Iceland’s priorities in the Arctic Council
Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Foreign Minister of Finland Mr. Timo Soini, ladies and gentlemen.
It gives me great pleasure to address this gathering here in the beautiful surroundings of Eyjafjörður and Akureyri – the Arctic Capital of Iceland.
The Arctic is the topic of today’s discussions and I would like to share with you some thoughts and considerations as we prepare for Iceland’s upcoming Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, starting in May this year.
First, allow me, Mayor of Akureyri, Ásthildur Sturludóttir, to acknowledge the great history of Akureyri, not least the part of it that connects with two of Iceland’s main themes for our upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council - the ocean on the one hand, and sustainable economic development on the other.
Akureyri has long been an important port with its ice-free harbour playing a significant role in our nation’s history. Ever since the hard-working people of Akureyri mastered the art of salting herring and cod in the 19th century, the town has been an important fishing centre. Here, some of Iceland’s major fishing companies have established themselves while providing important work and innovation opportunities for the community at large.
The University of Akureyri has also grown and matured considerably since it was established in 1987 and made intelligent use of the proximity to the ocean and the fishing industry by offering a unique study program in fisheries-sciences. Here, students can acquire knowledge of the marine ecology, fishing methods and fish processing technologies, as well as marketing of fisheries products in cooperation with the business community.
This link between ocean sciences, fisheries and the business community provide a good example of how a coastal community like Akureyri can make use of its strengths to enhance knowledge of its natural environment, support its local industries and further develop economic opportunities in a sustainable manner for the benefit of future generations.
It is, amongst other things, stories like this that we want to highlight in relation to Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Here, we have experience to share that can be of use to other coastal communities in the Arctic.
Akureyri also plays an important part in the day-by-day work of the Arctic Council, with secretariats of two working groups situated in town, PAME and CAFF. In this way, Akureyri is often at the forefront of our Arctic cooperation and will certainly have a role to play in Iceland’s upcoming Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Here, in Akureyri, many important northern government organizations have also been established, including the Stefansson Arctic Institute, the Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network, the Polar Law Institute and the Arctic Portal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Charing the Arctic Council brings a unique and much welcomed opportunity for us and we very much look forward to take on the Chairmanship in May.
In the spirit of the Ottawa declaration that founded the Arctic Council twenty-two years ago, sustainable development is the golden thread in our Chairmanship program because social, environmental and economic sustainability must go together.
Most inhabitants in the Arctic region live in close proximity to nature and must deal with challenging environmental conditions. This is our reality in Iceland. We rely extensively on our natural environment for our livelihood, be it fishing, tourism, energy production or agriculture. With sustainable development as our guiding principle we have managed to build a prosperous society. Through the rich and diverse cultures that the circumpolar Arctic region harbours, we, together, can build thriving, sustainable societies for all, based on knowledge sharing, innovation and hard work.
We have presented a draft plan for Iceland’s upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council. We will be further developing the plan with our Arctic Council partners over the next few months, but I can share with you our broader points of departure.
Firstly, the oceans will figure at the top of our agenda. The largest part of the Arctic region is covered by ocean, and the welfare of a large part of the population in the Arctic is based on the utilization of marine resources. The Arctic Council has carried out many important ocean related projects and Iceland will focus on continuation and further development of projects in that field. Iceland is particularly interested in strengthening Arctic Council cooperation on mitigating plastic pollution of the oceans and is planning an international scientific conference on the topic in Reykjavík next year.
Iceland is blessed with rich fishing grounds off its shores and everybody agrees that management of our fisheries resources must always be fully based on the best scientific advice. In the past twenty years, we have seen incredible increase in the percentage of utilization of catches, with some companies leaving virtually no biomass waste from their production.
This experience has given Iceland inspiration to propose to the Arctic Council a project on the Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic Region. We believe that by applying the sustainable methodology of the Blue Bioeconomy it is possible to increase significantly the quality and the market value of the products of the fishing industry in many of the arctic communities.
The second priority area in our chairmanship program is Climate and Green Energy Solutions. We will be continuing the emphasis on meteorological cooperation that Finland initiated, and I would like to mention a project on mapping glaciers, using a digital elevation method and, thereby, providing a more accurate information on the dramatic glacial reduction that we witness in this part of the world.
The impending shift in energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be important, both for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for improving air quality in communities in the Arctic. Iceland aims for further work to be carried out in this field with a special focus on practical green energy solutions for small communities in the Arctic.
Our third main substantive focus will be on the people of the Arctic and their desire to build prosperous yet sustainable communities. The Arctic Council has a strong history of promoting sustainable development and growth in communities in the region and we have ambition to continue cooperation on matters like gender equality, connectivity, adaptation and resilience. In the coming years and decades adapting to continuous warming of the Arctic will be a major challenge for many of the small Arctic communities, not least the indigenous people.
Finally, Iceland will continue to work for a better and stronger Arctic Council. The Arctic Economic Council will celebrate its five years anniversary during Iceland’s chairmanship and it would be very fitting, we think, to seize that opportunity to enhance the collaboration between the two councils.
We will also give due attention to the inner workings of the Arctic Council by maintaining the close consultations between member states and the permanent participants, and continue to engage with observers in an innovative and enhanced manner. It is of utmost importance for both prosperity and security in the Arctic region to work closely with all partners, inside as well as outside the region.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to recognise the important role that our Finnish friends played in establishing the Arctic Council. Here, I am referring to Finland’s initiative in creating the Rovaniemi Arctic program in 1991. This was a brilliant undertaking which demonstrated great foresight and paved the way for the establishment of the Arctic Council five years later.
Finland is now near the end of its chairmanship period of the Arctic Council. I want to congratulate Finland on its great leadership over the past two years and the excellent work they have done while chairing the Arctic Council.
Let me also say that we are very grateful for the support that we have received from Finland in the preparations for our upcoming chairmanship and we look forward to keeping continued close contact throughout and beyond Iceland’s chairmanship period.
Dear Timo it will be an honour and a privilege to take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from you and a challenge for us to live up to your standards.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Interesting tasks lie ahead of us. Many of them will be challenging, but we have the tools and the means to continue to work together for a sustainable and prosperous Arctic region. That is why I remain optimistic for the future of the Arctic region.