Statement by Mr Johannes Koskinen, Minister of Justice, at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting
Mr. Chairman, Dear Colleagues,
Let me first express my warm gratitude to the North Slope Borough and the State of Alaska for hosting this meeting and for the wonderful hospitality with which you have received us. The introduction by the North Slope Borough on how to combine conservation and growth presents Arctic challenges and opportunities in a nutshell.
I would like to commend the U.S. leadership in our common efforts to solve pertinent pending problems of our Arctic cooperation. We have been able to bring concordance to Arctic cooperation after an initial phase ridden by diverging views on some fundamental issues. The chapeau on sustainable development breaks ice and facilitates a more comprehensive approach to the promotion of sustainable development in the Arctic.
The Arctic Council is a unique international forum as regards co-operation between governments and bodies representing indigenous peoples. It is a matter of honor for all member states to facilitate the active participation of the permanent participants in the work of the Arctic Council. I welcome the Gwich´in Nation and the Arctic Athabascan Council to take part actively in our work and complement the invaluable contribution of the other indigenous representatives to this Council.
We have today discussed the future of Arctic co-operation. We are practically unanimous as regards the direction to take. But as orienteers know, the problems arise only out in the terrain. It is the lot of the chairman to serve as an honest broker especially in situations where we risk losing our way because of disputes concerning the choice of route to follow.
The Arctic needs a voice on the international stage. It is the primary responsibility of the Arctic states to bring the concerns of the Arctic circumpolar region to international forums such as the United Nations and to secure effective use of legally binding international and regional instruments. The Arctic Council should acquire a complementing role as the voice of the Arctic circumpolar region by bringing our findings to the knowledge of interested partners at global and regional forums. In this respect the Rio+1O Conference is a pilot case. As Chairman, Finland will start early preparations for a presentation of the Arctic viewpoint on sustainable development, climate change and other environmental protection issues. We will do this in close co-operation with all our partners, on the basis of the chapeau on sustainable development and in line with the Barrow declaration.
Co-operation between the Arctic Council and the European Union is an important step in our quest to strengthen the Arctic Council. The European Union is strengthening its role as a political actor in global affairs. The significance of the circumpolar Arctic region cannot be over-estimated in addressing the effects of climate change. The Arctic is relevant to the whole Union - not only to its northern Member States.
Permanent observer status for the Commission would establish a long-term partnership between the European Union and the Arctic Council. This would help to present the concerns of Arctic indigenous peoples to the Union. We already have such influential observers as France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom but the presence of the Commission is the missing link.
Effective implementation of the Northern Dimension Action Plan for the External and Cross-Border Policies of the EU sheds light on such Arctic priorities as environment, research, capacity building and sustainable use of natural resources. We hope to co-operate closely with the EU Presidencies and the Commission in order to contribute to the implementation of the Action Plan as well as corresponding initiatives presented by the United States and Canada. The Arctic Window, a concept initiated by Greenland, offers opportunities to deepen Arctic-European co-operation.
It goes without saying that environmental protection efforts have endowed the Arctic Council with a good reputation as a productive international body. State and assessment reports prepared by our Working Groups are in active use in the international and national environmental protection communities. We are grateful to our experts and we can congratulate each other for facilitating this valuable work, which depends on transparency and assistance from all national authorities concerned. Resources need to be secured in the future as well. We intend to celebrate the success of the Rovaniemi process in connection with the first meeting of the SAO in Rovaniemi next June.
We also appreciate the United States´ leadership and input in addressing the problems related to climate change and increased UV radiation in the Arctic. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) just endorsed is very important for the Arctic region and its populations. Moreover, it is a fine example of co-operation and co-ordination among the Council Working Groups and with relevant international bodies.
But even though reports are delivered and received with appreciation, without active political implementation any undertaking is left half-way. Needless to say, the principal responsibility for implementing climate policies and pollution-reducing measures rests with each member State and with the primary source of pollution. "The polluter pays" is the basic precept, but reducing the effects of long-range transport of contaminants needs international action.
International and regional co-operation may make a difference through exchange of experience, the spread of best-practices, utilization of the latest technology and facilitating international financing solutions through investments, especially in so-called hot-spots.
In order to promote concrete actions, an Arctic Council Action Plan to eliminate pollution (ACAP) has been prepared under Norwegian leadership. The Action Plan is tangent to activities initiated by existing Working Groups, among others the Regional Program of Action (RPA) for the protection of the Arctic marine environment from land-based activities. All these efforts have the same goal: more action.
After ten years of Arctic co-operation, new tasks and needs are emerging. The time is ripe for the first evaluation of the structure of the Arctic Council with the aim of clarifying the division of responsibilities between our working bodies in the environmental sector. Reforms based on the evaluation should secure a more effective contribution by the Council in addressing the urgent threats to the vulnerable Arctic environment.
Moreover, the role of the sustainable development working group in relation to the environmental working groups and the Senior Arctic Officials should be assessed. Closer involvement of sectoral authorities and experts would assist the Council in responding to expectations among people living in the North. Finland intends to launch the evaluation process without delay, according to the mandate enshrined in the Barrow declaration. But without support and flexibility from all partners the reform is doomed to fail and that would put the future work of the Council at stake. I am sure that none of us is willing to face that risk.
The sustainable development concept recognizes three aspects of sustainability, namely the ecological, the social and the economic, and the interactions among these three.
During this meeting we have discussed conservation and growth. Conservation is an indispensable precondition for sustainable use of natural resources. With technological advances the traditions of utilizing the environment for survival are often not economically viable and sometimes in conflict with sustainable use. They can devastate traditional sources of livelihood. New sustainable economic activities are urgently needed to support a population necessary for viable communities.
Use of modern information technology mitigates problems related to long distances and sparse populations. There is scope for concerted action regarding the use of wireless communication in the Arctic.
The University of the Arctic is an example of "virtual" mobility which offers students in the North a wider range of choice and strengthens the competitiveness of Northern institutions of higher education. We sincerely hope that the governments will assist the northern sites for higher education in developing this e-education project.
The Arctic Council telemedicine project helps to mitigate the huge health problems that affect Arctic peoples. This example too shows how the use of information technology can contribute to the survival of smaller communities in the Arctic by facilitating social and health services of sufficient quality.
Social welfare is never sustainable without a sound economic foundation. The Arctic Council´s activities within the economic sector have so far been modest. We have in the pipeline a promising project on ecological tourism, originating from an Alaskan initiative. Finland intends to actively promote this project in co-operation with such interested partners as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Northern Forum.
Transport infrastructure is closely related to tourism and other sectors of Arctic commercial life. The Barents euro-arctic transport area (BEATA) concept shows how cross-border co-operation can assist the development of regionwide transport infrastructure. From a circumpolar point of view, the emphasis is on sea and air transport. Finland will bring sustainable traffic infrastructure to the agenda of the Council as a new theme. We intend to prepare the theme for a familiarization discussion at the first meeting of the SAOs during our chairmanship.
Capacity building focused on youth is certainly topical in our efforts to promote sustainable development in the North. Healthy self-esteem and pride in one´s inherited identity and cultural heritage are indispensable preconditions for the positive development of indigenous and other Arctic communities. The Arctic Council should contribute to strengthening self-respect among Arctic youth - it is our obligation to work closely with young people and their organizations.
In many northern communities resolute women play a key role in the wellbeing of families. This role should be recognized and commended. The hour has come to actively address gender equality issues also within the Arctic Council framework. We welcome assistance from existing networks among indigenous and other Arctic women.
Mr Chairman, Dear Friends,
The very existence of the Arctic Council brings Arctic concerns to the attention of governments. This is an added value in itself but it must be acknowledged that Arctic co-operation cannot be developed successfully only in capitals located outside the Arctic region. We welcome closer interaction between capitals and the regions. We have with great interest witnessed how the mental distance between Washington and Alaska has shortened during the American chairmanship.
Our intention is to bring Helsinki and other European capitals closer to the Arctic circle during our chairmanship, without forgetting the need to increase sensitivity towards indigenous affairs.
Successful Arctic co-operation can only be achieved through close co-operation among all the partners involved. We look forward to co-operating closely with all of you during the two years to come