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H.E. Kimmo Lähdevirta, Ambassador Of Finland To Serbia

Common Challenges Related To Greening Economies

There is rising interest among both local companies that want to cooperate with their Finnish counterparts and among Finnish companies that want to support potential partners in applying green industrial processes in Serbia and around the region

Although the previous years have been filled with events that distracted Nordic countries and Serbia from cooperating on green transition, current developments that point to the importance of sustainability are underpinning the formation of “green partnerships”. Here we talk to H.E. Kimmo Lähdevirta, Ambassador of Finland to Serbia.

Your term as ambassador to Serbia, which started in mid-2019, has been full of extraordinary events, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and extending to the current energy crisis. How have these events shaped your work in Serbia?

– It is true that the focus of my work has been shifting quite a bit during these years. In autumn 2019, Finland held the presidency of the EU Council and we focused on that agenda. Soon after that, the pandemic broke out and the embassy’s main task was to advise and help Finnish citizens in the region. I was lucky to be able to build networks before things were shut down by the pandemic. I really appreciate the Nordic and EU cooperation that we have, but also our excellent cooperation with the Serbian authorities.

This year has unfortunately been marked by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its repercussions on international relations, and on this region. Russia’s attack also led Finland to reconsider its longstanding security and defence policy and to apply – together with Sweden – for membership in NATO. A serious consequence of the attack is the worsening of the energy crisis, as you mentioned. The only solution is to cut our dependency on Russian hydrocarbons and boost the transition to greener technologies.

Nordic regional cooperation is recognised as both a highly ambitious approach and a relevant model of cooperation when it comes to green transition. What makes it useful for Serbia and the other countries of this region?

– Formal Nordic cooperation dates back several decades and extends across all areas of society, from politics and research to culture and art. The Nordic Council of Ministers has set an ambitious Nordic vision for 2030: The Nordic region will become the world’s most sustainable and integrated region.

We acknowledge the fact that the Nordic region is seen as a role model when it comes to the environment and climate. We therefore also see that sharing our knowledge and experiences can prove helpful to other regions. A copy-paste approach rarely works, but challenges related to greening the economies are common both here and in the north. We all want to develop clean, resource-efficient and sustainable solutions. Like the Nordic countries, the Balkan states are relatively small in terms of population. You could thus say that a common approach is not only desired, but also needed to be competitive on the global market.

Finland consistently ranks at or near the top of international rankings when it comes to innovation. To what extent could green transition solutions be upgraded with the help of ICT and other technological solutions?

– In addressing the challenges of sustainability, mitigating climate change and transforming the energy system, the role of innovation is today greater and more crucial than ever before. At the same time, green transition and cutting carbon emissions have become key ingredients of innovation that cannot be viewed separately.

Finland will organise an event at Science and Technology Park Niš on 2nd February 2023, which will focus on company cases and examples of how to advance production processes, improve and make greener business operations

Digital transformation and ICT are definitely enablers of green transition, and Finland is the most digitised country in Europe, according to the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. Additionally, it is one of the global forerunners in 5G mobile communications technology. New technologies, including automation, robotics, electric vehicles, renewable energy, biotechnologies, and artificial intelligence, have immense potential to foster growth, prosperity and environmental sustainability. Given that Finland aims to become a leading country in combating climate change, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035, the aforementioned technologies are essential in achieving this target.

What major lessons could Finland share with us when it comes to greening business and creating green industrial processes?

– Finland has strong collaboration between its companies, industries, research institutes, universities, the government and other relevant stakeholders. This is definitely one of the positive examples that we can share with Serbia. The authorities need to recognise that green transition is a great opportunity to attract new investments, create new jobs, achieve greater competitiveness of the economy and strengthen the local market and businesses around it. On the other hand, businesses are able to see numerous benefits, starting from reduced costs, achieving sustainability and ultimately making an impact on public health and improved quality of life for citizens, as a common good. Finland and the other Nordic countries will continue to support Serbia in its move towards a greener future. As part of the Nordic Green project, Finland will organise an event on greening businesses and green industrial processes at Science and Technology Park Niš on 2nd February 2023. The focus of the event will be on company cases and examples of how to advance production processes, improve and make greener business operations, increase efficiency, improve quality, include circular economy principles etc.

As of 2021, the Nordic embassies, together with local partners that include the Nordic Business Alliance, have organised a series of events related to the circular economy. What do you see as the major achievements of this initiative to date?

– I think we have managed to raise public awareness of the urgent need for societies to be greener and more sustainable. Our message is that this does not need to be to the detriment of businesses and the economy. On the contrary, green transition is an opportunity. We have chosen to engage with businesses, government and City representatives, civil society and the media. Everyone is needed, but it is the most influential actors in each society that need to show the way. The attention we have received shows that Serbian actors also see the circular economy as an opportunity. I hope we have inspired some of them and created “green partnerships” that will stand the test of time.

The Team Finland network has been actively supporting Finnish companies in finding partners and opportunities in the Western Balkan region. In that respect, do Finnish companies recognise opportunities in the industrial and clean-tech sector in Serbia?

– Finland is recognised in Serbia as one of the leaders in the development of smart solutions related to the circular economy, clean energy, green industrial processes, air quality and other environmentally friendly solutions. Looking at investments by Finnish companies, there has recently been more interest towards renewable energy and environmentally friendly solutions. It is worth mentioning that Finnish company Taaleri Energia is one of the major investors in the largest wind farm in Serbia and the region, Čibuk 1. On the other hand, numerous Finnish companies, such as Valmet, are already involved in improving the industrial processes of some major local companies. There is rising interest among both local companies that want to cooperate with their Finnish counterparts and among Finnish companies that want to support potential partners in Serbia and around the region. We can therefore definitely see that the future focus of Finnish companies will be on sectors that are relevant to the green transition of Serbia’s economy.

COMMONALITY

Like the Nordic countries, Balkan states are relatively small in terms of population. A common approach is thus not only desired, but also needed to be competitive on the global market

OPPORTUNITY

Green transition is a great opportunity to attract new investments, create new jobs, achieve greater competitiveness of the economy and strengthen the local market and businesses around it

LEADERSHIP

Finland is recognised in Serbia as one of the leaders in the development of smart solutions related to the circular economy, clean energy, green industrial processes and other environmentally friendly solutions

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