Remarks by Minister Soini at the Arctic Circle Conference
Remarks by Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Arctic Circle Conference, 7 October 2016, Reykjavik.
Good morning, everybody. The Arctic Circle has established itself as a major annual event. It brings together a great number of key figures who live, work and innovate in the Arctic. They include political decision-makers, representatives of business and scientific communities.
The Arctic Circle is one of Iceland’s initiatives that moves the Arctic agenda forward, and special credit goes to former Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson. It is a great pleasure to greet honourable Icelandic hosts and distinguished guests at this year’s Assembly.
I watched yesterday a great football game at the Laugardalsvöllur stadium. It was Iceland’s home match against Finland qualifying for the World Cup 2018. Enjoyable atmosphere, strong team spirit and some shining stars. Congratulations Team Iceland.
The Arctic Council turned 20 years old in September. All eight Foreign Ministers issued a statement committing to continued common efforts in the future. We stated that the Arctic Council has played a leading role in delivering world-class scientific assessments, addressing the impacts of globalization and climate change, and facilitating cooperative responses to these challenges.
We reaffirmed our commitment to promote prosperity, development, and environmental sustainability for the benefit of generations to come.
The 20th anniversary is celebrated for a good reason. The results are impressive and pave the way for the future. It is remarkable that the indigenous peoples’ have contributed to the work in making the Arctic Council an exceptional forum.
The chairmanship of the Arctic Council is currently held by the United States. Finland will take the turn in May 2017, followed by Iceland in 2019. We want to strengthen continuity between the chairmanships. This means that we are ready to continue with important initiatives launched during the U.S. Chairmanship. In addition, we want that Iceland will have a solid basis for building their own program when they follow us as the next chair.
Arctic states and other stakeholders are committed to advance sustainable development. But what do we mean by that? My take is that it combines economic prosperity and social well-being with a healthy environment. All this is based on sound scientific research and knowledge. The foundation is laid on peace and stability. Sounds simple. But to put it into practice a shared vision is required.
Key parts of the equation build on continuous change. In the Arctic, change is especially rapid with the shrinking sea ice, changing climatic conditions and the new economic opportunities, such as increasing maritime transportation.
The United States has kept climate high on the Arctic Council’s agenda. The early ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement by the United States and China was an important pace setter. Other early birds include Norway, Iceland and the EU. Finland will also soon complete its ratification process. To boost the efforts to tackle climate change, short lived climate pollutants such as black carbon need to be effectively reduced.
This week, in Portland, we presented our draft plan for the Arctic Council’s chairmanship starting in May 2017. Discussions so far have been fruitful. Finland places a lot of importance on the continuity of the work of the Arctic Council. I wish to thank the United States for their support and I would like to say to Admiral Papp that it is a pleasure to work with you and your colleagues on Arctic matters.
Let me take up some of our priorities. Environmental protection continues to be the cornerstone of Arctic cooperation. Connectivity will be the foundation on which Arctic prosperity will be built. Meteorological cooperation will be in great demand in many spheres of activity. Equal education opportunities for all Arctic children should finally be taken as a goal.
It is important that climate change and furthering sustainable development are at the core of the Arctic cooperation. To this end, it would be useful to explore how the UN Agenda 2030 framework can be utilized in the Arctic context for the benefit of the people and the communities.
People have lived for thousands of years in the North. Northern communities know what is feasible and what is needed. Calls for jobs, sound investments and sustainable growth are well justified. This is what needs to be strived for. Resilience is built on these components.
Common problems require common responses. Let’s take one example, connectivity. Well-functioning communication networks and services are a lifeline for nearly all activities. Economic development requires connections. Electronic communication services improve safety and quality of life in the Arctic. This could include areas such as e-learning and telemedicine or social media. What a huge difference functioning connections could make.
We all agree that education is essential to bring individual lives and communities forward. Improving basic education opportunities to all children in the Arctic is sustainable development at its best.
All in all, the Arctic should be safe, secure and prosperous especially for those who live there. The work of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, established one year ago, promotes this goal by enhancing safe and responsible vessel traffic in Arctic waters. It was an achievement to create this Forum in a difficult international situation. When there is a will there is a way.
Finland takes part in all relevant structures and pillars of the Arctic and Northern Cooperation. This year Finland is the president of the Nordic Council of Ministers and next year we will take the lead in the Nordic Council that is an inter-parliamentary body in the Nordic Region. Last year we passed the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council to Russia.
This goes to show that Northern Europe and the European Arctic are important in many ways. This is also expressed in the EU’s policy formulations such as the EU’s third Arctic Communication. It is essential to achieve the set goals.
The EU’s Arctic Communication focuses on climate change and safeguarding the Arctic environment, sustainable development and enhancing international cooperation on Arctic issues. Finland is pleased with the strengthening of integrated EU policies in the Arctic. To this end, I have proposed to hold an Arctic stakeholder conference in Finland next year.
In the near future the world map must be looked at from a new angle. In the Arctic, what once kept us apart now unites us. Arctic countries are becoming close neighbours with increasing ties.
In the 21st century, the Arctic has the potential to become a hub between Europe, America and Asia. Natural resources and the opening of new sea routes in the Arctic may bring many benefits, but also challenges. In view of these unprecedented changes we need to safeguard sustainable development of the Arctic region.
To achieve this we need cooperation and stewardship based on international law. But above all we need stability to explore common solutions.