Climate resilience in the Arctic and the High North; integrating climate action in policy making
Closing remarks of Ambassador Jörundur Valtýsson, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the UN
9 December 2019, Permanent Mission of Finland
Friends of the Arctic,
First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues at the Mission of Finland for organising today’s event in co-operation with the Mission of Norway and my mission. We have had excellent discussions and an opportunity to gain better insights into what we are doing, or need to be doing, to integrate climate action into policy making.
The topic of today’s event highlights the biggest challenge of the Arctic and, in the Arctic, we sometimes say that we are witnessing the effects of climate change from a front seat row. And as we know, front seat rows usually come at a high price.
Recently, it attracted international attention when we, in Iceland, bid farewell to one of our glaciers called Ok. It had been shrinking for decades and now it is gone. Others will follow and, unlike in Las Vegas, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It is all interlinked - Melting glaciers and ice caps in the North can result in higher sea levels in the South.
Climate change does not respect boundaries or mandates of different regional and international organisations. Therefore, it is important for the international community to identify ways to co-operate and create synergies in regional co-operation and international fora.
At the same time, we need to see more science-based decision-making across the multilateral system and I would briefly like to tell you what Iceland is doing for our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which we took over in May this year. We were fortunate to receive the Chairmanship gavel from Finland, which have shown foresight and leadership when it comes to Arctic affairs.
The slogan of our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council "Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic" frames our responsibility for the region. We are focusing on increased cooperation between different actors, including states, indigenous groups, private companies, academia and NGOs. Under the overarching theme of sustainable development Iceland emphasizes the importance of looking equally into all its three aspects:
- First, the environment, where we are looking specifically at green energy solutions and healthy oceans,
- Second, the economy, with an emphasis on the Blue BioEconomy,
- And, third the people and societal aspects, such as building resilience, engaging the Arctic youth and promoting gender equality, access to health and economic opportunities.
This work, and close to some 100 ongoing projects in the various working groups of the Arctic Council, are based on science and contribute to the sustainability of this volatile region – a region that is confronting a pace of change not experienced in modern times. Therefore, both on the opportunities and challenges side of the coin, science-based and sustainable solutions are key to the future and prosperity of the region.
Needless to say, climate actions need to begin at home. Domestically, Iceland has agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, in cooperation with other European countries, by 40% by 2030 and the Government aims for a carbon neutrality by 2040. We are moving in the right direction and are committed to continue our regional and international work in this field – in the Arctic Council, but also in Nordic co-operation which Iceland has also chaired in 2019, and at the United Nations where climate action is amongst priority policy fields for Iceland.
The task is, indeed, daunting. Much more needs to be done and more resources allocated, but if we listen to science and strive for sustainability in all its three pillars in our policy making, we can accomplish what we have set out to do.
To conclude, I would like to thank the members of the panel for offering useful insights into the work taking place to strengthen climate resilience in the Arctic. It is valuable to have had a chance to discuss these issues with representatives from UNEP and the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, and three MPs from Finland, Iceland and Norway. Thank you for taking the time to join us here today. Lastly, thank you Ambassador Salovaara, Jukka, and your team for hosting us here today, and for your hospitality.