The Prime Minister's address to the SHE Conference

'I will share with you three examples I have witnessed under great leadership of people I would like to mention', said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

The speech as delivered (transcribed)

Statsministeren sitter i en sofa på scenen i Oslo Spektrum, sammen med Chelsea Clinton.
Investor & Advisor Jen Lee Koss, Dr. Chelsea Clinton and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Foto: Kristian Ruvino

Making the impossible possible

Good morning to all of you. And thank you for coming to Oslo, those of you who have made the long journey. And thank you to those of you who are online. It is a good conference day. It is a rainy day, so it is not tempting to go outside.

I have a few minutes to share some perspectives. And first, I would like to say on the very concept of social human equity (SHE); one could have devoted a conference to demonstrate how that was a key building block in making my country what it is today. There is an experience here about equal opportunity, engagement, bringing new people in, giving them opportunities that bring society forward. But that is not what I am going to talk about. It is simply to say that there is some relevance in what we have behind us, and there is some danger to destabilize that social equity, which is so important to make the social fabric work.

It is not easy to be an optimist and look for opportunities in our world today. Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, climate change, you name it. But my point here to share with you, is that perhaps it is when things really look quite impossible, that is when we have the opportunity to do the impossible. It is a question to be debated. Is it when things really point in the right direction that we can mobilize resources and go for great things? Or is it when we feel that now we really have to move out of the comfort zone and do different things?

I believe there is something in the last approach. And I would like to mention and share with you three examples I have witnessed under great leadership of people I would like to mention. Where we experienced that by doing something which was about combining people, innovation, inclusion, new ways of working, and pretty good dozes of risk taking. Because, if there is no risk taking, it is not going to work.

Now, the first example: I was privileged to be part of – together with Gro Harlem Brundtland – when she was Director General of the World Health Organization. And it was about making true of this vision: vaccinate, immunize every child.

And we saw in the 1990s that immunization of children was stagnating at the level that really drove the under-5’s death rate upwards. And when children die under five years, it is a tragedy. And when they get sick under five it is a tragedy because their parents have to stay out of work, and it is a very negative circle.

So, what GAVI really did was to say: if we bring together private industry, governments, UN institutions, and philanthropists, we have a heavy mix of getting money and ways of working to support those poor countries to gradually increase their immunization rates. So, a combination of all that led to GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

And since GAVI in the early 2000s, one billion children have been vaccinated. And friends, we have been through COVID, but I would just to remind you on vaccination for children: it is a ‘kinder egg’, as we say in Norway. It's a triple. It is preventive. It is cheap. And it is something we all do as parents; we bring our children to immunization. And it is really a major opportunity.

17 million future deaths have been avoided by that initiative. And to talk about the money-side of it, I have read: about 54 dollars reward for one dollar spent. Because if a child survives, getting to school, their parents can continue to work, and that is opportunity. And again, this is really about life and opportunities, but look at figures: 220 billion dollars in economic benefit. And this was not high-tech. This was low-tech.

It was really about bringing the vaccines out through the chain into countries where it was needed, working with the governments, and gradually building it up. So GAVI was really about the ingenuity of people, of leadership of Gro and the others, and of all of us working together. Not that many, but we were able to make a big difference.

GAVI is inspiring my second story, which is the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, something I spend time of as Prime Minister; I support this initiative. It is a similar thing, getting together finance, technology, governments, to get to those countries that are about to make investments in future energy needs, so they go down the renewable path and not the fossil path. 

Take Vietnam. Vietnam can now make the decision of building another 50 coal-fired power plants, or they could do what they should do: invest in wind, solar, offshore, onshore. It is all there for them to grasp. But they lack some technology, some finance, and some expertise.

And they lack storage capacity. Because if you do renewable, you have to store that electricity in batteries. So, we have launched now a big battery alliance to get the green premium down. Because buying batteries – and this is not for your mobile phone or for your radio – these are big batteries. They are much cheaper in Europe or the US than they are in the countries that really need them. So, we need to get together to get those prices down so those investments can be made.

And we see that just after one year it is starting to happen. Prices are coming down and countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Senegal can make those choices. Again, it is a bit high-tech, but it is pretty much low-tech. It is about getting things together.

And then my last example: Chelsea's mother, Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, I was Foreign Minister, and back in 2009, we looked into one issue, a climate-related issue, which was about securing people proper cooking gear, because cooking is something we all need to do. In Africa, four out of five households still do traditional cooking, which is open-fire cooking. And if you read the tables of the World Health Organization, you will see that this is the primary source of disease and death, because it leads to indoor air pollution and respiratory diseases.

This is the picture: The mother standing with the child on her back, bent over the cooking gear, and she inhales polluted smoke from the cooking, creating avoidable deaths and so on. Probably half a million avoidable deaths coming from that single source. This is low-tech. How can we gradually provide to people clean cooking material, which also has a climate change effect, because it is not letting out these emissions? That was what Hillary Clinton and I discussed back then.

Now, we are about to do it. So, together with the International Energy Agency, the Director of the International Energy Agency – Fatih Birol, the President of Tanzania and myself; we will convene a conference in Paris in the middle of May to get support to do something about this. It will cost about four billion a year until 2030 to achieve clean cooking for all. That is a pretty tall order. But we can start to reduce that terrible, daunting burden on children and especially women.

So, I just mention these examples to say that this is possible. GAVI was pretty unbelievable when it was launched; a lot of obstacles, a lot of, you know, can we do these things differently? But it delivered extraordinary results and it does every day. It is something I feel really proud about to see is still happening.

We need to get emissions down. We need to do the renewable transition. And the Global Alliance for People and Planet may succeed in this. And the only downside, dear friends, is that it doesn't succeed, no bigger danger than that, and then we are back to where we are.

So, I would just like to appeal to all of you; bring back to your workplaces, to your families, to your friends: It is possible to do impossible things. And it is, especially now, when things look a bit dire, that we should invest in that. Thank you for listening.