Vanhanen, a primary school teacher in North Karelia. Some 10,000 schools from almost 160 countries have taken part in its activities.

The ENO’s most-lauded initiative was encouraging schools from around the world to plant trees. Together, they met a goal of planting 100 million trees in 2017. In the same year, the organisation developed a plan for an international climate conference for school students.

Vanhanen believes children can incorporate climate awareness into their own everyday lives in schools. This will lead to multiplier effects in their homes, hamlets and other communities.

Strikes by school children have hit the headlines recently, but a diverse range of initiatives is also necessary to highlight the adverse effects of climate change around the world.

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Besides the cities of Helsinki and Joensuu, several government ministries have also backed the project. Also lending support to this noble cause were the presidents of France and Slovenia.

The schoolchildren aged 14-17 who participated in the summit have prepared the foundation in their own countries. At the meeting, they voted on a joint statement and agreed on future action to be taken to mitigate against the adverse effects of climate change.

Malaysians should also emulate the Finns in this respect by continually stressing the dangers of climate change and the perils we face. It is encouraging to see a couple of schools here already raising climate awareness among their students.

Malaysia has to show the world that we too are meeting our responsibilities in responding to the global ecological alarm. We must show we are prepared for a transformation. This is the challenge we should set for ourselves for the good of our country and future generations.

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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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