Citizens’ panel on sustainable development 2021


In January 2021, the third citizens’ panel on sustainable development brought together around 500 Finns to assess the state of sustainable development in Finland. The 2021 panellists’ assessments of the current state and direction of sustainable development were more critical than in previous years. 

In the citizens’ panel, volunteers assess different areas of sustainable development, such as employment and carbon neutrality, based on expert reports. The panel’s findings are used to support the work of the Government and Parliament. 


Image: Summary of the findings of the 2021 citizens’ panel

The citizens on the panel assessed both the current state of affairs and recent developments with regard to sustainable development in Finland. They grouped their findings into four different categories: issues that are in a good state and must be secured moving forward, good developments that must be strengthened, things that give cause to worry, and areas where the situation is so poor that targeted measures are needed. 

The citizens' panel assessed the state of sustainable development as it was at various stages in 2020, so the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic were not yet visible in all materials. However, the panellists also had the opportunity to present their assessments of the impact of COVID-19 on sustainable development.

“In comparison to previous years, the citizens’ panel was more critical of the state of sustainable development. The panellists were particularly concerned about young people and nature. Many felt that development was moving in a worse direction and that swift action was needed to improve the situation,” says Senior Specialist Sami Pirkkala from the Prime Minister's Office.

Ensure: Freedom of the press must also be guaranteed in the future

When it comes to social sustainability, there were several areas the panellists felt were in a good state and should be maintained, such as learning on the job, participation in adult education and overall quality of life. In particular, the panellists praised Finland's ranking in an international comparison of the implementation of freedom of the press. However, many also expressed concerns about the concentration of the media and threats against journalists. 

“Freedom of the press seems to be in a good state here, but threats against journalists around the world also raise concerns for Finland,” one of the panellists commented.

Strengthen: Measures to reduce emissions

According to the panel, greenhouse gas emissions are one of the few areas of sustainable development that have improved in recent years from their previous poor state. However, this good development must continue if we want to achieve carbon neutrality. The panellists also drew attention to the outsourcing of emissions to other countries and, for example, the heavy climate impact of emissions generated by consumption and private vehicles. 

“The fact that emissions have decreased is a positive thing. However, they should decrease even further and, in addition, Finns generate emissions in other parts of the world through their consumption,” the panellists commented.

Worry: Risk of increased inequality

The increase in social inequality – which can be seen in the weakening of young people’s literacy skills and the increase in income disparities, for instance – raised concerns among the panellists. Although Finland currently fares well in international comparisons, the panellists fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate inequality in the future: "Income disparities lead to increased inequality in society. Intergenerational poverty and the accumulation of disadvantages among the same people pose great challenges. It is also worrying that the richest have become even richer.” 

Tacle: Everyday life should put less strain on people and the environment

The panellists called for improvement measures in several areas of sustainable development related to the environment and strain caused by everyday life. In the panellists’ view, the fact that burnout from work has become commonplace is a sign that workloads have become excessive. When it comes to environmental themes, the panellists called for measures to support biodiversity and to eliminate subsidies that harm the environment, for instance.

“It is alarming that more than half of people find their work straining. I think this is connected to productivity requirements. Everyone should be able to do the amount of work that is suitable for them, and we should improve opportunities for people to work part-time,” one panellist wrote. 

In these areas, the current situation and recent developments in Finland were assessed as poor. 

The citizens’ panel worked from 25 to 31 January 2021. The panel's findings were presented at a public event on 18 February 2021.

Citizens’ panel on sustainable development 2019-2020

The citizens’ panel on sustainable development, organised for a second time, gathered some 500 Finns to assess the state of sustainable development in Finland. The panel expressed its his views on the different areas of sustainable development and placed them in four categories: issues in which the good state must be secured in the future, issues in which the good developments need to be strengthened, issues that we should worry about, and issues in which the situation is so bad that entirely new political measures, an attack, is required. Among other things, the panel members were satisfied with the quality of life experienced by Finns, the good level of education and the low morbidity. They were concerned about the loss of biodiversity and the carbon footprint of consumption.


Worry: Literacy of young people continues to decline

Like last year, the issue that the citizens’ panel was concerned about most was the future of young people. The panel members were especially worried about the declining literacy among young people over the past few years. According to the panel, young adults are still satisfied with their lives, but recent developments give cause for concern about the future. In the other areas, the panel members were particularly concerned about the availability and accessibility of grocery shopping possibilities.

“Reading is not only a mechanical skill, but a key to education, participation in society and also rewarding in itself.”

Attack: Mitigation of biodiversity loss

The environmental issues most concerning the panel members were the current state of biodiversity, the amount of environmentally harmful subsidies, the carbon footprint of consumption in Finland and the nutrient load from rivers to the Baltic Sea. Decision-makers should assess whether the current policy in these issues is functioning sufficiently well.

The panel members were of the opinion that the number of people receiving basic social assistance or working part-time involuntarily is still large and the current development does not look promising. The panel members also found the gender pay gap considerable, and the situation does not seem to be improving. 

"The loss of biodiversity in Finland continues and it is worrying, especially because nature and its biota are constantly facing more threats as climate change progresses.”

Secure: We must hold on to the good quality of life

The citizens' panel stated that the current state of many issues and the recent developments in Finland are good. The panel members were particularly satisfied with the quality of life, the good level of education and low morbidity in Finland. The panel considered young people’s trust in Finnish society and their interest in societal matters to be at a good level. With regard to environmental matters, good air quality and the increasing proportion of renewable energy in the final use of energy must be ensured in the future.

“Young people are increasingly aware of the state of the world and their trust in society is increased by the fact that they have the opportunity to influence.”

Strengthen: Promotion of low-emission mobility

The citizens' panel was concerned about Finland's greenhouse gas emissions. However, based on recent developments, they hoped it will be possible to control them even better in the future. The panel members were of the opinion that the CO2 emissions from cars registered for the first time were still too high, but recent developments in this area also give cause for optimism. The panel also believed that the efforts to reduce the number of young people not in employment or education from last year have been successful and that this work must continue.

"The car industry has also become aware of the change in demand. However, the prices and awareness are not yet at the right level. “


Citizens’ message to the Government

The online survey of the citizens’ panel was taken by some 500 Finns, of whom almost one half also participated in the citizens' panel last year. Just under one half of the respondents were between 29 and 49, 15 per cent under 29 and approximately 40 per cent over 50 years of age. The panel members’ educational background varied, and almost 75 per cent had completed a degree in higher education. Eighty-five per cent of the respondents lived in cities and densely populated areas.

The panel members assessed the state of sustainable development in Finland in 2019 through ten themes. The survey was based on the monitoring system of the state of sustainable development, the indicators of which were examined by the panel members on the basis of assessments prepared by experts and their own experiences. The starting points for the monitoring are Society’s Commitment “Finland we want by 2050”, drawn up by the National Commission on Sustainable Development, and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its goals.

The citizens' panel provides the Government and the National Commission on Sustainable Development with information on citizens' assessments of how sustainable development is realised in Finland. The panel is organised once a year in January and new members are included every year.

The first Finnish citizens’ panel on sustainable development

The first citizens’ panel on sustainable development brought together about 500 Finns to assess the state of sustainable development in Finland, all of them participating in the work on a voluntary basis. The results of the questionnaire will be used to promote the work on sustainable development by the Finnish Government and Parliament. Read more about the panellist's views and how it is going to work in future below.

Results from the citizens’ forum on sustainable development

The panel members commented on the various aspects of sustainable development, including the state of the natural and other environments and social inequality. The focus was on the state of affairs in Finland in 2018. The different aspects of sustainable development were grouped into four categories: issues where a good state must be secured in future, good developments that must be strengthened, what gives cause to worry, and where the situation is so bad that an attack is needed.

Worry: Uncertain future for the young causes anxiety

The citizens’ panel was clearly worried about the situation of the young. They felt that in many respects the current state of affairs is quite good for the young, but some of the recent developments have been poor. The respondents were worried about youth literacy, trust in society and life satisfaction. Exclusion of young people from work and education was considered a particularly serious problem. In terms of the numbers of young people excluded from work and education both the current situation and recent development were seen as negative.

"All too often the exclusion and loneliness of the young is only talked about in special occasions and political speeches. The young are the future; without them there is nothing."

Attack: The state of biodiversity calls for urgent action.

The citizens’ panel was particularly worried about the numbers of threatened plant and animal species. The respondents felt that both the current state and recent development of biodiversity are in a bad shape. Urgent action is needed to reverse the trend. The worry about decline in biodiversity is consistent with scientific research. The panellists also considered that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced more effectively.

"One of the key missions for our nation is to protect the diversity of our unique natural environment. We should work more on this, and a lot."

Secure: Citizens’ panel trusts in the structures of society.

The panel noted that for many issues the current situation and recent development are quite good. These are the issues where we must secure a good state of affairs in future as well. In particular, the panel members would strengthen certain basic structures, including freedom of the press and experiencing corruption. In Finland we have strong institutions that are trusted by the citizens. Issues that are worth strengthening also include the health and quality of life experienced by the Finns. Of the global responsibility issues where the situation is positive the panel members mentioned Finland’s responsible trade policy and active participation in international crisis management.

"The basics are in order in Finland, freedom of the press and not much corruption. This is a good basis to build on, but it is not self-evident."

Strengthen: Emissions must be more effectively reduced.

Among the indicators for positive trends are the share of renewable energy in energy end-use and lower carbon dioxide emissions from first-registered vehicles. However, more work needs to be done to reduce emissions. The panel members also felt that the global responsibility of large companies had improved in recent years. Responsibility comprises environmental and climate issues, which received considerable emphasis in the questionnaire.

"Politicians must have the courage to make bold decisions to combat climate change. Now is the time to adopt a perspective of several decades on climate change, instead of focusing on the next elections."

How does the citizens’ panel work?

The citizens’ panel organised in the beginning of 2019 was the first of its kind. Each panel member answered an online questionnaire on the state of sustainable development. The process included an opening event and a closing event where the results were published.

The citizens’ panel will continue as an ongoing process so that the National Commission on Sustainable Development receives information on what the citizens think about the state of sustainable development in Finland. New members may be included in the panel on an annual basis.

The questionnaire was based on the sustainable development indicators managed by the Prime Minister’s Office, expert analyses on these, and citizens’ dialogues. The indicator data has been divided into monitoring baskets designed in cooperation between scientists and experts. Read more about the monitoring baskets on this website at Monitoring. The topics of the monitoring baskets include the state of the natural and other environments, social inequality, and housing and communities.

Why do we need the citizens’ panel?

Scientists and public officials use research data to assess the state of sustainable development, but not whether this is to be considered “good” or “bad”. Citizens’ voice is needed in support of value choices and making decisions. It is important for decision-makers to know about the issues that the citizens wish to see improved.

The results will also be incorporated into the Government Annual Report submitted to the Parliament. The report has a chapter on sustainable development where the views of the panel are also presented. Public officials will be using the results in their daily work. The publication of the results is hoped to lead to discussions on sustainable development as we are heading towards general elections.