Hydrogen use and the Arctic
A statement delivered on behalf of the Chairman of the Senior Arctic Officials of the Arctic Council Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson
2 March 2004
I would like to thank the IPHE Implementation and Liaison Committee for inviting the Arctic Council secretariat to attend this meeting and for the opportunity to present to you some aspects of the work of the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council may not have a sizable energy portifolio, but many of the activities of the International Partnership for Hydrogen Economy are nonetheless relevant to the Arctic Council. One obvious example is the link between the need for cleaner energy and the need for protecting an Arctic environment exposed to the polluting effects of the fossil fuel economy.
One of the distinguishing features of the Arctic Council is its geographic scope. It is a circumpolar forum, involving the governments of the two countries of North America, the Nordic countries and Russia, as well as six indigenous peoples’ organizations. In other words, five out of eight Arctic Council member states participate in the IPHE.
At the outset, environmental protection was the main inspiration of the work of the Arctic Council, although the focus has been broadened in later years to include social and economic issues as well. Inhabitants of the North live in a sensitive and in some instances vulnerable natural environment. Therefore, a great deal of effort has been devoted to conserving Arctic flora and fauna. We are also engaged in monitoring and assessing pollution in the Arctic - and, on the basis of such assessments, taking action to eliminate the identified sources of pollution, especially in Russia.
The environmental reports of the Arctic Council showcase some of the best scientific work that has been done in the Arctic. But they are far from being of Arctic interest exclusively. As we study the Arctic, we are appreciating more and more the complex interlinkages that exist between the Arctic and the rest of the world from the point of view of biology and ecology. The environment agenda in the Arctic region is not easily separated from the global environment agenda.
The Arctic possesses some of the richest resources in the world, including oil and gas and precious metals. It is endowed with some of the most important seas for commercial fisheries on a global scale. Last but not least, the Arctic region contains the world’s greatest deposits of its most precious resource, water, a resource increasingly scarce.
At the same time, the environment of the Arctic is one of the most vulnerable to the polluting effects of an economy relying on fossil fuel for energy. Mercury contamination, to mention one example, is of growing concern. Increasingly, the sources of this pollution are found far afield, even as far as Southeast Asia.
The effects of global warming are also being felt throughout the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at twice the global average, glaciers are melting and the whole ecosystem is changing at an accelerating pace. One of the most important issues under study in the Arctic Council today is climate change. Sea ice reduction is one of many consequences of a warmer climate and changes are taking place in permafrost that will affect every aspect of life in the region in decades to come. Furthermore, changes in the hydrological cycle may impact variables like river flow, leading, in certain cases, to higher floods and more sever draughts. This development will certainly affect economic sectors, including the energy sector.
Adapting to climate change is likely to become one of the most important challenges confronting the Arctic Council member states in the coming years. In this context, greater attention will undoubtedly come to be given to the use of cleaner energy sources with the capacity to diminish carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen use is one possibility in this respect. The Arctic region embodies important resources for developing its use, including geothermal and freshwater resources.
Industrial development in the Arctic has led to increased maritime traffic. This traffic is in some instances contributing to localised pollution, as well as the release of greenhouse gases. Particle pollution from diesel emissions is settling on the ice, increasing heat absorption and accelerating its melting.
Climate change may also create new opportunities in areas like shipping. Around 90% of world trade tonnage is transported by ship and traditional trade routes, such as the Suez Canal, are approaching maximum capacity. New sea transportation routes through the Arctic Ocean would be 40% shorter in distance and two weeks shorter in time than either the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal routes.
The ecology of the Arctic would not permit a large-scale increase in diesel emissions associated with such shipping. Improved transportation technologies and cleaner fuels, such as hydrogen, are needed.
There can be little doubt that energy will in the future pose some of the greatest challenges to world resource management. To meet the demand of a growing and increasingly urbanized world population for energy will bring greater pressure to bear on all energy sources, including fossils. Not least for this reason, must we look for innovative solutions and promote as best we can the sustainable development of energy sources internationally. This is why the Arctic Council welcomes the launch of the International Partnership for Hydrogen Economy as a promising step towards building an international consensus for eco-friendly energy solutions.
The question of the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier is a fairly new one in international circles. Therefore, it will not surprise you that discussions on energy issues within the Arctic Council have focussed mainly on oil and gas. We have, for example, recently decided to launch an assessment of petroleum hydrocarbons in the Arctic, including social and economic factors. However, given the nature and geographic reach of the Arctic Council, we also have a broad horizon. The Arctic Council may or may not want to turn a new page and address in some way the issue of hydrogen use. This would be a matter for our Ministers to decide. But I can assure you that should you consider the Arctic Council as a possible partner in your endeavours, the members of the Council will certainly want to study the matter with the care and attention it deserves.