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Arctic challenges and future perspectives of Arctic cooperation

Anförande i Ottawa, Kanada

Ladies and gentlemen.

I am deeply honored to speak here today at the Carleton University.

Our two countries - Canada and Sweden - are connected in many ways. We share a similar culture and lifestyle. Our societies are based on the same set of fundamental values. And in both our countries we have a tradition of strong attachment to nature, despite an equally strong tradition of rough and forbidding weather conditions.

More than anything, however, I believe we are linked together by geography: by the fact that both Canada and Sweden are countries that stretch into the vast, remote and cold part of the world called the Arctic.

This simple fact has had a major impact on our history. It will - perhaps to an even greater extent - shape our future. And for many of us it will always be part of what it means to be Swedish and - I presume - Canadian.

Take our national anthems as an example. While you are singing of "The True North strong and free", we sing "Thou ancient, thou free, thou mountainous North".

Simply put, we are both Northeners. Canada is North American and Sweden North European. But we are united by the Polar Circle; and that is why I believe it is appropriate to speak here in Ottawa about our view in Stockholm of the Arctic opportunities and challenges, as well as of the work of the Arctic Council that Sweden is currently chairing.

Let me start with a few words on where I am coming from. Sweden is, as I said, an Arctic country.

We may not have the direct exposure to the Northern Seas as other Arctic nations. Our territory does not extend as far North as that of Canada, and our Arctic population is clearly dwarfed by that of Russia.

But the Arctic still matters a great deal to us.

Northern Sweden is sparsely populated, but the greater Arctic area of Sweden - we call it Norrland - is still home to about one million people, including the indigenous Saami.

The Arctic has long constituted a pillar of the Swedish economy. We export iron ore from gigantic mines in the land of the midnight sun, and about 35 per cent of our domestic energy comes from hydropower plants in the greater Arctic area.

And Sweden has a strong Arctic tradition, within and beyond our own borders.

Already in the early 17th century, the Swedish Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, realizing the the raw materials available in the North, is supposed to have said: "In Norrland we have an India within our borders, if only we realize we should be taking advantage of it".

A couple of centuries later, in 1875, the Swedish polar researcher Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld was the first European to reach the mouth of Yenisei River in the Russian Far North. He proclaimed that the harbor would be the nodal point, not only for transport on Russian rivers to Europe, but also for trade with China. A few years later, driven by new economic and trade opportunities, Nordenskiöld was the first to cross the Northern Sea Route in the famous Vega expedition.

As Arctic issues matter for us, the Swedish government adopted its first Arctic strategy last year. Sustainable development is the key word in this document.

The principle is very basic: The opportunities in the Arctic should be seized, but the significant challenges in the area must also be met with great determination.

The people who live in the North need jobs and economic growth just like everyone else. But this development must be balanced with protection of the sensitive Arctic nature and engagement with local societies.

The indigenous population - the Saami in Sweden - must have the possibility to maintain and develop their identity. Culture, knowledge transfer and traditional living such as reindeer herding must be upheld.

And we should bring to the common table the strengths that we have: Strong research traditions, advanced technology, not least when it comes to environmental protection, and experience in ice breaking and ice management from the Baltic Sea.

It is with the same basic attitude that we approach the broader Arctic issues that are dealt with in the Arctic Council and beyond. Opportunities are to be seized, challenges met and the respect for the indigenous populations must remain central.

The Arctic, as you know, has become hot over the past couple of years.

With hot, I do not refer directly to the effects of global warming. But rather to the growing - or almost exploding - global interest in the Arctic that has come as a result of globalization, of climate change and of the advances in modern technology.

We all know that the Arctic is changing.

The melting ice is the most dramatic thing happening in the region. The Arctic warms twice as fast as the global average. The receding ice cap - which researchers of the Arctic Council say will in 30-40 years not exist in the summer time - is a stark reminder to all of us on the dramatic effects of climate change. It is stating the obvious when I say that this is a major challenge for all of us, and one with consequences we cannot fully predict.

At the same time, the receding ice cap combined with scientific and technological progress opens opportunities previously blocked. We see the emergence of new trade routes that in the long run are likely change the global transport logistics.

Last year 34 ships transferred through the Northern Sea Route and north of Russia and the number will probably increase this summer. Perhaps not much compared to the about 18.000 ships that passed the Suez canal last year but significantly more than the 10 that passed the year before. And even if difficulties remain - and even if the North West Passage might be further in to the future - Nordenskiöld's grand vision from 130 years ago is getting closer to reality by the day.

We see exploration of resources - oil, gas and minerals - becoming possible - and even profitable - at locations where this was unthinkable only a decade or two ago.

Companies, and countries, are eager to secure control over assets that were previously unknown or considered irrelevant.

And we see the economy growing - and population increasing - in parts of the Arctic where unemployment and harsh living conditions only recently forced people to move out.

New technology, new transport opportunities and new resources becoming accessible reverse the logic of previous years, at least in Europe. In the South, several EU member states are struggling with serious economic problems. At the same time, in the extreme North, years of hardship has been replaced by solid growth.

And while the basic question that we asked ourselves when we founded the Article Council back in 1996 remains as valid as ever - How can we contribute to developing the extreme North and protect its sensitive environment - there is now an additional topic to discuss: How can the extreme North contribute to the development of the rest of the World?

The changing Arctic is both good and bad news.

Our task - as governments - is to do what we can to ensure that opportunities are seized and challenges met. To promote sustainable development, and respect for indigenous populations. And to cooperate, a lot.

Many issues can only be resolved at global level, or in specialized fora:

It is for example through an inclusive global agreement that we can effectively combat climate change through reduction of greenhouse emissions.

It is through agreement by those concerned and an orderly process within the Law of the Sea Convention that remaining territorial issues in the Arctic can be resolved.

And it is through the adoption of a Mandatory Polar Code in the International Maritime Organization that we can best promote safe Arctic shipping But we do believe that the Arctic Council can make an important contribution in key areas.

On climate change, for example, the Swedish chairmanship seeks to raise the profile of Arctic issues in the international climate negotiations, to promote action on so called short lived climate pollutants, and - as a matter of priority - reduce the black carbon emissions that are known to have a significant regional effect.

On new shipping routes, we have signed an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement - the first legally binding agreement under the auspices of the Arctic Council - and live exercises outside Greenland will follow on the table top drill that took place here in Canada.

And on exploration of Arctic resources, we made the prevention of pollution and other forms of negative environmental impact a key priority for the Council.

A working group on Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response is currently working on recommendations on best practice in oil spill prevention, and under our chairmanship a task force is negotiating a treaty on cooperation in preparedness and response to possible oil spills in the Arctic that I hope will be followed by practical joint exercises.

When it comes to exploration of Arctic resources, it is essential that the highest safety standards are respected and that local communities are properly consulted. The possibility of oil spill, similar to the one in the Mexican Gulf some years ago, would not only devastate the sensitive Arctic environment but also the future many of the people that live in the region that are dependent on the vulnerable eco-systems.

For a while we feared that the arms race that took place in the Arctic during the Cold War, would be replaced by a fierce race for resources with alarming security implications. What we want to see - and what we hope we are seeing - is instead an international race for cooperation in which the Arctic Council plays a central role.

Whether in Kiruna, Kugluktuk or Kandalaksha - in Swedish Norrland, Northern Canada or on the Russian Kola Peninsula - there are shared Arctic interests and a lot to be gained by working together.

The Arctic Council - bringing together all Arctic countries around one table, and having the permanent representatives involved at all levels - is central in this process. And as we look to the future I believe the Council can make an exceedingly important contribution; strengthen by ongoing reforms and, after decisions at the meeting of Deputy Ministers in Stockholm two days ago, supported by a standing secretariat in Tromsö that we believe will be operational by the beginning of next year.

I see four key areas for further work on the Council. First, we need to aim for more concrete decisions.

The Arctic Council must not only analyze challenges but also do something about them.

The Search and Rescue agreement and the ongoing negotiations on an oil spill preparedness and response agreement are a good example. There is also excellent practical work going on within the Arctic Contaminant Action Program to clean up toxic waste, now substantially strengthened with a large Russian and US financial contribution to the Project Support Instrument. But there is - and will be - much more to do.

Second, we must improve communication.

The practical approach and focus on scientific and expert reports have been very successful in taking the Arctic Council where it is. But the Council will become much more relevant if it tells the story of the important work going on. It must be a part of the public debate on the Arctic with fact- based information that focuses on real challenges.

A new website was presented last year. The Chairmanship is actively working with social media to reach out to the populations in the North. At the Deputy Ministers' meeting two days ago the Arctic Council's first strategic communication plan was approved. Target groups and the necessary communication tools have been identified in the strategy. Now we have to live the strategy. I do it myself by adding comments on the work of the Arctic Council on Twitter and on my blog, the latter although primarily in Swedish.

Third, we should focus on the human dimension.

The Arctic is home for over 4 million people, many of indigenous background. These societies are sometimes fragile and located in a harsh environment. The Arctic Council must, in order to be legitimate, bring positive changes for its people.

The Swedish chairmanship is focusing on how to achieve sustainable development for the people living in the region. Economic development must

be created with respect to the environment and the social situation. Private businesses are for obvious reasons key in creating economic growth in the Arctic and elsewhere. It is therefore important for governments to create a dialogue with the business and indigenous communities in order to develop the north in a sustainable and respectful manner. The Swedish chairmanship is looking into initiate such a business dialogue on the development of the Arctic.

We also believe that the Arctic Council has an important role being a platform and a link between businesses, researchers, indigenous peoples and governments. The aim must be to create top standards in respect of corporate social responsibility for the Arctic. We are focusing on water and food security, issues of great concern for indigenous groups.

Forth, we need to make the Arctic voice heard.

A way of consolidating the good cooperation and to enable the Arctic Council to work more strategically would be to state a more common policy.

There are great similarities between the strategies of the individual Arctic states. Each country expresses concern for climate change and the environment, the importance of sustainable economic development, science and focus on the people living here. But if we make our points together, it will count much more than if each of us do it on our own.

Next year, at the end of the Swedish chairmanship, we round up the first cycle of chairmanships of the Arctic Council. To mark this important and somewhat symbolic occasion the Arctic states have decided to outline - for the first time ever - a statement on a common vision for the Arctic region. I am therefore happy that the Deputy Ministers were able to decide to start negotiations on this kind of statement for adoption in May next year.

And on this statement, Sweden and Canada will have to work particularly close together. Because the moment of its planned adoption will also be the moment when Sweden hands over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Canada, and the stewardship of the Council returns to the place where it all started

in back in 1996.

Back here to Ottawa.

Thank you for your attention.

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