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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Opening remarks at the International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic

International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and the sub-Arctic Region. 

March 2, 2021.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you here today to this international symposium on plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region, hosted by the Government of Iceland and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

I am also pleased to announce on this occasion that Iceland has signed a statement in support of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which, is one of the participants in this symposium. Iceland is pleased to join this broad spectrum of stakeholders and wishes the GGGI well in its important work.

This symposium has been a long time coming, originally planned early last year as a joint initiative of Iceland’s presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers 2019 and our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council 2019-2021. Our original plans were of course affected by the pandemic which brought not only this timely and important event to a halt but the whole world. It is also the reason why we are not able to meet in person here today, but the adaptability of the Arctic people has been proven time and time again. Therefore, we have managed with great team effort to mould the symposium to an online format.

It is a well-known fact that plastic litter can be found literally everywhere in our environment with most of it then ending up in the ocean. It is now thought that over 150 million tons of plastic waste are floating around the world’s oceans, and if nothing changes it is estimated that around eight million tons of plastic waste will enter the ocean every year. Thankfully, there is already a broad and fast-growing international consensus on taking action, we cannot continue down this road any longer. The big question is what can be done and how can we best manage this challenge together? I anticipate that the scientists and knowledge holders speaking here at the symposium will provide some clues to solutions to these important questions.

As many of you already know, Iceland has chaired the Arctic Council for almost two years and will continue to do so until May, when we hand the chairmanship gavel over to Russia. Our chairmanship program, Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic, seeks to balance the three pillars of sustainability: society, environment and economy. Through the Arctic Council, the Permanent Participants and the working groups; Arctic scientific research and cooperation is blossoming, benefiting our Arctic communities, and helping them thrive in a sustainable way. During our chairmanship we have highlighted plastic pollution in the Arctic Marine Environment. We see it as our responsibility and duty, together with the other Arctic states, to safeguard the Arctic Ocean. The majority of Arctic communities owe their livelihoods to large extent to ocean-based activities; for many of us the sea is our breadbasket. Plastic litter has no place in our environment. The Arctic Council working groups have contributed significantly to scientific knowledge and understanding of the Arctic Marine Environment with projects such as monitoring plastics in the ocean, the impact of plastics on seabirds and managing solid waste along with developing a regional action plan on marine litter and microplastics. This work is truly valuable to Arctic communities. If we know the nature and extent of the problem, then hopefully it will bring us closer to developing appropriate responses.

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Just let that sink in for a minute.  However, just as with any other challenge, if we get our priorities right, we come closer to resolving it. We need to give support to our excellent scientists in our quest for solutions. Scientific knowledge is one of the key factors in finding the right pathway towards preventing plastic waste from entering the Arctic Marine Environment in the near future. I am confident that this important conference will contribute to the ongoing and future work of the Arctic Council in this regard.

I hope you will enjoy a fruitful and enlightening discussion here over the next few days and that the symposium will bring us a step or two closer to a solution to the important issue of eliminating plastics from the oceans.

Thank you.

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