By Renee Diaz
WNPA News Service
For the first time in history, a foreign head of state has addressed a joint session in the Washington State Legislature.
President, Sauli Niinistö, of the Republic of Finland, met with Washington lawmakers March 6 to discuss climate change and their partnership in supporting Ukraine. The visit comes as Finland intends to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
“The current critical geopolitical situation has brought us closer together than ever before. We are now strengthening our ties in sectors such as defense, trade, technology and energy security. And soon, we will be able to call each other allies,” Niinistö said.
Both Washington state and Finland have made major efforts to welcome Ukrainian refugees since the war began one year ago. Ukrainian refugees are the largest refugee group in the state. More than 16,000 refugees have come to the state in the last year, more than any other state in the country.
“Washington State stands with the people of Ukraine and Washington State stands with the people of Finland, who have been so courageous and so dedicated to this joint civilized effort to stand for democracy in Ukraine,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.
Currently, Finland has channeled one million dollars in humanitarian assistance through the UN Refugee Agency to support Ukrainians who have fled to Moldova, according to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
In 2021, Washington Lieutenant Gov. Denny Heck signed a Memorandum of Understanding to begin a partnership on technological research, port modernization, clean energy and transportation and sustainable forestry. The agreement remains in effect through 2026.
Later in the day, Inslee and Niinistö further discussed their partnership and their efforts on climate change and supporting Ukrainian refugees.
“We have two crises right now that pretty much have united the U.S. with Finland. It is that we are in a climate crisis. We are appreciative of Finland’s efforts to decarbonize its economy and help decarbonize the world economy,” Inslee said.
Last year, Inslee visited Finland on a trade mission to the Nordic countries. During the visit, Inslee and the Washington state delegation discussed Finland’s strategy to eliminate waste with Finnish officials.
Finland made a promise to be carbon-neutral by 2035 and to eliminate all waste by 2050. They use the circular economy model which involves sharing, reusing, repairing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. For example, many companies in Finland are working to convert forest industry waste into new materials such as bioplastics, paperboard and textiles.
After Washington state, Niinistö plans to visit Palo Alto, Washington D.C, and at the end of the tour, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.