Arctic Science Summit Week
Adaptation to Climate Change
Address by H.E. Halldór Ásgrímsson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Chairman of the Arctic Council
24 April 2004
Nordica Hotel, Reykjavík
Allow me at the outset to welcome you all to Iceland on the occasion of the Arctic Science Summit Week.
As you may know, the Arctic Science Summit Week is now held in connection with the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The issue of climate change figures prominently on the agenda of the Arctic Council, as I am sure it does in most of the organizations here represented. The topic you have singled out for Science Day, adaptation to climate change, is one that is going to demand growing attention by scientists and policy makers alike for many years to come.
It is generally recognized that human activity of various kinds contributes to climate change. A wide range of options has been explored in the international arena for limiting green house gas emissions and adapting to the impact of climate change. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world community has called for urgent and coordinated actions on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol represents a significant step towards realizing some of the Convention’s most important goals.
In an effort to strengthen the scientific knowledge of climate change in the Arctic, the Arctic Council, in co-operation with the International Arctic Science Committee, launched the so-called Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) in the year 2000. Once completed this fall, ACIA will be the first comprehensive regionally based study on climate change to be published since the UN Convention on Climate Change came into force and constitutes one of the most important issues on the Arctic Council’s agenda. A project concerned with natural and environmental processes, as well as the social and economic impacts of climate change, the ACIA also paves the way for developing the appropriate policy responses.
The ACIA confirms that the Arctic is likely to experience some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth. In this regard, the Arctic is increasingly being looked at as an early warning of global climate change. The ACIA further confirms that changes in the polar climate will also affect the rest of the world through rising sea levels and increased warming of lower latitudes. Hence, assessment of climate change in the Arctic and its impact is relevant not only to this region, but to all the countries and economies of the world and should therefore be seen in the global as well as a regional context. At the same time, Arctic warming is shaped by phenomena that are, in some cases, poorly understood and in need of further monitoring and research.
Effects of Arctic climate change are already apparent, including shifts in the range of plants and animals. Sea ice reduction and diminishing permafrost is affecting infrastructure, such as roads, airports, buildings and pipelines. Some Arctic residents are experiencing the changes in a more severe way than others, in particular indigenous peoples, many of whom see their traditional livelihoods threatened.
Changes in climate over the coming decades will affect every aspect of our lives. We may not have a full picture of what that means in practical terms, but we cannot afford to be passive and simply wait and see what happens.
But there will also be opportunities. Many Arctic communities have demonstrated exceptional resourcefulness in adapting to the demanding circumstances of life in the Arctic and will continue doing so. The unlocking of natural assets, as well as new possibilities in terms of circumpolar maritime transport and tourism, will bring new economic potential that residents in the Arctic are well placed to exploit.
We have many options and tools at our disposal to tackle occurring changes, not least in the form of access to knowledge, continued research and technological resources. Knowledge, research and technology are a means for smaller communities in the Arctic to gain control of their often harsh external conditions.
One of Iceland’s priorities as Chair of the Arctic Council is enhanced coordination and cooperation in all areas of Arctic science. Strengthening scientific cooperation and networking between scientists and research institutions serves the purpose of stimulating research initiatives, avoiding duplication and facilitating financial support, to mention only a few examples.
Research requires cooperation at the global and regional levels. The large number of actors engaged in Arctic research makes cooperation and coordination even more important. Several valuable opportunities exist for promoting coordination efforts. One is the International Polar Year (IPY) to be held in 2007 and 2008. The IPY should lay the foundation for research and monitoring in the polar regions for decades to come, through the support of governments and the involvement of the numerous organizations and institutions involved in the area.
Science certainly matters to people and we must constantly be aware of the need for keeping the flow of scientific information and explanation of complex technical matters to the public open, accessible and undistorted.
We all want to know more about the immediate and more far reaching impact of climate change on our conditions of life. As an example, for a country like Iceland, which depends on the resources of the sea for its livelihood, it is of utmost importance to understand the likely effect of rising ocean temperatures on the distribution and size of our most precious fish stocks. To take another example, residents in far-away places like the Indian Ocean, may want to learn more about the impact climate change in the Arctic will have on the sea level or the deep-sea conveyor belt that distributes the earth´s heat. The point is that wherever we are, we need to be able to relate the observation and explanation of complex natural processes to our circumstances of life. We must promote science. But we must also do a better job of communicating scientific findings in the public domain.
Many of the Arctic Council member states have started developing their national climate programs based on scientific foundation. The time may now have come to tune more systematically together our research efforts in the area of climate change and enhance the cooperation between governments and the science community. In addition, we should take measures to facilitate governments working together on climate programs. The Arctic Council could play an important role in such efforts, assisting in cooperation and coordination between governments and the science community.
We have gained important understanding of climate change in the Arctic, but a great deal of work remains. We must improve our ability to learn from past experiences and summon our creative resources in designing the appropriate response strategies.
By way of conclusion let me express the hope that Science Day may provide a valuable opportunity for all of you to exchange views on the complex, but increasingly pressing issue of adaptation to climate change. I wish you well in your discussions and want to thank you for the contribution you are all making to what is already a most successful Arctic Science Summit Week.