Opening remarks by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Rovaniemi on 9th October 2018

Photo: Arctic Biodiversity Congress / Mike Muzurakis

It is a pleasure to welcome you to Rovaniemi and the Finnish Arctic. As we are opening the Arctic Biodiversity Congress today, we are also entering one of the most significant weeks of the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In a few days, the Arctic Ministers of the Environment and the representatives of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples will join you here in Rovaniemi for their meeting, the first of its kind in five years.

These meetings demonstrate the high value we – Finland and the Arctic Council – place on protecting the Arctic environment. Preserving the Arctic’s biodiversity is closely linked with combatting pollution and climate change, the two other major themes of this week.

This Congress brings together experts from across the world, from different sectors of society, to share their knowledge in support of a common goal: safeguarding the precious species and ecosystems of the Arctic. The exceptional quality of the Arctic is not only something we feel regionally. It also contributes to global biodiversity, for example as the breeding ground of millions of migratory birds.

* * *

I do not intend to lecture you any further on the subject matter of your expertise. But I would like to underline that there are two important lessons to be drawn from your gathering for all of us.

First, that we need direct interaction with scientists to make the most advanced knowledge accessible and understandable to policymakers. Second, that the Arctic is not isolated from global developments. In addition to biodiversity, both of these lessons also apply to climate change.

As we all know, the IPCC just yesterday published its latest special report on global warming. It had a very clear message to policymakers. We urgently need to enhance and speed up our efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

This is particularly relevant for the Arctic. As the IPCC report points out, the Arctic region is one of the most vulnerable systems on our planet, if and when global warming continues. And on the other hand, the melting of the sea ice and other changes in the Arctic region accelerate climate change on the global scale. I have said this before: if we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe.

* * *

Climate change should not only be in the headlines when a report comes out. It has to stay firmly on the top of our agenda for the foreseeable future. It is a challenge that is urgent and long-term at the same time. Tackling it is our responsibility for the generations that follow.

The main focus of the Paris Agreement and the latest IPCC report is on reducing CO2 emissions, and rightly so. CO2 with its long-term impact is the biggest contributor to global warming. In cutting down those emissions, we all need to do more, and more quickly – as communities and as individuals.

But as the IPCC report also shows, there are other factors we should address at the same time. Black carbon is particularly relevant for the fate of the Arctic sea ice. When black carbon falls on the white ice, it immediately accelerates the melting. But its absence will have an equally immediate impact to the contrary. Cutting down black carbon emissions is the quickest way to slow down the rapid changes now occurring in the Arctic.

* * *

I have openly said that Finland would be willing to organize a first-ever Arctic Summit. I believe that environmental issues should be front and centre at such a summit. And that environmental issues deserve a summit.

As a very concrete proposal, we would like to see the Arctic states, on the highest political level, commit to reducing black carbon emissions. Reducing flaring in oil and gas production, switching from heavy fuels to LNG in ship engines, upgrading old-fashioned power plants, and preventing wildfires.

And I am happy to tell you that the feedback to our concrete proposals from the other Arctic states has been very positive. Even there where the Paris Agreement raises suspicions, concrete environmental measures like this are met with open minds.

The discussions I have had in preparing the possible summit have given me reason for some optimism. Climate change may not be the best conversation starter in every capital these days, but you can still find constructive ways to address the concrete issues behind it.

There is hope. We still have a chance to save the Arctic, and to save the globe.
But there is no time to waste.

* * *

During this week, Rovaniemi will be full of people dedicated to the Arctic environment. You are showing the world how vulnerable the Arctic biodiversity is and how climate change is having an impact on the region. Because of your work, we also are aware of the global impacts of a warming Arctic and the melting of its snow and ice.

I, along with many others around the world, highly appreciate your work. Your message – based on scientific research and indigenous knowledge – has been heard. For the sake of the future of the Arctic, please continue to speak up. We need your voice.