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Speeches, 9/11/2014

Minister Tuomioja's speech at the EUAIC Final seminar:

"The Arctic from the Perspective of the North"

Dr. Erkki Tuomioja

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland

At the EUAIC Final Seminar, Brussels

11 September 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the autumn 2012, the annual Arctic summer ice melt hit a record low and made the big news. It was then predicted that the Arctic sea ice would vanish in the nearest future. The collapse has not yet materialised, but the sea ice extent has retreated permanently.

Climate change has affected not only the Arctic Ocean, but other regions as well in harsh and dramatic ways. The most marked change is the spread of the coniferous forest zone further north. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the long term, about 50 per cent of the current tundra may become forested. At the same time, more carbon dioxide and methane are released from the ground than ever before. The global warming threatens particularly species typical of Arctic conditions. The animal species of tundra and cold deserts are losing their breeding and feeding habitats due to the changes in vegetation.

If we want to understand the Arctic regions and the change taking place there, we need to look at it from as broad perspective as possible. We must take into account the natural resources traffic routes and economic activity, on the one hand, and the environment and the people on the other. Both national and international actions must be based on a comprehensive concept of the situation in the Arctic and of the causes and consequences that have led to it.

Finland’s Arctic Strategy focuses on the evaluation of the applicability of international legislation and guidelines, on more efficient implementation, and on development of environmental impact assessments in the Arctic. We see the establishment of a wide network of conservation areas in the Arctic region as an important step in protecting the Arctic while giving guidance to the economic operations at the same time. Combating oil spills in the Arctic is a challenging and complicated task, but absolutely necessary. The Agreement mentioned before goes to the right direction, but is not sufficient. An action plan on Oil Pollution Prevention is under consideration in the Arctic Council. In my view, to be effective, this should lead to a binding agreement.

The ongoing review on the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution considers the preparation of emission limits for Short-lived Climate Forcers, including black carbon and methane. This coincides with the work underway at the Arctic Council to prepare to the next ministerial meeting in April 2015 an instrument to enhance the reduction measures in the Arctic countries of black carbon and methane emissions.

Arctic cooperation is characterised by mutual interdependency, openness and trust. The possibility of a military conflict has therefore been an unlikely scenario. The crisis in Ukraine, however, has inevitably also led to questions on how it could affect Arctic cooperation. It will not be in anyone's interest to let the crisis bring new obstacles for the kind of pragmatic cooperation on environmental, social and economic issues which has benefited all the member states and the people living on the Arctic.

The Arctic Economic Council, an independent body created by the Arctic Council, was established last week in Iqaluit, Canada. The purpose of the AEC is to facilitate Arctic business-to-business activities and responsible economic development, as well as sharing best practices, technological solutions, standards and other information. Based on the Finnish input, the AEC agreed to focus on four themes central to responsible and sustainable Arctic economic development: encourage market access and investments; public-private partnerships for infrastructure investments; create stable and predictable regulatory frameworks; and intensify relations between industry and academia. The indigenous peoples' views are incorporated in the work of the AEC, which is chaired by Canada until April next year, Finland being the first vice-chair.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Union has taken an increasingly active role in Arctic issues. The Union set out its Arctic policy for the first time in its Artic Communication in 2008. After that the EU's Arctic policy has made significant progress, based on communications published in 2008 and 2012. The two Arctic Communications emphasise the global importance of the region, especially in questions related to climate change and the environment. The EU's objective is to develop cooperation in the Arctic region. It therefore seeks to engage in dialogue with all Arctic actors. In accordance with the communication, the EU seeks to enhance dialogue with the Member States of the Arctic Council and indigenous peoples' organisations and to prove its commitment to the Arctic cooperation.

For Finland it is of outmost importance to promote the development of the EU's Arctic policy and to support EU's engagement in the Artic. In our opinion, the new established Commission should start to prepare the next Arctic communication soon. Finland is ready to actively contribute to the content of the communication. We have analysed the key themes through which different administrative sectors could influence the EU's Arctic policy.

The following are examples of aspects that can be identified:

- Europe needs strong Arctic businesses and know-how. Many European companies are pioneers in, for example, the development of Arctic maritime technology, research, environmental protection and operative activities. The expansion of business activities is supported by developing the maritime cluster specialising in cold climate conditions.

- The expansion of business activities in the Arctic regions requires the adoption of new, safe and secure and environmentally friendly ways of operation based on strong collaboration among the Arctic States.

- Investments in infrastructure will become increasingly important. Europe must get prepared for new transport connections (e.g. the North-East and the North-West Passages). Planning and financing at regional and EU-levels must be harmonised.

-The EU's Maritime Security Strategy and its Action Plan will considerably strengthen joint activities in the Arctic sea areas.

- It is important to establish R&D networks between companies, especially through the Horizon 2020 programme. The maritime industry sector in a broad sense plays a key part in this, too.

-The European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) and Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) programmes are under preparation and scheduled to be submitted to the Commission towards the end of the year.  In Arctic cooperation the most important programme for us is Kolarctic in the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Russian Federation, which provides funding for cooperation in business activities, environmental protection, improved accessibility and border-crossing activities.

-The EU's cooperation programmes concerning the north and its internal and external borders must be further developed for cooperation projects in the Arctic and Barents regions. These programmes concern significant cooperation areas, such as research and innovations, entrepreneurship, joint labour market, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as natural and cultural heritage. In addition, one of the objectives of the Baltic Sea Region Programme is to support the attractiveness and accessibility of areas that are remote and subject to demographic changes. That can also support the development of transport connections in the Barents region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Arctic issues in the European Union are cross-cutting and involve several sectors of operation, which is why a uniform view and communication about it is challenging, sometimes even difficult. To improve external and internal Arctic information, the Commission raised the idea of a European Arctic information centre as long ago as in 2008. Next year in 2009, the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Finland launched an initiative to set up a European Union Arctic Information Centre in Rovaniemi. The initiative proposed a network-model, involving research and communications institutions.  The Arctic Centre has plenty of experience of such cooperation already now.

Finland and the European Union pursue similar Arctic policies. Finland was strongly in favour when the European Union applied for an observer status in the Arctic Council.  In Kiruna the application of the EU for observer status was received affirmatively, but the final decision on the implementation was deferred until the issue of the trade of seal products was solved between the EU and Canada. I have followed with great interest the Canada-EU negotiations in which they have been trying to unbundle the dilemma and as far as I have understood, it seems that a consensus is within reach. This is indeed good news, since it enables the Arctic Council to fully benefit of the contributions the EU can make for the Arctic cooperation.

Thank you.

Updated 9/11/2014

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