We are geographically, of course, in the Arctic. We are economically, very much in the Arctic – because this region depends heavily on the economic opportunities related to fishing, aquaculture, bio-prospecting, oil and gas, and other mineral resources.
There are enormous opportunities in the Arctic region – all around the Arctic region. There are increasing opportunities due to the fact that more areas are becoming accessible for dynamic activity.
This also means that we have a rising number of challenges. We have to handle the situation in a way that allows us to exploit the opportunities in the best way, while we – at the same time – also handle the challenges.
Climate change is bad news, and any conference about the Artic should always begin by remembering that we are being challenged by the effects of climate change, the fact that the ice is retreating – yet another sign of global warming.
The causes of climate change are not to be found in the Arctic, but this is the area where climate change is most obvious, and can be analysed, understood and researched. Hence a lot of important information can be generated from the Arctic for general policies at a global level on a prudent approach in the years to come.
At the same time, as I mentioned, this also opens up new opportunities for growth and value creation. And as a responsible coastal state, it is important for us to balance the opportunities and challenges in a safe and environmentally sound way.
The Arctic used to be an area of geopolitical confrontation, but classical security policy has succeeded in many ways. And over the last years we have seen that all Arctic states have explicitly declared that we are bound by international rules of play and by the provisions of the Law of the Sea, which of course applies to any sea area.
And as soon as we started to think about the Arctic, what it actually is – an ocean – we also realised that the rules of the game apply, that every single Arctic state respects and behaves according to these rules, including the one Arctic state, the US, that has not yet ratified the Law of the Sea, but has still declared that it considers itself to be bound by it.
This means that we have the great fortune of living in a part of the world that could have been an area of conflict – that could have been an area of tension, geopolitical confrontation, confrontation over resources, etc., but we have been able to establish a regime that we all respect.
Together with our Russian neighbours, we have been able to settle the dispute that we had over maritime delimitation for 40 years, first with the Soviet Union, and then with Russia. We reached agreement in 2010, and this has been in force since 2011. It provides clarity, predictability and room for even closer cooperation. The most recent breakthrough was the agreement between Denmark and Canada.
What we are seeing is that fewer and fewer areas are disputed, and everyone agrees on how the remaining legal disagreements are to be resolved – by applying a legal framework that we agree about. So that is really good news, for there are many parts of the world where we see a different picture.
It has also been important to strengthen the institutional framework. Hence, today is a very important day; later today I will sign the host country agreement for the Secretariat of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council was set up in 1996. It is the only circumpolar intergovernmental body where all the eight Arctic states are members, and there also are several observers.
This organisation has become increasingly important, increasingly relevant. It has begun to take form and to position itself, as reflected in the recent agreement on search and rescue responsibility, and we are now working on an oil spill agreement. It also provides a forum where we can discuss issues that are important. For instance, with regard to the IMO – the International Maritime Organization – many decisions should be made there, but the Arctic countries can also discuss them in the Arctic Council.
One of the big discussions going on now is whether to enlarge the number of observers. We have agreed on certain criteria for applicants. I want to say that it is good news that many countries want to join the Arctic Council as observers.
We welcome such interest and we hope that the decisions taken at the ministerial meeting in Sweden this May will be positive. This is an ongoing discussion. We are happy that more people want to join our club, because this means that they are not starting another club, and that gives us some influence on what topics are discussed in relation to the Arctic.
To conclude, I would like to say that my approach now as a Foreign Minister is to celebrate what we have achieved, and then to start “phase two”, the second stage of the High North strategy. This means really starting to grasp all the opportunities, including the exploitation of oil and gas resources, the increasing interest in other mineral resources, the increasing needs for developing skills and expertise, innovation and technology in order to realise these major opportunities.
We must strengthen the institutions we need to make sure that all this can be done in a responsible way. And we must show due respect for the people here and for traditional ways of living in the north. Cooperation should enable us to do both.
Hence I look forward to this important and interesting conference, Arctic Frontiers, here at this very solid and important university.