We like to say that the future of the Arctic is in our hands – for good and for bad. It means we have new opportunities in the North. They are mainly economic – things like new resources, faster transport routes. But it also means we face serious risks. They are mainly – but not only – environmental.
I believe the great task that lies ahead of us is to combine these two factors – opportunities and risks – in a way that is sustainable. Sustainable both for us, the peoples of the region, and for the whole humankind. Fortunately, we still have the time to strike the right balance. We probably have made some mistakes already. But we still have the possibility of avoiding further, perhaps bigger mistakes. And we have those opportunities left.
While discussing the Arctic, special attention should be given to indigenous peoples that have populated the region for thousands of years. They do not only live there, they are part of it. They must have the right to take part in decisions that concern them. The United Nation Member States reaffirmed their support for this core principle at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September.
Nature, environment and climate should always be our starting points as we ourselves cannot exist without suitable conditions. We know that climate change is advancing in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else. The rising temperature and the melting ice are directly affecting the four million people who live in the Arctic and call it their home. The effects stretch all the way round the globe. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.
Of course, tackling the climate change is not only a matter for the Arctic region. It is a global challenge that requires serious effort from all countries. And there we need a global response, which we hope to achieve next year at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. If we succeed, it will be especially important for the Arctic.
Everyone in this room is aware of the special vulnerability of the Arctic nature. It cannot sustain and recover from damage as well as some other neighborhoods of our globe. To put it simply: same mistake, but worse consequences. One should never forget this.
Those of us who use Arctic resources and benefit from the region are mainly responsible for managing other environmental risks in the North. How can we then make sure that we do things in a sustainable way?
I have no easy solution, but I offer a number of principles that should help us. First, high-quality research is a must in the Arctic. Science is a cornerstone. We really have to know what we are doing, what we can do and what we cannot do. So, we have to research, analyze and monitor extra carefully in the North.
Second, not just any technology suits the Arctic area. We need exactly those technological solutions that enable us to tap the potential while avoiding risks. In a word, we need cleantech which is designed also for these conditions.
Third, one cannot operate safely in the North without proper “Arctic know-how”. It is a combination of scientific research, practical experience and right technology. It should not come as surprise when I say that Finland actually has all these three in top shape – research, cleantech and know-how. If you don´t believe me now, you have a chance to learn more about our approach during our country session in the afternoon.
There will be no successful Arctic policies or practices without Arctic co-operation. After the twilight years of the cold war we saw a new kind of international cooperation emerging in the Arctic. On a Finnish initiative the first meeting between ministers of the Arctic countries was held in Rovaniemi in 1991. It was a historic meeting, establishing the idea of the eight Arctic states. The meeting produced the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and launched the Rovaniemi Process, which then led to the establishment of the Arctic Council.
In two years’ time the Arctic Council will celebrate its 20th anniversary. During those years a lot of work has been done to strengthen the Council. Its evolution as an international forum has been impressive. The institutional role of the Council has grown. I believe its role should continue to grow step-by-step, from a decision-shaping forum towards becoming a decision-making organization.
All of us have recently witnessed dramatic developments in Ukraine. Russia´s actions have damaged international security and co-operation especially in Europe. However, I am convinced that we should keep the North and the Arctic Council on a road towards more – not less – co-operation. The Arctic Council is the only circumpolar organization that deals with the specific problems of this region. Should its work get paralyzed everybody would lose. We don´t want that.
Dear friends, I started by saying that the future of the Arctic is in our hands. I would like to conclude by rearranging the order of the words a bit: our future might be in the hands of the Arctic. Therefore, we must work with it. We must take care of it. Then it can work with us and take care of us as well.