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From modest environmental goals to the world's most sustainable region

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

23 March marked 60 years since the signing of the Helsinki Treaty in 1950. It came into force on 1 July that year and saw amongst other things the creation of the Nordic Council of Ministers – the Nordic governments' cooperation body.

Ten years earlier, the Nordic Council was created, where Nordic parliamentarians cooperate. It is always interesting to read the original document, but what is not written down is often the most interesting. The Helsinki Treaty does not mention the climate, pandemics or gender equality at all. The environment comes up in three of the 70 articles: 

  • The parties shall, to the greatest extent possible, place the environmental interest of other parties on equal footing with their own.
  • The parties shall seek to harmonise their standards relating to pollution, the use of toxic substances and other damaging effects on the environment. 
  • The parties shall seek to co-ordinate matters relating to the allocation of nature reserves and recreational areas, and to protective initiatives and other measures for the conservation of flora and fauna. 

These three points appear modest compared to the Nordic Council of Ministers’ strategy for making the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030.

New terms

Terms like “sustainability”, “carbon neutral”, “circular” and “biobased economy” did not exist in the vocabulary of those who negotiated the Helsinki Treaty, but they are all mentioned at the top of the vision for a green Nordic region, which today informs the Nordic cooperation in this area.

It also took some time before environmental issues were considered important enough to warrant a separate minister for the environment. Norway was first in 1974, followed by Sweden and Denmark in 1987 and 1988. Finland got theirs in 1991 while Iceland only got their first environment minister in 1999.  

The Nordic counties are rightly proud of how far they have come in their work for the environment. Yet there are still large differences between the countries. 

While electric cars made up 2% of total sales in the USA in 2020 and 10% on average in Europe, in Norway they made up 75%, Iceland 45%, Sweden 32%, Finland 18% and Denmark 16%, according to Nordregio’s report State of the Nordic Region, published earlier this week. 

What will happen in 60 years?

60 years is a long period of time. How will the Nordic countries look if we could see that far into the future? Did the countries really become carbon neutral in 2045 as promised? What are the watchwords in 2082?

In this edition of the Nordic Labour Journal, we take a look at the green transition. But we also write about work-related crime, platform work and the male role in Denmark and Swede. We hope these are issues that will interest our readers, even though none of these words were mentioned in the Helsinki Treaty either. 

And finally, we write about Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid.  

“It is safe to say that no First Lady in Iceland has been as active in social discussions as Reid has been,” writes our college in Iceland, Hallgrímur Indriðason.


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