Together for a sustainable Arctic:
Towards Iceland’s 2019 – 2021 Arctic Council Chairmanship
Address by the Foreign Minister of Iceland, Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Former President of Iceland, Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
Congratulations on a yet another successful Arctic Circle Assembly and let me pay a particular tribute to Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and his collaborators for succeeding, once again, in attracting some 2.000 participants from all over the world to Reykjavík on this occasion, and for his valuable contribution in raising awareness of the Arctic region and for strengthening global and regional cooperation through this Assembly. Mr. Grímsson, dear Ólafur, your vision for the Arctic is truly an inspiration to us all.
In a relatively short period of time, the Arctic has transformed from a region primarily characterized by isolation, cold and darkness, into a region buzzing with innovation and opportunities. The Arctic has become a focus point for the international community, attracting attention from all over the world from scientists and researchers, businesses and industries, international agencies and non-governmental organizations alike.
All are eagerly looking north to see what the future might bring for the Arctic as development and environmental changes in the region will affect not only the Arctic populations but a much bigger community worldwide. We, Icelanders, like to believe that we enjoy a special position in the Arctic - being a Member State of the Arctic Council and situated entirely within the boundaries of the region. Arctic affairs touch upon almost all aspects of Icelandic society and the increased interest and activity in the Arctic brings about both opportunities and challenges when it comes to reconciling the environment and modern ways of life.
Arctic affairs are a top priority in Iceland's foreign policy. My government particularly emphasizes matters relating to the ocean, energy, social and economic development and, last but not least, the climate. These policy priority areas of the Icelandic government will find resonance in the priorities that are currently being outlined for the coming Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
The Arctic warms at more than twice the global rate and Arctic warming trends are expected to continue towards mid-century. Scientists tell us that trends after 2050 will depend on today’s mitigation actions. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spells out very clearly that there is no way to mitigate climate change without taking drastic actions. Addressing climate and environmental issues is, therefore, of utmost importance for Governments of the Arctic States.
My Government is strongly committed to the Paris Agreement and our goal is even more ambitious than envisaged in the Agreement. Last month, we announced a new Climate Strategy. With this strategy we intend to boost our efforts in cutting net emissions and in land-use change and forestry. The new measures are intended to help Iceland meet its Paris Agreement targets for 2030 and to reach the government‘s ambitious aim to make Iceland carbon neutral before 2040.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Iceland is taking on responsibilities in the international fora. Iceland recently took a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time and, next summer, Iceland will be taking over an Executive Director’s position on the board of the World Bank Group. Furthermore, in January, Iceland will assume the Chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic-Baltic cooperation and the cooperation of Foreign Ministers of the five Nordic countries. Last but not least, Iceland will be taking over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next spring.
International efforts carried out in these fora, be it human rights, including indigenous rights, financing for development, environmental protection, innovation and social well-being - to mention only a few - have a direct relevance for the Arctic agenda. In line with Iceland’s Arctic policy, we will actively seek opportunities to raise the profile of the Arctic region during our respective chairmanships.
Finland currently holds Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and next spring it will be Iceland’s turn to lead the Council’s work for two years, followed by Russia in 2021. Chairing the Arctic Council brings a unique and much welcomed opportunity for us to lead the collaboration between the Member States, the Permanent Participants and the Observers within the Council - and we very much look forward to doing that.
In the spirit of the Ottawa declaration that founded the Arctic Council twenty-two years ago, sustainable development will be the guiding light in our Chairmanship program. Sustainable development can be compared to a three leaved clover because social, environmental and economic sustainability must go together. That is why we must strive for economic prosperity and social well-being in a strong and healthy Arctic environment.
Most inhabitants in the Arctic region live in close proximity to nature and must deal with challenging environmental conditions. This is our reality here in Iceland. We rely extensively on the nature of our country for our livelihood, be it fishing, tourism, energy production or agriculture. With sustainable development as our guiding principle we have built a prosperous society. Through the rich and diverse cultures that the circumpolar Arctic region harbors, together, we can build thriving, sustainable societies for all, based on knowledge sharing, innovation and hard work. It is not least for this reason that we are interested in establishing and formalizing cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council.
We are still working on our draft chairmanship plan. It will be presented at the upcoming SAO meeting in Rovaniemi at the beginning of next month and further developed with our Arctic Council partners over the next months. It would, therefore, be premature to introduce individual projects here today but I can share with you our broader points of departure.
As you know, the Arctic region consists mainly of the Arctic Ocean and it should not come as a surprise to anyone – given Iceland’s geographic location - that the oceans will figure amongst the priorities that we have identified for our Chairmanship program. Furthermore, we intend to put focus on climate issues and green solutions in the energy sector. In addition, the well-being of Arctic inhabitants and viable Arctic communities will be amongst Iceland’s Arctic emphasis.
Ladies and gentlemen.
We are dependent on a close and peaceful cooperation that stretches across borders and boundaries. The Arctic region is, in fact, governed in a cooperative manner - not least on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Peaceful cooperation in the Arctic should continue to be at the forefront for us as we better realize the ever-growing changes in the region.
The Arctic Council has been an important venue for political dialogue and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic region. 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. It is not least for this reason that the Arctic Council has such an important role to play and I attach great emphasis to continued good cooperation in the Council.
A fundamental point in Iceland’s Arctic policy is to support, and strengthen, the Arctic Council. We want to cooperate with other relevant states, and nations, to strengthen the Council, and give it a more assertive role. Enhanced cooperation with the Council’s Observers is one way of contributing to this goal. It is of utmost importance for both prosperity and security in the Arctic region to work with partners outside the region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There are challenging and interesting tasks ahead of us and let me assure you that I am optimistic for the future of the Arctic region. If I were to choose only a few words that carry the most significance for the region’s well-being in the future, it would be peace and stability on the one hand, and sustainable development on the other.
In my view, we have not only the interest but also the tools and the means to continue to work together for a sustainable and prosperous Arctic region. Thank you, and see you next year for the seventh Arctic Circle Assembly.