Key Note Speech by Ambassador Olof Skoog at the 2018 Sustainology Summit

Key Note Speech delivered by Ambassador Olof Skoog at the 2018 Sustainology Summit, hosted by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York, 13 November 2018.

Good morning everyone!

Thank you for inviting me to this vibrant gathering, I would like to express my admiration to SACC New York for this initiative – one of its kind.

I have to confess that I am a little bit outside of my comfort zone, I usually talk in the United Nations where we use a lot of acronyms and a lingo that is understood by everyone there but does not really work outside of this context.  Last time I was meeting the real world – was in Stockholm a few weeks ago when I spoke to 1000 judges, that is basically every judge in Sweden in one room. I was geared up with these high-tech microphones and I started, and I saw how people, I thought, were enjoying my talk, there were a lot of smiles out there – I thought it would be funny, it turned out the microphone was not working and they didn’t hear anything I said. So, I happily stay away from the tech room and I am staying with these “dinosaur” equipment for my presentation today.

But I do think it is extremely important that we as bureaucrats and diplomats, representing governments, do get out from time to time to meet with real people – entrepreneurs, chefs and city officials, in this case from Stockholm and New York. Because that is where I think the whole agenda of sustainable development, the 2030 Agenda, will come into life and be materialized and make the kind of change that is absolutely necessary.

Let me start on a personal note; when I was a child I spent a few years with my parents in Indonesia. Coming back to Indonesia 40 years later, as I did a couple of years ago, I found that same beach that I visited in the 70’s completely transformed. Full of plastics and cans. It was a very stark reminder of how quickly change is coming, and how devastating it is to these serene landscapes that we are used to. I my work at the United Nations I meet with UN ambassadors like me who represent countries in the Pacific that 20 years from now will not exist anymore, because of the rise of the ocean. Their task is to find space, maybe in Australia, where they can move their population as their country vanishes from earth. So, what we know is that if we don’t change the way we live, eat and consume - in 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans. Food and eating habits, production systems, what we do with our waste will define our lives and more importantly the lives of the next generation.

Our ecosystems are soon at the point of collapse and the extreme pace of urbanization, worldwide, brings urgency to this issue. The latest report from the IPCC, gave us an alarming wake up call. Climate change is happening faster than we are running to face it.

The situation is very ambiguous;

  • 815 million people are go to bed hungry every night. Meanwhile 2 billion people are overweight
  • Approximately 1/3 of all food produced every year is lost or wasted

In short, we have to find a way of ensuring more wealth for all, with sustained health for our planet.

It is obvious that the UN, need to do more and be more relevant. It is therefore very welcome for us, Sweden, that the Secretary General is convening his climate summit next year. This is a signal of the UN’s strong commitment, we believe, but of course the UN is a club of 190 countries and it can do nothing unless all of us, the members, move forward with it.

In 2015, all the world leaders agreed on the 2030 Agenda, that you are all familiar with. The agenda includes 17 sustainable development goals to be reached by 2030. The clock is ticking. I often refer to it as the masterplan for human survival on this planet.

The sustainable development goal number 17, as I was referring to earlier, is really the vehicle on how we reach the 16 other goals. Because that is the one about Partnerships. Sweden is very proud of the 1% of our BMI that goes to development corporations, and we urge other countries to pay more etc. But of course, development corporations will never ever resolve issues that we are discussing here today. We need to have partnerships for sustainable growth that includes investments, new technologies and innovations, and mobilizations of additional resources - much more than we have been able to mobilize so far.

Sometimes a price tag mentioned for the Sustainable Development Goals, I don’t particularly like to mention it, but  it is sometimes referred to 7 trillion USD a year. Of course, that is absolutely mind bawling and there is a risk that when we put those figures out there some is going to say “that is impossible, there is no way we are going to master that kind of an effort. But it tells us, at least, that there is a need to mobilize the kind of resources that are out there in a much more directed and focused way.

But more importantly, I think, is to not look at this from the perspective of burdensharing. It is actually a huge opportunity. It is actually about embracing all the wonderful new possibilities together. The demand for sustainability creates exciting new opportunities to develop innovative solutions. I am convinced that the most successful companies in the future will be those which can make sustainability part of their core business model. Savvy and informed consumers are all over the world are coming to the fore and they want to be acting and purchasing in a sustainable and resource efficient way. Business and investors around the world increasingly see that social and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand with financial success. The private sector could, even stronger, emphasize sustainable standards when investing, doing business and manufacturing. Through your priorities made in production, purchasing and marketing - you can promote a sustainable and healthy food chain both locally and globally.


And if you companies want to recruit the best and the brightest of the next generation, I think you have to show to them that they are working with you to make a change for the better. The next generation, they want to change the world. They don’t want to be part of the destruction of the world that we unfortunately have left them with. They want to be associated with doing good.

This city level cooperation – which is very well demonstrated here today with Stockholm and New York coming together - could speed up change. Where governments are slow and more bureaucratic you, the cities, are working in the daily lives and effecting the daily lives. So that is why I think Stockholm and New York should not hesitate: take the lead and create the kind of possible change that only you can do. Don’t wait for government – just do it!

Of course, action on local, national and regional level does not solve the global problem of the uneven distribution and access to healthy food. The reality is that only some of us have a choice. When you and I choose the organic or non-organic version of a product in the supermarket, let us remember that millions go to bed hungry every day and don’t have that choice at all.  

That is where the UN comes in. And why we need to act local and think global. There is no contradiction between being a patriot and being a globalist. Between putting your country first and standing up for international cooperation.

As politicians, as business leaders, as researchers and as consumers, we can all contribute by making the deliberate, right and responsible decisions ourselves.

In Bali, there are these two wonderful sisters, I think they are fourteen and twelve. They started this incredibly powerful campaign called “Bye, Bye Plastics”, and now Bali is changing. Bali is not putting waist and plastics in the ocean anymore, all that is changing for the better.

Last summer the Swedish mission to the UN, where I work, decided on a month of no non-reusable plastics. We challenged the 192 other UN missions in New York to do the same. Our pitch was that we negotiate all these wonderful agreements, the Paris Agreement etc., but unless we show in our daily lives that we are ready to change our behaviors that has an effect. I also challenged the Mayor de Blasio to also initiate a month of no plastics inside the local government. He didn’t respond, but I am sure the city representatives here today will shoe that New York City is actually doing a lot to change these negative behaviors.

Thank you very much for listening, and thank you for your engagement on this important issue.


Lisa Laskaridis
Head of Press and Communication, Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN
Phone +1 212 583 2543
Mobile +1 917 239 0941
email to Lisa Laskaridis