Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, spoke at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum event focused on climate sustainability on the 6th of March. Bwogger Julia Tolda had the incredible opportunity not only to attend the event, but to also meet and talk to Marin during a press conference.

The sky is cold and grey, but I’m shivering because I’ve just been checked-in to the World Leaders Forum as a member of the press. “Is it Bwog or B-wog?” a security guard asks me, leading me to a gorgeous red elevator. “It’s Bwog”, I respond, my voice shaking. “You’re so cool!” are the last words I hear, before the doors close. 

Sitting just in front of me at the back of the auditorium is a journalist sent by the NBC. We are informed we will be taking part in a private press meeting with the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, when I realize I forgot my pen. The Finnish journalist beside me offers me one of hers, with an understanding smile, and the event begins. 

Alex Halliday, director of Columbia’s Earth Institute, gives the opening remarks. After describing Columbia as “intoxicated” by Finland, alluding to a famous J.R.R. Tolkein quote and mentioning the university’s Finnish Studies Program, Halliday introduces the keynote speaker. 

When appointed Prime Minister in 2019, Sanna Marin became the youngest state leader in history, another step in her impressive journey. Engaged in politics all her life, in 2014 Marin was elected the second deputy chairperson of the Social Democratic Party. In 2015, she was elected to Parliament for her first run, and in 2017, Marin became the first Democratic Party leader. 

Before beginning her speech, Marin acknowledged the awkward handshake with Halliday, making the entire audience laugh. After thanking the University, she presented a quick summary of the Finnish coalition government. Marin emphasized the cooperation between the five parties, all lead by women, and the importance of negotiation and compromise even between opposing parties.  

Firm and extremely knowledgeable, the Prime Minister laid out Finland’s plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. Key steps involve getting rid of fossil fuels, reforming the transportation sector, reducing industrial pollution and land-use sector emissions, enhancing CO2 sinks and preserving biodiversity. Marin stated believing in climate change is not a political stance, but a scientific fact. “We have no choice but to make a change in society,” said the Prime Minister during the press conference, “if we fail, we don’t get a second chance.”

But how? Marin points to free, lifelong education for all as the answer, giving every person equal opportunity to become anything they want. She also suggests decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, creating a circular economy and building sustainability into the legislation. Above all, continuity in politics, systemic change, and a holistic view of climate will ensure the improvements made today will remain in practice in the years to come. 

Finland and the European Union hope to lead by example, creating a chain of sustainable policies worldwide. “Climate change sees no boundaries between countries”, said Marin. According to her, all major players must be involved in the change, no one country can save the world.

Addressing us as her “dear friends”, the Prime Minister stressed welfare and sustainability go hand in hand. Policies must benefit all citizens equally, ensuring in the quest for carbon neutrality no person is treated unfairly. There is also a market for sustainability arising that according to Marin, will lead to new opportunities and the employment of many. 

In the Q&A segment that followed, Marin drew attention to the importance of including young voices in the conversation about climate sustainability, as they will be leaders in the future. For her, the older generations did not do enough or do it fast enough. Having the youth engage in politics ensures a more conscious generation, which will tackle climate issues. She also highlighted the connection between gender equality and sustainability, as women make up 50% of the world’s population they must be in positions to make decisions. 

As I walked out of the auditorium into an orange-carpeted atrium, my heart was beating out of my chest. I was advised by a security guard not to make any sudden movements during the press conference with Marin, as the secret service was already in place. 

With my audio recorder in hand, I heard the Prime Minister’s words of encouragement to girls who want to change the world: step up. “Be a part of political parties, engage in politics, run for office in different levels, take action”, said Marin, “It is not only your right but your obligation to try and make a change in the world”.

Leaving the Forum, I was in awe. In a mere two hours, Prime Minister Sanna Marin proved herself an impressive and deeply inspiring politician. Hearing her progressive and well-designed plans gave me hope for the future and empowered me. Marin is living proof all people can make a difference if they find the correct tools to do so. I can’t wait to hear about what else she has in store for Finland and the world. 


Prime Minister Sanna Marin via Julia Tolda