We can’t stop development so adopt sustainable models: Nina Vaskunlahti

In an interview with Nina Vaskunlahti, Finland’s Ambassador to India, Kumar Dhananjay discusses the Smart Cities project and its implications on functioning of Indian cities. Vaskunlahti also illustrates some of the successful solutions available to address some of the major issues of urbanisation

Urban Update: Finland and The European Union are helping and coordinating with India under the Smart Cities Mission. What kind of involvement is Finland having with the Indian Smart Cities- 100 Smart Cities that have been chosen to be developed?
Finland is involved in the Smart City Project in various ways. First Finland is one of the five golden countries. In order to access solutions in India, we have already organised a couple of seminars and workshops in selected smart cities such as Panaji, Ghaziabad and also Lucknow. We have had representatives of these places looking for a solution. For instance we have water management, waste energy management, IOT solutions, etc. There are also Finnish companies that are active in India, some are in particular, involved in Smart City projects for instance solar energy solutions, smart charging electrical vehicles, surveillance systems, IOT based health solutions, energy or electricity measurements; big things and small things all together.

So during these workshops, what kind of issues would people throw up at you seeking a solution to this systemic change India is trying to bring about by creating 100 smart cities rather than creating one city as a model first? It is a challenge to bring about a systemic change.
First of all what people are asking us is – Can this work in India given the size of the country? Finland for instance is a small country in Europe with a population of five million people whereas India has 1.3 billion people. So, they are sort of wondering if small scale solutions will work on a big scale. We always say, they do, if there is an approval for solutions it can always be scaled up. Second thing, they want to have examples and models like what do you do with your waste, how do you collect, how do you recycle, etc. We have shown them those examples – for instance, there is an eco village in Southern Finland where all the solutions are based on ecological principles. We show them examples of how things have been done and then what the product is.

You have been Ambassador here in India for almost two and a half years. So, if we look at the trade relation between India and Finland, India and European Union, because Finland is a part of European Union,how would you characterize the relationship between EU and India, and Finland and India?
Finland has been a member of European Union since 1995 and we are a set of members of European Union and the Union sort of provides us a framework. I would say in both cases the relationship is excellent between India and European Union and Finland. Every country in European Union is told by that relationship with India about what we do and vice versa.

You talked during sessions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Nordic countries. What kind of agreements were done during
the visit?

During his visit last year a joint session between Prime Minister Modi and five other Prime Ministers was organized. Apart from that every country had its own bilateral meeting with Narendra Modi. In our bilateral meeting, we decided to enhance our energy partnership, look for proven Finnish innovations what Indian energy should look at, be it solar, be it emission control, or clean coal technology. So we are pursuing all these issues at the moment here in India.
We talked about education, what Finnish examples could be used, what Finnish perspectives could be used in India to enhance Indian primary education system and we also discussed about cooperation in cyber space.

Good that you brought up the issue of cyber space. There is a lot of talk about breach of privacy, breach of data; there is lot of apprehension and it is not from one or two individuals but it’s a large concern. It has been seen that data security has been breached, it has been transferred illegally. What kind of solutions canone look at to stop this problem?
think every government has woken up to the fact that there are too many issues happening in the cyber space. We are aware of it and in particular when our current solutions are based on digital solutions that means we have to be 100 percent sure of the data security. What we can do,I think is more cooperation, more exchange of data and best practices, more beneficial innovations so that the government and law enforcement can be one step ahead.

Another concern and a very crucial one is in energy sector. India is a developing country and so are many other countries that are developing and their energy consumption level is very high and that is connected to environment as well, that is connected to climate change because the carbon footprint is increasing every day. We cannot ask India or China to stop their development to check environmental degradation. Where lies the
solution then?
First of all you correctly said that development shouldn’t be stopped at all for the sake of the environment or for sake of the future. We have to make sure that we develop in a sustainable way so that this is how we can do to preserve the planet for the future generations. We need to have enabling policies, we have to have regulatory framework that enhances sustainable development and innovations. At the same time all have to remember that we have it in our commitment, be it the Paris Agreement, be it the Sustainable Development Goals that every country and world is committed to. I think we as citizens, as consumers have to be conscious of the personal choices.

We are eleven years away from 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, not much progress can be seen; one can say I am being skeptical about it. Practically do you think we can achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals?
Well let us say professionally we will have to be optimistic and I think it’s very good to set ambitious goals because that keeps you trying, that motivates you to make right choices.
We still have over a decade and I think we have received messages from international climate experts for instance what measures we have to take, about the same time, if you feel in 2030 there is still way to go, nobody has to be pessimistic but to sit down and to assess what has been achieved so far and how can we take the next steps.So the main thing is that you believe that you have to try, you try to do something every day in your own private life, be it your government policies, just don’t give up and also be honest.

The European cities are smaller in size while Indian cities are too big. Obviously you cannot replicate the model that is implemented in Barcelona, Amsterdam, any other place in Europe, so it has to be India specific. In that sense, whatever you have seen in the progress of Indian cities in the direction of being smart, what more can be done to hasten that process?
That is a very difficult question but absolutely right, what works out in Finland cannot be directly implemented in India but in the beginning you have to see what are the best ideas and how those can be modified to Indian needs. In the smart city point of view, I think something that is very simple and goes for the safety aspect is Red light. (Kind of CFL Bulb that when switched on turns red giving it a longer life) Red lights are pretty cost efficient to produce when produced in big numbers, they are sustainable and they last for years and years and because it is very cheap to use guess we can have it for both times of the day.
With city lights, you start feeling safe because you are visible, you can be seen and you can see.

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