Opening statement by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja at the Arctic Connection Seminar
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends of the Arctic,
We are now at the halfway stage of the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. I am delighted to take part in this seminar and to be able to share my views on Arctic connections, not only as the current Chair of the Arctic Council, but also as a northerner - relatively speaking, at least.
One often hears and reads about the uniqueness of the Arctic. It is true that the Arctic is special, for several reasons. Let me name a few.
The natural environment of the Arctic is particularly fragile and vulnerable to environmental hazards - be they environmental catastrophes or risks deriving from anthropogenic activities including industrial pollution. This is largely due to the cold climate, because many pollutants tend to flow towards colder regions, carried by wind and water. In this cold climate, it also takes longer for pollutants to degrade and disappear. This is why some Arctic areas turn into sinks for pollutants.
The local people in the Arctic, especially the indigenous peoples, have a long and deep relationship with their living environment. Traditional sources of livelihood, such as reindeer herding, fishing and hunting, have not faded away in the global modernisation process. Collecting berries in the autumn in Finnish Lapland is not just a hobby, but a way to replenish food stocks and sometimes to earn some money, too. For arctic peoples, nature and traditional sources of livelihood are parts of their way of life, essential parts of their culture.
This way of life is, however, to an increasing extent threatened by many man-made hazards - both at home and beyond national borders. Many pollutants in the Arctic have been identified as serious threats to human health because they not only remain in the nature but also spread into food chains, accumulate in fat tissue and find their way into human breast milk. The relationship between man and the environment is self-evident and is something we have to remember in all that we do in the Arctic and anywhere else.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Globalisation is currently a word on many people’s lips. I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on it briefly, bearing in mind the Arctic context.
Our present understanding of globalisation often refers to economic processes, especially to developments connected with the liberalisation of trade and capital flows and technological advances. But globalisation is a political, social, environmental and cultural process, too, thus encompassing and challenging the whole spectrum of sustainable development. Globalisation is political in the sense that it is partly a result of conscious political decision-making. It is social, because it affects everyday life and the well-being of people. It is environmental, as large-scale economic activities involving for example the use of natural resources include environmental risks. These activities may have cultural consequences, too. Globalisation is sometimes accused of infringing on the local and national identities of the people it touches.
Like many other phenomena, globalisation has its pros and cons, its opportunities and its major challenges. In a recent report on globalisation prepared by the Finnish government, globalisation is regarded mostly as a positive and irreversible development, a development that needs, however, to be better managed. Positive outcomes of the globalisation process need to be distributed more evenly around the globe, to include developing countries, and marginalized areas and their populations. Negative outcomes should be minimised, if not abolished.
In the Arctic, modern technology offers new ways to overcome long distances. Information and communication technology can provide innovative forms and forums for discussion and decision-making. I have heard that Saami youth organisations in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia are currently studying ways of linking up with each other more often and more economically, by using tools provided by the internet. The world wide web offers indigenous and other local groups a possibility to present their ideas and cultures at inter-regional and international level. This can enhance global knowledge and awareness of specific, local circumstances and thus contribute to the development of local identities and self-esteem.
In remote areas, access to education and training cannot be taken for granted. The same applies to health care. This summer I had an opportunity to visit Nunavut territory in the Canadian north and see how the Inuit leaders are developing education and training services on terms decided largely by themselves. There is an urgent need for nurses and other health care personnel familiar with the health situation and specific values and attitudes of the northerners.
Distance learning and the use of modern, global entryways and portals offer some remedies for tackling long-distances - all obvious priorities for the Arctic. The University of the Arctic is currently developing a network to link institutions of higher and vocational education in the Arctic regions by combining the use of modern technology with more traditional curriculum studies and student exchange. Expanding the positive experiences of telemedicine is another concrete way to improve the quality of life in isolated communities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the most important questions concerning globalisation is how to include democratic principles in it. This means giving individuals, ordinary citizens, the possibility to exert influence. We are all aware of citizens’ movements which are global in nature, too. This might be considered paradoxical, but it might be that global issues need citizens and movements that think and act globally - and need to be properly managed as well.
One way to influence common issues is to take part in the activities of various non-governmental organisations. Another way is to act via representative democracy. In either case, the views of the people ought to be more effectively incorporated into the discussions and actions of national parliaments and governments that are active in international and global endeavours. This is an important requirement to keep in mind in circumpolar cooperation as well.
The Arctic Council, a high-level inter-governmental forum with all Arctic countries - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States as members - can be considered a unique international forum for co-operation between national governments and indigenous peoples. The structure of the Arctic Council, with Arctic indigenous peoples participating in its work on an equal footing, together with close contacts among the capitals and the Arctic sub-regions, anchor the Council’s activities in Arctic communities. This enables the Arctic Council to represent the Arctic region with considerable legitimacy. Various observers, such as international organisations, non-Arctic states, parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, regional bodies and researchers’ networks, contribute to the democratic and transparent work of the Council. Many of the observers are partners in projects carried out within the framework of the Arctic Council and its working groups. The Arctic Council is an entity that might serve as a model in other parts of the world.
The role of the Arctic Council as a legitimate mouthpiece of the Arctic has not, however, remained unchallenged. In a report prepared for the Fourth Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region in Rovaniemi last year and for the Finnish Chair of the Arctic Council, professor Oran Young warned that the Arctic Council is in danger of being perceived by people living in the circumpolar north as just another in a line of efforts on the part of the capitals and metropolises to control northern affairs from afar.
I believe professor Young has a point in emphasising the role of the people who live in the Arctic. Better knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, of Arctic circumstances is a precondition for comprehensive understanding of the opportunities and challenges the Arctic area and its peoples encounter.
In Finland, regional bodies and authorities cooperate closely in handling the responsibilities within the Arctic Council. Regional authorities, research centres, the University of Lapland, Saami and reindeer herders’ organisations are all involved in the Arctic Council working group and project activities as sectoral experts. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs acts as a coordinator and a hub for various activities, in close cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment. My understanding is that regional bodies in other Arctic countries are involved in circumpolar cooperation along the same lines as in my country. During the Finnish chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a national reference group, including representatives of all relevant ministries, regional bodies, the Saami people, NGOs, parliamentarians and private business, has proved to be a very valuable team. I hope their cooperation continues in one form or another after our chairmanship is over.
Some of the problems we are facing in the Arctic are national in character, while others need regional or international attention. The Arctic Council should focus on region wide, circumpolar issues. The Arctic Council should not engage itself in activities, which involve partners only from the Barents region – this is the domain of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Barents cooperation may be conceived as a sub-contractor to region wide circumpolar strategies.
To an increasing extent, the solutions to many Arctic concerns have to be sought in the global arena. Trans-boundary problems call for cross-border cooperation. The working agendas in intergovernmental negotiations have lengthened considerably over the past ten or twenty years. Cross-border cooperation and external policies often include matters such as climate change, transboundary pollutants, infectious diseases and crime prevention, just to name a few of the soft security-related issues, as they are now known.
Dear Friends of the Arctic,
The Arctic Council is doing important work especially in the field of the environment. A number of excellent reports on the state of the Arctic environment have been produced by the Arctic Council expert groups. These reports, assessments and recommendations are available to governments, the UN, international bodies specialising in the protection of the environment, universities and schools. We political decision-makers, together with our officials and other partners involved, should draw conclusions that have practical significance and lead to concrete actions. Many challenging tasks lie ahead of us.
New economic activities are needed in order to support a population big enough to keep communities viable and to enhance quality of life in the Arctic. The aim of the Arctic Council sustainable development program is to expand opportunities for future generations in the Arctic, promote economic activity that creates wealth and human capital, while simultaneously safeguarding the natural capital of the region.
Demands of the global market and technological progress offer new opportunities for expanded utilisation of natural resources in the Arctic, including oil, gas, metals and minerals. If properly managed, natural resources can bolster sustainable growth and well-being for the region and its inhabitants. But without precautionary measures the traditional livelihood of indigenous and other local people, as well as the existence of vast areas of pristine nature and natural parks, could be in danger.
Over the past year, a dialogue on energy between the European Union and the Russian Federation has been gathering momentum. In northern Europe, exports of oil, gas and electricity are expected to grow considerably. For example, the EU’s dependence on imported gas has been estimated to increase from 40 % to 70% by the year 2020. Recent tragic events in the United States may, over time, accelerate the utilisation of natural resources in the North, especially oil, due to possible uncertainties in the Middle East and Central Asia.
At the 10th Anniversary of Arctic Environmental Cooperation in Rovaniemi last June, Finland’s Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen called for an Arctic Code of Conduct for the use of natural resources, based on the principle of precautions. Impact on the environment, as well as on the living conditions of the indigenous and other local populations and their traditional sources of livelihood, should be carefully assessed before any action is taken.
Information and communication technology could, as I have already mentioned, make a vital contribution to the sustainable development and well-being of the Arctic and its peoples. The digital divide is, however, a reality, both inside the circumpolar Arctic region and between the region and more densely populated areas. The divide is visible either as a total absence of infrastructure or as higher costs and lower capacity compared with urban centres. This reality is confirmed by the OECD in its recent report “Understanding the digital divide”.
Alternative modes of internet access, cable TV, satellite broadcasting as well as mobile telephony may be useful means of narrowing the digital divide, at least in some parts of the Arctic. If part of the revenue from the utilisation of Arctic natural resources could be set aside for infrastructure and telecommunications development, the sustainability of Arctic communities could be strengthened. An obligation to finance internet access for schools and other local and regional public institutions could be included in agreements governing the utilisation of natural resources. In the northernmost parts of Alaska, this kind of experiment has already been carried out, to the satisfaction of the local people.
Tourism is an important source of income for many people living in the Arctic. It is expanding rapidly, and not always in a sustainable manner. Moreover, conflicts of interest between indigenous and other local people as well as with the producers of tourist services may arise, if cultural diversity and local distinctiveness are not respected in an appropriate manner.
Climate change is a major challenge for the Arctic and around the globe. According to an overwhelming majority of scientists and the long-term observations made by the local people, climate change is taking place with strong, variable and unpredictable effects on nature and communities in the Arctic. The biggest temperature changes are estimated to take place in the Arctic. There is a risk of a vicious circle with an extensive global impact. Actions aimed at decelerating the human contribution to climate change - curbing emissions of greenhouse gases for example - may help Arctic residents better adjust to coming changes.
The Arctic Council, under the leadership of the United States - more specifically Alaska - has launched an ambitious project to assess the environmental, social and economic consequences of climate change in the Arctic. Results of this project will be available in 2004 and can be placed at the disposal of the international community.
Before concluding, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to emphasise that the Arctic Council has an explicit responsibility to raise Arctic circumpolar concerns in global contexts. Finland, as the current chair, is committed to strengthening the role of the Council as a mouthpiece of the Arctic and the Arctic peoples. We have, with the support of all our partners, already taken important steps forward, for example in the negotiations on Persistent Organic Pollutants and at the annual meeting of the United Nations Environmental Programme.
The next important task is to prepare solid Arctic building blocks for the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. We need to draw international attention to the vast Arctic region, which was completely neglected in Agenda 21. The Rovaniemi conclusions of last June provide a good springboard that has already been used, for example, at the UN ECE regional preparatory meeting in Geneva last week.
There are also high expectations for the European Union to become more involved in Arctic cooperation. According to the European Union Action Plan for the Northern Dimension, the European Commission may create closer contacts with the Arctic Council in order to strengthen cooperation and knowledge of the Arctic. Corresponding programs of our transatlantic partners Canada and the United States complement a truly circumpolar outreach.
We have also noted with satisfaction that a working group on sustainable development between the EU and the Russian Federation has been set up, just two weeks ago, under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. In Russia, the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development is in charge of this working group.
Sparse populations, a harsh climate, long-distances and a limited budget form a difficult combination to overcome. But with the cooperation of all the partners in the Arctic, be they local or global, governmental or non-governmental, tangible results can be achieved.
I wish you all an interesting and stimulating day strengthening your Arctic connections.