Opening remarks by the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue” Forum, Arkhangelsk, 30th March 2017

It is a great pleasure to attend this distinguished Forum again. I want to thank the Russian Government and the Russian Geographical Society for convening this forum.

It is fitting that we are meeting here in Arkhangelsk, a historical meeting place between the East and West. I approach the event in this spirit: Promoting a meeting of minds with a firm belief that the Arctic will indeed remain a “Territory of Dialogue”.

My starting point today is the growing threat of climate change. Tackling this challenge is crucial if we want to ensure that the Arctic remains the place it is today. But the issue is of global significance: If we lose the Arctic, we lose the whole world.

Global warming is a well-documented fact. Last year was the warmest year ever in the history of monitoring the Earth’s temperature – and already the third record-warm year in a row.

No one can escape the effects of global warming. At the moment the problem is most acute in the North. The former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has called the Arctic “the Ground Zero for climate change”. The average temperature has risen twice as fast in the Arctic as in most other regions. The summer ice cover reached an all-time low in 2016 and recent reports indicate that this winter has not fully rectified the situation.

A further concern is the recent report made by Russian scientists that in Siberia there are some 7000 methane-filled pockets waiting to release their content. This will create danger and disruption to infrastructure and humans in the area. What is worse, once released, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Eventually a warming climate will cause major challenges to everyone on this planet. In the Arctic residents are facing immediate consequences that will fundamentally impact their communities and traditional livelihoods. Food security is threatened and new health concerns are emerging.

Make no mistake. This catastrophy will not be limited to the Arctic. There will be enormous consequences worldwide. As the ice melts, sea levels will rise. As the ice melts, solar radiation will not be reflected back – instead its energy will further warm the water and accelerate global warming. 

Climate change is also a major security issue: It is a threat multiplier that aggravates many issues behind conflicts: famine, water scarcity, flooding, forced displacement, and so forth.

What needs to be done?

Firstly, a major step in the right direction was the conclusion and early ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change. But the most important part – effective implementation – lies still ahead of us.

Secondly, we need intensified co-operation across the borders to combat the challenges and to strengthen the resilience of Arctic residents.

Thirdly, in order to be effective, Arctic cooperation must have a global dimension. A case in point is the impact of black carbon on climate, environment and human health. The sources of black carbon are known, technology and know-how to deal with the issue exists. It is time we dealt effectively with it.

One source of black carbon is flaring, that is burning excess gas at the production site. For a lay man that is almost impossible to understand. In 2015 flaring amounted to almost 150 billion cubic meters of wasted gas. To put this into a perspective: this is almost 40 times as much as Finland uses natural gas annually. This amounts to burning money. On top of this, flaring accounts for a quarter of the climate warming in the Arctic. 

Fourthly, we must ensure that the Arctic remains an area of co-operation. The strategic importance of the Arctic is growing. The geopolitical tensions in other parts of the world should not be allowed to spill over to the Arctic. Cool heads are needed to keep the Arctic an area of low tensions also in the future.

The good news is that the Arctic has remained peaceful and Arctic cooperation works well. There is a strong culture of co-operation and a vibrant system of Arctic governance. The Arctic is also a place where international law is pre-eminent. The maritime boundaries and ownership of underwater minerals, oil and gas, will be determined by international law. The Arctic coastal countries have jointly declared that they will follow the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The maritime delimitation agreement between Norway and Russia in 2010 set an encouraging example that everyone should follow.

Finally, we must ensure that the mechanisms we already have reach their full potential. Beginning in May Finland will chair the Arctic Council for two years. Our chairmanship slogan will be “Exploring Common Solutions”. We want to highlight the need for constructive cooperation between all Arctic stakeholders. Also, we believe it is time to take the Arctic cooperation to a new level. Finland proposes the convening of an Arctic Summit to discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the region and beyond. This would provide an opportunity to ensure that the Arctic indeed remains a territory of dialogue. It is our common responsibility to see that this promise and tradition is upheld in the North.