Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Transport and Local Government,
and Minister for Nordic Cooperation
Arctic Circle Forum
Nordic House, Thorshavn, 8 May 2018
Former President of Iceland, Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson;
Foreign Minister Poul Michelsen and other Ministers;
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good morning – or “góðan daginn“, as we say both in the Faroe Islands and in Iceland.
At the outset, allow me to join the two previous speakers in thanking and congratulating the organizers of the Arctic Circle Forum for their hard work. We have ahead of us two exciting days, filled with important topics, relevant questions and the right people.
I also wish to mention the instrumental role that the former President of Iceland, Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has played in establishing this dialogue, not only among the Arctic states but worldwide. His resolve and dedication are truly an example to all of us. Thank you, Ólafur.
Then I would not want to end my brief introduction without recognizing the great hospitality of our friendly hosts, the Faroese government and the Faroese people, for allowing this “Arctic invasion” into the beautiful capital of Thorshavn. Thank you for hosting us – and what a great venue this is, the Nordic House.
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Arctic cooperation has indeed come a long way since the 1996 Ottawa Declaration established the Arctic Council, only 22 years ago.
The Arctic Council has perhaps had the most concrete value as a forum for environmental cooperation. Within its framework, we have initiated and implemented numerous scientific research projects, aimed at enhancing our understanding of the magnificent – but fragile – natural environment.
Through mapping and monitoring biodiversity, and by ensuring sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment, we are now better equipped to tackle pollution and mitigate the negative effects of climate change. The well-established scientific cooperation in the Arctic allows us to anticipate many of the changes in our region, and thus influence and address them.
In fact, it can be argued that Arctic cooperation was well ahead of many other international cooperation on climate change. That is why our Arctic policies and projects already firmly support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the UN Agenda 2030 and the new Sustainable Development Goals.
Secondly, the Arctic council has also proven to be an important venue for political dialogue. One only has to take a quick look at the membership of the Council to recognize how crucial it is for Arctic States to have a solid foundation for their cooperation.
The Council´s clear mandate, with its regional focus on sustainable development in the Arctic, has allowed it to continue its work, irrespective of global political tensions.
The three legally binding Agreements between the Arctic eight – on search-and-rescue; on oil pollution and response; and most recently on international Arctic scientific cooperation – testify to these accomplishments.
In the best case, the Arctic Council has even been a venue where Member States have been able to maintain dialogue and cooperation, when relations have reached a freezing point in other fora. This we must uphold, not least in today´s testing times.
The third pillar is economic cooperation. The economic element is in fact anchored in the Arctic Council´s founding document (the before-mentioned Ottawa Declaration), which affirms a commitment to the economic and social development of the roughly four million people living in the region.
From an economic point of view the Arctic is an area of opportunities with its vast natural resources, new transport routes, tourism and more. The list is long and what we predicted some 10, 20 years ago, has already become true, only at a faster pace than we anticipated.
Still, out of the three pillars of Arctic cooperation – the environmental, political and economic – it can be argued that the largest room for improvement is in the economic domain.
This is why Iceland and other Arctic Council Member States see value in strengthening the links between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council, and we will certainly continue to focus on economic development during Iceland´s upcoming chairmanship in the Arctic Council.
Regional economic development will also be one of the focal points during Iceland´s Chairmanship in the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019, where we are, amongst others, preparing a Nordic project on “Harbors as innovation hubs”, building, in fact, on policy initiatives from NORA here in Thorshavn.
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This leads me to today´s topic “Arctic Hubs – Building Dynamic Economies and Sustainable Communities in the North”, which I gladly admit is close to my heart as a Minister responsible for infrastructure, communication and municipalities.
The fact is, that economic development does not happen top-down – it occurs bottom-up, as well as in-between. Governments can establish policies and guidelines, initiate projects and investments, but the actual work originates with the people themselves.
Economic development happens with companies, big and small. From small-boat owners to high-tech start-ups; in townships, harbors, cities and municipalities; on a local and regional level. All these activities, on different levels, are they building blocks of a dynamic economy.
Much can be said about the numerous economic opportunities in the Arctic region, and many of them will be discussed today and tomorrow. I will therefore not describe them in any detail but instead make the following point on the concept of “hubs”.
One element of an economic hub entails that it is connected with other hubs. It is a center for service, production and transport, but also for education, research and innovation, that are instrumental for businesses to thrive.
Here, I believe we in the Arctic can and must cooperate more closely. We must continue to address the infrastructure deficiencies, and establish transport linkages, encourage trade and investments, and perhaps most importantly connect throught the exchange ideas and best practices.
Connections are not only shipping and flight routes, and the associated infrastructure. They also include fiber cables and the various wireless networks needed for 5G and other future communication.
With other words: Connections can be ensured both by a 500 tonnes airplane and a 50 gram mobile phone. I leave it to you to debate in the coffee break which of these are more effective!
My point is that Arctic hubs need both. They need classic infrastructure; harbors, air strips, accommodation and services, and they need best possible internet connectivity. That kind of connectivity puts the Arctic region, not least the remote and more isolated areas, on an equal footing with everyone else.
Finally, the economy in the Arctic must always respect the environment. That is rule number one and sustainability is key. And that is possible, because economic development and environmental protection are no opposites. There is no contradiction in supporting economic development and safeguarding nature.
My colleague, the Foreign Minister of Iceland, addressed this issue at last year´s Arctic Circle in Reykjavik, and in fact added the local and social dimension, when he stated that “Economic activities must not only be sustainable and considerate to the vulnerable ecosystem, they should also benefit the local populations, with improved infrastructure, health care, school system, communications and other aspects of modern society.”
This should be our our goal. And when I say “we” I mean “you”. Governments, municipalities, businesses, scientists and researcher – all of us.
With that, I wish you two fruitful days of discussion and deliberations, and I thank your for your attention.