Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Arctic Forum in Salehard, Russia, 25 September 2013

I am delighted to be here in Salehard today – for the first time. It has been fascinating for me to see the wild nature of Siberia. I have also experienced the warm and welcoming Russian hospitality. I would like to thank the Russian Government and the Russian Geographical Society for taking the initiative and convening this Forum. Let us make it a milestone event in our joint efforts to preserve Arctic nature through international cooperation.

We living in the north know that Arctic is a demanding environment. Through centuries we learned not only to survive but also to thrive in these conditions. This has required cooperation, creativity and adventurous nature. Great Arctic explorers like Georgy Sedov and Mikhail Lomonosov personify these features. They were the true heroes of the north.

Many great explorers had through centuries dreamt of sailing through the Northern Sea Route. But they were not able to do it – Willem Barents in the 16th century and Vitus Bering in the 18th century amongst them. The first person to actually accomplish the feat was Mr. Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, a Finn. He made the trip in 1878-79, on a now-famous bark called Vega. It was a remarkable achievement.

Today, those famous explorers would be amazed by the changes in natural conditions. The Northern Sea Route, Severnyy morskoy put, is now open more than six months in a year. Last year there were already more than forty vessels passing the route. The Russian Federation has already made steps to improve the infrastructure along the route. A lot of work remains to be done to improve safety. But it is slowly becoming more viable option, enabling faster transport and creating economic opportunities.

While oil and gas were not the objects of the early explorers, they have now become the central prize in the Arctic. Rich mineral resources also play a major economic role in the North. In terms of economic geography, the world is turning upside down. The future is up here, in the North.

The changing Arctic brings about great economic possibilities but also challenges and threats. A heavy burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Arctic nations and modern day explorers. We have to take care of the extremely sensitive environment while taking advantage of the economic opportunities. This must also be done in a way that respects the rights of the indigenous peoples living in these regions.

To protect the Arctic nature, we must develop a shared vision on how to use the Arctic’s resources in a sustainable manner. A good starting point could be a comprehensive survey, carried out jointly, of the region’s natural resources and biological diversity. Once factual and scientific baselines are established, governments can take better-informed decisions. Success in the Arctic calls for long-term cooperation between both public authorities and private sector at the regional, national and international levels.

The dialogue between governments and the scientific community on climate change needs also to be deepened. We know that climate change is twice as rapid in the Arctic as elsewhere. However, more accurate information is needed on the consequences of climate change, such as risks to biodiversity or black carbon and methane emissions.

In addition, we need to further develop methods for environmental impact assessment and risk management specifically for Arctic conditions. It would be useful to look at the Espoo Convention, regulating cross-border effects of human activity on the environment, in the Arctic context. It could contribute to more effective international cooperation. With this in mind, we hope that Russia would soon ratify the Espoo Convention.

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Like Russia or Iceland, Finland is an Arctic country. Always has been and always will be. Of all the people living above the 60th parallel north, every third person is a Finn.

As times are changing, our Arctic role is evolving as well. We have put our focus on Arctic know-how, or “snow-how”, as we call it. We aim to be the providers of the first-class technological solutions to several Arctic challenges. One area of excellence is Arctic maritime technology and ice management. This is quite natural. Since the 19th century we have had no other choice than look for innovative solutions to enable year-round navigation in harsh northern conditions.

Our point of departure is that Arctic technology has to be clean technology – by definition. Arctic environment will not survive dirty technology. At the same time, we need state-of-the-art technology to protect the vulnerable Arctic. We must have tools both to prevent damages and take care of their consequences. For example, there is simply no room for large-scale accidents in the Arctic waters.

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We can only realize our Arctic potential together, through intensive and constructive co-operation by the Arctic states. The role of the Arctic Council is therefore essential. It is the pre-eminent forum to discuss Arctic issues. We welcome the strengthening of the Council, including adding an economic and business agenda to its scope of activities. In our view, the Council would deserve to become a strong actor. I hope we will work together towards this goal.

Some important results have been achieved already. The Arctic Council has concluded a search-and-rescue agreement. It is now finalizing plans for a joint response to oils spills. This development is most welcome. Finland has developed advanced technology and equipment for oil spill recovery and is more than happy to share its knowledge and experience.

In addition to multilateral co-operation Finland seeks to enhance its Arctic policies through bilateral partnerships. Our first bilateral Arctic partnership was concluded with Russia – with you. In addition to sectoral co-operation, we organize together annual Arctic seminars. They bring our experts, regional bodies and business people to the same table. I use this occasion to call upon Russian and Finnish businesses and scientists to actively develop common projects in the Arctic. I believe Arctic co-operation has a potential to become one of the key sectors in our bilateral relations.

I consider to be privileged to be here, among so many esteemed Arctic experts, friends and neighbors. I wish this conference will help us to continue and deepen our Arctic dialogue to the benefit of our countries and the Arctic region as a whole. Budem rabotat’vmeste!

Thank you! Spasibo za vnimanie!