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Opening Speech by President Halonen at Nutrient Recycling Seminar on 20 April 2016

Recycle Nutrients for Clear Waters – Forum for Action 20.4.2016 Helsinki

Opening Speech by President Tarja Halonen

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends

I am delighted to welcome you here and to open this seminar which brings together so many different experts on circular economy and nutrient recycling.

In September of 2015 world leaders agreed on Sustainable Development Goals and a new Agenda for Sustainable Development at a historic United Nations Summit. These goals set for example a target to end hunger and achieve food security for everyone through a more sustainable food production chain by the year 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals also call for urgent action to combat climate change and aim at conservation of marine ecosystems and provision of clean water for everyone. The new Agenda encourages us to develop more sustainable production of energy, products and services.

Now it is time for action. The Sustainable Development Goals apply to every nation. The successful implementation does not rely on only governments but also wide variety of actors – from public sector to private companies and from NGOs to consumers, not forgetting the close cooperation with academic world. In addition, we need to discover new ways and tools to increase sustainability and put them into action. Circular economy and nutrient recycling offer excellent opportunities for more successful implementation of the new Agenda.

Circular economy is one of the keys to a more sustainable production system of the future. It enables us to see our current consumption and production patterns from a new perspective. As demands of scarce resources continue to increase, we need to be more resource-efficient in the way we use and re-use resources. According to Sitra in Finland only 54 % of all waste is recycled or reused. Through a circular economy waste becomes a resource again, energy is produced by renewable resources and sharing of items and services replaces ownership. The use of nonrenewable resources is brought to a minimum.

 Anyhow, when talking about circular economy we cannot underestimate the importance of our consumption habits. Finnish people consume more than three times its fair share of the planet’s natural resources. Especially we need to observe our food consumption habits. In Finland 400 millions of kilos of food is thrown away every year, most of it in households. The food production, transportation and preparation cause significant emissions. If food ends up in the trash, all the emissions have been produced in vain.

Circular economy can also be a really profitable business – Sitra has estimated that a circular economy represents an opportunity for Finland worth even 2.5 billion euros. The leap towards a more sustainable society will create new economic activity, boost global competitiveness and generate new job opportunities. Those who are ready to take the first steps will benefit the most. Therefore the European Commission has adopted a Circular Economy Package which includes revised legislative proposals on waste recycling and a review of the Fertilizers Regulation to stimulate Europe’s transition towards circular economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The recycling of nutrients is essential to circular economy and sustainable agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, FAO, forecasts that world use of fertilizers will continue to expand. The world population is predicted to rise to even more than nine billion people by 2050. Demand for nutrients in animal feed is also predicted to rise, driven by large increases in animal production due to our tendencies to consume more meat.

Our current food production system relies heavily on the use of mineral phosphorus. The world´s mineable reserves of phosphorus are very limited. Current production of phosphorus is concentrated in very few countries: Morocco, China and US. The only phosphorus sources in the European Union are in Finland owned by Norwegian company Yara. The European Commission has added phosphate rock to the list of 20 Critical Raw Materials for which supply security is at risk and economic importance is high.

Industrial nitrogen fertilizers are produced out of atmospheric nitrogen and their supply is therefore guaranteed. But the production of these fertilizers requires large amounts of fossil fuels and hence contributes to climate change.

Nutrient recycling can also help us combat the problem of eutrophication of waters. Excess of nutrients from farming and wastewaters run to waterbodies creating a threat to water ecosystems and sources of drinking water. The Baltic Sea as an example is particularly vulnerable to eutrophication. Although the countries around the Baltic Sea region have successfully reduced point source discharges, diffuse sources for example from agriculture remain for improvement.

For Finland the protection of the Baltic Sea is among the priority issues. In the Baltic Sea Action Plan Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) has set ambitious nutrient reduction targets for each country and we have to do our utmost to have the plan implemented. Reduction of phosphorus is challenging for Finland. The state of our coastal waters requires reductions that are greater than the reductions agreed in HELCOM. Therefore the implementation of new methods and technologies is needed as well as active communication and advising among all sectors handling biomasses containing nutrients. When no country is able to save Baltic Sea alone, we do need wide co-operation.

Thus, reducing the use of both nitrogen and phosphorus will be important for environmental sustainability. Nutrient recycling does not only help to protect the environment, it can also save money. Purchase of industrial fertilizers is costly and their prizes fluctuate. Therefore the recycling of nutrients can increase the profitability of the whole agricultural sector. Especially in developing countries many farmers cannot afford expensive industrial fertilizers. Through nutrient recycling it is possible to offer affordable options for many farmers around the world.

We must also recognize the significant role that women have in agricultural production – for example in Africa 80 % of farmers are women. That is why development cooperation and action should be targeted especially at them in order to enhance food security and livelihoods globally.

Nutrient recycling is also an opportunity to create new business ideas. Especially there is a market for new technologies that promote nutrient recycling. In order to success in this market we still need more information available about opportunities and benefits of nutrient recycling and deeper cooperation on all levels between the actors.

With efficient use and recycling of nutrients major strides can be made towards setting the world on a path towards resource efficiency and ensuring that nutrient reserves are still available for the generations to come.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2010 Finland committed to pioneer in nutrient recycling at the Baltic Sea Action Summit. I, as a president of that time, was really happy to announce this outcome of the Summit. The current Finnish Government has targeted one of its key projects to meet this goal. The project aims at increased nutrient recycling and energy self-sufficiency in agriculture. It sets a target of processing 50 % of farm manure and community wastewater sludge in sensitive areas by 2025.

In order to meet these goals the Government has set a three-year trial and piloting program with a budget of 12.4 million euros. This is an opportunity to create new technical, logistical and social innovations. It is up to the business community, farmers, researchers and other actors to come up with the right ideas to move forward. Government can further support this kind of innovative development by setting goals and targets through norms and legislation, supporting research, encouraging information sharing and providing resources.

Today you yourself have an excellent possibility to explore the opportunities of circular economy and nutrient recycling. I wish you all a successful seminar.