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EU Consumer Ministers’ Meeting, 7.12.2020

Key note: Ensuring sustainable consumption – the interrelationship between SDGs of the Agenda 2030 (check against delivery)

Dear Ministers,

I am very happy to discuss with you today. Thank you Minister Christine Lambrecht and the German Presidency for this invitation.

I was asked to speak about sustainable consumption and its interrelationship to sustainable development, in order to put your discussion today into global context.

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and the Sustainable Development Goals – in 2015 was a remarkable moment. All nations came together at the United Nations to agree on a holistic framework, for a more prosperous, socially just and ecologically sustainable future for our planet.

The beauty of the Sustainable Development Agenda is that it addresses the complex reality and the interrelated global problems in one framework. It includes goals to fight climate change, loss of biodiversity and poverty. But, through these goals, the agenda also tackles the root causes of conflicts, forced migration, lack of opportunity and many other inequalities that exist in our world.

The interrelationship between the goals means that by pursuing one goal we can contribute to others, too.

My theme today is the goal 12: responsible consumption and production. But it also has direct links to several other goals.

Let’s start with the goal 13 on climate action. Globally, food production accounts for about a quarter of total carbon emissions. It is important to pay attention to what we eat and how much. A significant part of the carbon emission come from meat and dairy production. Also, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, this is about one third of all food produced and it has significant climate impact.

Globally, clothing and footwear production contributes to 8 % of carbon footprint.  The amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased significantly in past few decades. It also means the textile waste is growing, and only a fraction of the waste is recycled. Overconsumption is also problem for example in technology products.

Responsible consumption and production is also directly linked to both goals 14 and 15: Preservation of life on land and below the water.

The large loss of biodiversity that we are witnessing is mainly driven by logging of tropical forest for agriculture. This is again a matter of consumption choices done around the world.

Unsustainable consumption patterns have serious effects on land, through, for example, a loss of vegetation and soil erosion. This in turn leads to desertification. Up to 40% of our planet’s surface is affected by desertification and land degradation.

Also, the life under water is affected by our consumption habits. Overfishing of common fisheries is one long time challenge.

I also want to mention the connection between unsustainable consumption and goals 3, 5, 8 and 10: good health, gender equality, decent work and reduced inequalities.

As International Labor Organization notes, the garment industry is often marked by poor working conditions, including, health risks, excessive working hours and low wages with workers, particularly women, exposed to abusive practices such as sexual harassment. These same problems have been identified in the agriculture industry, which has particularly high proportion of unprotected workers, particularly in developing countries.

Luckily, we have many solutions. There are already signs that consumers are aware of many of these problems and are willing choose products that are sustainably produced. But, the most important responsibility lies in political decision making to ensure sustainability throughout the value chain from agriculture to production and transportation all the way consumer choices. Not to forget energy production.

I already mentioned climate impact of meat production. The good news is: while globally the trend of meat consumption has been upward, in EU we have seen a minor decrease. This is something we can and should reinforce in EU with consumer policies. The 1,5 degree target and responsibility to keep our planet habitable for the next generation requires this.

It is also important to try to make sustainable choice easier for consumers. Labelling sustainable fishing of blue fin tuna is an example of product information that has helped the consumers to choose a product that is sustainable.

Consumer policies can also support more sustainable and socially just value chains in, for example, textile industry. Decent wages for labour means higher prices but also better quality. As one of the biggest markets in the world, EU can be a standard setter and work together with the textile industry to report and monitor the supply chains of textiles sold in EU.

We can also tackle overconsumption with right policies. It is necessary to incentivize new innovations to increase recycling and re-utilization, change consumer attitudes and build acceptance to longer life of products.

For example, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has estimated that the material value loss from non-recycled fibers globally is more than 100 billion dollars. This clearly shows the potential that we have not harvested yet. And, there is even more potential in other industries, such as electronics and construction, where a lot of the materials are not recycled.

Circular economy has potential to create new economic opportunities and decent jobs while supporting environmental and climate objectives. I must say that my own country Finland has been leading by example in this field. One example is the paper industry, which is taking circular economy seriously.


We know what to do and why to do it. Now it is a matter of political will. Everybody has to play their part, Governments, international organizations, cities, the academia and the private sector – and of course the EU. By establishing bold consumer policies, the EU can be a forerunner in building a more sustainable future and fulfilling the commitments made for sustainable development globally. Thank you.