Remarks by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the event “Impact of Climate Change in the Arctic” on 9 February 2023, Arktikum Science Centre, Rovaniemi

Photo: Riikka Hietajärvi/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Madam Governor General, Rector Syväjärvi, Ladies and Gentlemen

Our two Northern nations, Canada and Finland, care deeply about the Arctic. The protection of its unique environment and the well-being of its peoples are very close to our hearts.

The fact that we meet here in Rovaniemi is a sign of the importance of this city for our common Arctic endeavours. On environmental Arctic cooperation, the Rovaniemi process of the late 1980s and early 1990s paved the way for the establishment of the Arctic Council in Ottawa in 1996. On scientific cooperation, as we have many times heard, the University of Lapland here plays a central coordinating role among Arctic universities and research institutions.

This is a good foundation for what is ahead of us. Because more joint efforts are urgently needed. In order to address the biggest global challenges we face, climate change and biodiversity loss, an ever closer cooperation between our decision-makers and scientists is required.

We have all known for quite some time already that the Arctic is the region where climate change is felt most immediately and most dramatically. The latest scientific findings only underscore the fact that this region is at the very centre of the climate emergency. Last year, the US administration confirmed that the seven warmest years in the Arctic since 1900 have been the seven last ones.

Like many others, I have grown used to saying that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe. But recent research by a group of Finnish climate scientists suggest that the correct factor is actually closer to four. In their article in Nature, they argue that since 1979, the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the globe.

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In this discussion that follows, we will hear more from experts on how all of this already effects the nature and the peoples in the Arctic. Analysing the present situation thoroughly is extremely important. But I hope that we can also try to focus on the future: seeking ways forward.

Climate change challenges the rich biodiversity of the Arctic region in unforeseen ways. Entire species are migrating towards the north, trying to adapt at a rate that is far too fast for evolution. The good news is that international and EU biodiversity targets already oblige countries to protect Arctic ecosystems more strictly than before. In this respect, I would also like to congratulate Canada for the very successful UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal at the end of last year.

When we talk about the mitigation of climate change, cutting emissions continues to be essential, of course. Yet in parallel, we should pay more attention to achieving negative emissions. Working on our carbon sinks, particularly our forests, in a sustainable way, is one part of the equation. There are also interesting technological developments underway for innovative solutions for carbon capture and storage. Here the Finnish and Canadian research and business communities could work even more closely together.

As an indirect result of Russia’s war of aggression, green transition projects in the Northern regions have accelerated. These projects can create much needed opportunities, jobs and wellbeing. Obviously, the pressures they put on nature, natural resources and the indigenous people have to be assessed carefully. The bottom line is: if we do this right, the Arctic could become the region with a competitive edge to pilot new technologies and new solutions.

We will hear more about the key role of the indigenous people in the region in a moment. On my part, I just want to point out that Finland’s new Climate Act includes the Sámi Climate Council. One of the first of its kind in the world, that body aims to create knowledge and support the preparation of national climate policy, from the perspective of promoting the culture of the indigenous people.

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I have often said that if we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe. Our climate and biodiversity goals are ambitious, rightly so. We do not have time to waste. These goals need to be filled with action. Not tomorrow, not next year, not after the next election cycle, but right now.

I cannot think of better partners than Finland and Canada to roll up their sleeves and start working together on this. Earlier this week, the Governor General taught me an important word in the Inuktitut language: “ajuinnata”. It seems to resemble very closely the Finnish word “sisu”. The spirit of determination, of never giving up. This is precisely what we need to save the Arctic, and to save the globe. Never give up.