Opening Address in Arctic seminar: “Arctic change – a global concern”

Puhe Säätytalolla 3.2.2015

Ladies and gentlemen, Excellences, Distinguished guests,

I would like to welcome you all to this seminar on Arctic change and its global connections. The short film we saw provides a good introduction to today´s topic.

To date, the vast snow- and ice-covered Artic areas have slowed down global warming. Now, the arctic is warming and changing quickly, resulting in its reduced ability to cool down the planet.

The ongoing Arctic changes are now starting to turn up the heat. Rapidly shrinking ice cover reflects less light and the increasing open waters absorb more heat. At the same time, the melting of permafrost is releasing more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is a vicious circle.

In addition, the melting glaciers and ice sheets are contributing to global sea-level rise. The degree of global sea level rise will largely depend to what extent that arctic changes can be prevented. Ultimately, vast coastal areas and numerous human lives are at stake.

Therefore, changes in the arctic are not only problems of the North. It is already affecting countries all over the world. The Pacific islands, Netherlands, Bangladesh are already witnessing changes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year provides opportunities for mankind to change the course.

Firstly, a set of global sustainability goals will be agreed in New York, in September. The ʻPost-2015 Agendaʻ is intended to guide all nations in the coming decades to achieving sustainable development.

One thing I want to highlight, is that this is a crucial year in climate negotiations. Governments will convene in Paris, in December to agree on a fair, ambitious legally binding Climate Agreement. The agreement needs to cover the most important sectors and engage all major economies. The agreement needs to deliver in keeping the 2 Degrees Celsius target within reach.

In this context, the crucial role of the Arctic in preventing uncontrolled aggravation of climate change should be recognized and taken into account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to highlight the importance of the Arctic Council in securing a viable and livable arctic environment for current and future generations. One important recommendation of Finland’s Arctic Strategy form 2013 is to strengthen the role of the Council.

The U. S. has the honor to take the lead in the Council for the following two years, starting this April. I am happy that there are many commonalities between Finland´s Arctic Strategy and the proposed U.S. chairmanship program. From our viewpoint, it provides an excellent basis for cooperation and continuity of work with the Finnish Arctic council chairmanship, starting in 2017.

Next, I will briefly outline some elements in the Finland´s Arctic strategy of global importance.

Firstly, it is paramount to address climate change both by mitigation and adaptation measures.

Short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, need to be urgently reduced. They have a greater heating effect in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world. Finland has emphasized that black carbon and methane emitted also by many observer states affects the Arctic. The continuity of Arctic council´s current work on short-lived climate pollutants needs to be secured.

The Arctic Council has launched a project “Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic” (AACA). This will produce valuable adaptation tools for climate change to be presented for the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in 2017.

Secondly, It is essential to ensure a sufficient network of protected areas in land and sea areas.

Biodiversity is affected by climate change. The decline of arctic habitats affects not only Arctic species, but numerous migratory species from elsewhere of the world. It is essential to adequately safeguard the habitats of Arctic migratory species.

Recently, several Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) have been identified in the Arctic Ocean. These areas provide a good starting point for enhancing protection of the Arctic. New vulnerable arctic areas need to be identified, especially in high seas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We all know that sustainable development has three dimensions: economic, social and environmental. It is impossible to look at the Arctic only from the environmental standpoint. It is obvious that the changing arctic provides also opportunities for employment and welfare.

When we talk about business opportunities in the Arctic, the discussion is mostly centered around oil drilling and mining.

Still, the clean energy reservoirs in the Arctic lie largely untapped. There is an abundance of wind, geothermal, tidal energy, hydro and other forms of energy – unlike anywhere else in the world.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that investments in low-carbon technologies must triple by 2040 to limit warming to two degrees Celsius. This should more prominently also guide arctic investments to energy efficiency and renewable energies.

I am sure that we have not yet quite understood the huge potential the Arctic region provides for business and welfare. Innovations wait to be found. Developing sustainable tourism is one example.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges in the Arctic are complex and interlinked. Therefore, it is apparent that our decisions and actions need to be grounded on a solid scientific basis.

I sincerely hope that this seminar provides possibilities to change views and helps to find solutions to our common future. The Arctic is not so far away and definitely not isolated from the rest of the world.

I wish you all a very good and fruitful seminar. Thank You!