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14. júní 2023 Forsætisráðuneytið

Opnunarávarp Katrínar Jakobsdóttur forsætisráðherra á velsældarþingi í Hörpu 14. júní 2023

Distinguished Ministers, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

Good morning and sincere welcome to all our honored guests.

With great pleasure, I welcome you to the first Wellbeing Economy Forum here in Reykjavík.

I am delighted to be with you here today.

I'm pleased to say that we successfully have brought together many of the world's best experts and practitioners to Reykjavík to discuss the challenges and opportunities within the field of the wellbeing economy – a matter I believe to be of paramount importance and critical to our goal of achieving environmental sustainability.

Among us are politicians and experts from the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo), the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Action for Happiness, and many more.

It is five years since Scotland, Iceland, and New Zealand, 2018, created the Wellbeing Economy Governments, or the WEGo group – as well call it. Since then, Wales, Finland, and Canada have joined and actively participated in the work.  

It is a collaboration of governments interested in sharing expertise and policy practices to advance the ambition of building Wellbeing Economies and progress towards the UN Sustainability Goals.

I want to mention that the Scottish government has been a leading force in the WEGo project. On behalf of the Icelandic Government, I would like to thank them for their leadership and all the work and dedication they have put into this important project.

Dear guests!

We have built an economic model under which constant growth is essential and considered positive no matter how it is achieved and at what cost.

The WEGo project differs from this thinking. It entails both an analysis of the drawbacks of our current economic model and a commitment to building an alternative future, focusing on the wellbeing and quality of life of current and future generations. Sustainability is, therefore, at the heart of the wellbeing economy. The objective, then, is to raise people’s quality of life. That does not mean that we dispense with wealth but rather that economic growth is good insofar as it can be harnessed to increase well-being without devastating ecological consequences. It is not a goal in and of itself.

Our joint vision is to pursue human and ecological wellbeing beyond and above the traditional monetary measures such as GDP through indicators that can better assess the quality of life and happiness in our societies.

That doesn't mean we dispense with wealth but rather that economic growth is desirable as it can be harnessed to increase wellbeing without causing economic and social inequalities and devasting ecological consequences.

We are now at the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda and need to demonstrate unprecedented resolve in accelerating action on the SDGs.

Worldwide, only 12% of the reported Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased since 2019, which is a deeply worrying trend.

We, in Iceland are committed to doing our part. Iceland ranks relatively high on SDG implementation, but there is room for improvement in many areas, especially in understanding and managing our adverse spillover effects.

Recently, my government has strengthened our national framework for sustainable development with a new cooperation platform called Sustainable Iceland, and we have established a large sustainability council with members of the government and across the society.

And by the end of this year, we aim to have developed a national strategy for sustainable development for 2030 using the SDGs as guiding principles.

At the same time we have been implementing well-being indicators and well being priorities.

In 2019 my government introduced 39 indicators (they are now 40) to track the progress of the well-being economy. The indicators include economic, environmental, labor market, and social factors and are compatible with well-being indicators published in other countries and international organizations like the OECD. The preparation of those indicators was pan-political and part of it was making an opinion poll, asking the population what they valued the most in their private life and in society. Health was on the top of both lists.

We have integrated six well-being priorities into the five years fiscal strategy. They are mental health where we have among other things doubled the number of psychologists working for the public health-care, secure housing but in the years 2020 and 2021 one third of all new appartments was built because of public social initiatives, better work-life balance, where we introduced a longer parental leave (from 9 months to 12 months shared equally between parents) and a shorter working week, a zero-carbon-neutral future, where we have introduced new taxes and lifted other ones to accelerate energy transition, innovation growth, where we have increases r&d funding and seen export revenue from innovation grow substantially and better communication with the public but apart from increased emphasis on public consultation when preparing legislation I could mention our information strategy during the pandemic where we kept the public informed at all times – the response was strong confidence in government action during the pandemic and high participation in vaccinations.

Dear guests!

The greatest challenge of our era remains the climate crisis. In the end, it is the story of deeply flawed economic policy where the more affluent countries have contributed most to the problem but tend to be the least affected by it.  

As we all know, human wellbeing is intrinsically linked to the planet's health. Climate change, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss threaten our physical, mental, and social health and pose significant challenges to our efforts to promote wellbeing for all.

On the other hand, the paradigm provided by the wellbeing economy is well suited to address threats, such as the urgency of climate change action, as healthy, resilient communities can better adapt to environmental challenges.

The climate crisis has forced us to rethink our way of life, our modes of consumption, production, and transportation, and how these might threaten the quality of life of future generations.

Solutions to prevent climate change may come at a considerable economic cost. But that cost does not have to translate into a decrease in wellbeing. Moving from a narrow focus on production and consumption volumes to a broader view of wellbeing may enable us to preserve the overall quality of people's lives through better use of resources, emphasising human needs over economic growth.

We have focused on wellbeing and sustainable development as organizing principles in governance to enhance societal development. Practically, this means that the wellbeing approach is not owned by one Ministry or sector. These are intertwined agendas that run through all sectors and government levels.

Lastly – the Wellbeing Economy Forum.

This Forum, taking place here in Reykjavík, is an opportunity for anyone participating to share knowledge and insights on the interconnections between wellbeing and sustainability.

We will explore the latest research on the health impacts of environmental degradation, examine how sustainable development can promote human wellbeing, and discuss the practical steps that can be taken to create more sustainable and equitable societies.

The aim of this Forum is not least to find fruitful ways to work together towards finding innovative and practical solutions to the complex challenges of promoting wellbeing and sustainability.

In the next couple of days, your input, expertise, and perspectives will be critical to progressing this work.

I want to thank my team, which works on sustainability and wellbeing, the Ministry of Health and Directorate of Health in Iceland, and the City of Reykjavík for organising this Forum.

Thank you. 


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