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The Trans-Arctic Agenda: Challenges of Development, Security, Cooperation

Anförande i Reykjavik, Island

Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am honoured to be here in Reykjavik and grateful for the opportunity to say a few words at this conference. The Artic has - as you know - become hot.

By hot, I do not only refer to the effects of global warming.

But also to the growing - or almost exploding - interest in the Artic that has come as a result of globalisation, climate change and advances in modern technology.

There are two distinct parts to the story about the Artic of today. One of them is promising, the other unfortunately rather scary. On the promising side, there are new opportunities.

We observe increased maritime traffic, with 46 ships having traversed the Northern Sea Route and north of Russia last year.

We have resources such as oil, gas and minerals becoming available at locations unthinkable only a decade or two ago.

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

Like no other country, Iceland is surrounded by this new Artic world.

This island will be in a key position to grasp the new opportunities and I welcome the ambition to make it an Arctic shipping and air transport hub.

Personally, I hope that such a future hub will also be an EU hub, as Icelandic membership of the European Union would strengthen both the voice of Iceland and that of the European Union on Arctic matters.

At the same time, we are all concerned about the other part of the today's Artic story: that of the alarming effects of climate change.

The polar area is twice as much affected than other regions.

The receding ice cap - which some researchers say might hardly exist in the summer time within a few decades - is a reminder to all of us of the dimensions to the changes now underway.

In addition, melting permafrost could release quantities of methane, exceeding all human pollution of today.

An ice-free Arctic would lose its function as the refrigerator of the planet, leading to further climate disturbances as a result.

Development and life in other parts of the world would undoubtedly be affected. This is dramatic, indeed.

These two parts - the promising and the challenging - are part of the same story: the story of a rapidly changing Artic.

About an Arctic that is no longer marked by the cold tensions of the Cold War, but is instead a new strategic area for cooperation and development opening up.

Where international cooperation is not frozen, but instead creatively breaking new ice. Sweden is currently the chair of the Artic Council.

The Council - bringing together all Arctic states around one table, and having the representatives of the indigenous peoples as permanent participants - is a unique enterprise that has become the centrepiece of multilateral cooperation in the region.

Many issues can only be resolved at global level, or in the specialised fora.

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

It is through agreement between those concerned and an orderly process within the Law of the Sea Convention that the remaining issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction 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 there are still many areas in which the Arctic Council can and should play a key role.

The Arctic Council must, in order to be legitimate, bring positive changes also for the four million inhabitants of the extreme North.

And it must help the entire region, with perhaps ten million inhabitants, to grasp opportunities and address challenges in a multitude of other areas.

Together with our partners, we are now preparing for the ministerial meeting in Kiruna in May where the Swedish chairmanship of the Council will come to an end.

It will also mark the end of six years of Nordic chairmanships and the handover to four years of North American chairmanships - first Canada, and then the United States.

Our record for these years is a record of moving forward on a number of issues.

We have established a Standing Arctic Council Secretariat in Tromsö, and we hope this will contribute to strengthening the cooperation.

We have a binding agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, ready for signature by the ministers.

And we have the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment and the Arctic Ocean Acidification reports and policy recommendations that are also progressing according to the schedules that we established.

In addition - during the Swedish chairmanship, we initiated work in a number of other areas:

We started a new dialogue with business. We improved our external communications. And we stepped up our work on reducing black carbon emissions.

All of this will - I am certain - be carried forward by the incoming Canadian chairmanship.

Some time ago, 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 potentially alarming security implications.

But what we now see - and what we hope to continue to see - is instead an international race for cooperation in which the Arctic Council plays a central role.

What we are doing is trying to establish the rules of the game, the structures of cooperation and the frameworks for moving forward together well before we see the actual changes in the Arctic that are now being forecast.

It's diplomacy that's ahead of the challenges - much too often in our modern world we see examples of it being the other way around.

At the Kiruna ministerial meeting, we will also round up the first cycle of chairmanships of the Artic Council - it all started in Ottawa with the chairmanship of Canada in 1996.

And to mark this occasion, the Arctic states have decided to outline - for the first time - a statement on a common vision for the Arctic region.

Something on which all of us can agree and something that can help guide us - jointly - towards the future.

Because as peoples of the North, we know one simple truth:

In this somewhat colder part of the world, we can only survive by sticking together.

Thank you.

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