Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests.
It is a pleasure to speak to you today on an issue close to my heart: the Arctic.
The Arctic constitutes an impressive part of the Kingdom of Denmark’s geography, and I have had the great opportunity to visit Greenland and the Faroe Islands on many occasions. Each time I am amazed by the fact that the indigenous population of especially Greenland have been living there for more than 5000 years. During this period they have on and off experienced vast changes in their environment. To survive they have had to adapt to changes in Nature’s cycles, sometimes succumbing to them. For generations it has been handed down from old to young, that you cannot fight nature’s settings. It’s an obvious fact of life in the Arctic.
One of my greatest experiences in Greenland took place at the turn of the millennium, when I took part in an expedition celebrating 50 years of the Sirius Sledge Patrol. This is a Danish Navy Special Forces unit – the world’s only military dogsled patrol - which conducts long-range reconnaissance patrolling protecting the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark in the Arctic wilderness of Northern and Eastern Greenland.
The 2800 kilometre long expedition with temperatures down to minus 47 degrees lasted four months.
The meeting with the hunters, who accompanied the expedition on the way from Qaanaaq, left a lasting impression on me. Survival in such an unforgiving environment is only possible if you accept nature’s premises, if you know how to asses and read the snow, the cloud formation and the instinctive behaviour of the dogs. Being surrounded only by ice and snow, the hunters’ each day encounter harsh challenges, and at times life threatening situations.
However, with their positive energy, humor and warmth you feel at ease and appreciate the surrounding nature - Gruelling and unforgiving on one day, beautiful and mesmerising on the next. But the Arctic is also a finely calibrated and vulnerable environment. The region is seeing the effects of climate change. During the last 40 years the Arctic has warmed up more than any other region on the planet.
It is a paradox that the changes we see in the Arctic originate mainly from outside the region. Emissions and pollutants all reach the Arctic from elsewhere on the planet.
However, the Arctic is not alone in living the consequences of these changes. New and unforeseen weather patterns, floods, increase in sea level to name a few, is changing the world we live in, be it Europe, America or Asia. In other words, it is not only a common responsibility but also our common and global interest to address this issue.
Although the Arctic may seem far away to many of us, I prefer to think of it as binding us together. Look at the globe from the top. Asia, Europe and North America are all tied together on top of the world in the Arctic.
This makes it even more important to stress that the tale of the Arctic is not just one of challenges to be overcome or disasters to be averted. It is also about the new opportunities that follow in the wake of change. Melting sea ice will allow for shorter shipping routes, for cargo ships and cruise ships alike. It will pave the way for economic development, new industries and tourism on a scale we did not think possible barely a generation ago.
It will provide better access to natural resources in the ground and in the sea. As promising as this sound, there are also pitfalls associated with this future scenario. We must pursue national interests with a global perspective and work for the best common solutions.
We have a unique opportunity to act together in the Arctic. Since the challenges are so vast, we all have an interest in tackling them together by pooling our collective knowledge and resources. This is not only a nice to do – it is a must do.
For example, as Arctic coastal states we will be able to provide a much more comprehensive response to search and rescue and oil spill clean-up if we act and work together. Supporting each other, listening to each other is the only way.
Opportunities and challenges of this kind come with special responsibilities. We must endeavour to support this region and help it through its transformation while also involving those who live in the Arctic.
We must not forget those who are the most affected by the changes in the Arctic – the people who live there. The Arctic is the home of some 9 million people, many of whom are increasingly challenged in their traditional and local way of living affecting their right to development. People have lived with and off nature for centuries, but some of the changes we are seeing are changing the basic conditions of their livelihoods.
Bringing the Arctic states together in the Arctic Council is an important step. This forum is unique in that the indigenous peoples of the Arctic sit at the table and have their voices heard.
And not only by the Arctic States, but also by the 32 different observer states and organizations, who have involved themselves and are showing their interest and commitment to research and sustainable development of this region.
Everyone present here offers a perspective on this unique region, and it is in everyone’s interest and common responsibility that we find those solutions together in peaceful cooperation. Like the hunters in Greenland, let’s assess what we have in front of us, and with that in mind find a path forward that will bring us all safely over the ice.
Thank you very much.