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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Martin Lidegaard at the Arctic Frontiers Conference

Intervention by Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark, Mr. Martin Lidegaard at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø on January 20th 2015

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is a pleasure for me to speak at this year’s Arctic Frontiers’ conference on the issues of climate and energy. Issues which are at the very top of our list of priorities in the Kingdom of Denmark. Both in the Arctic and globally.

Let me therefore also thank the organizers of this conference for bringing together so many distinguished experts and key stakeholders to discuss these issues and hopefully bring new ideas and solutions to the table.

Today I will focus on three issues:

  1. Combating global climate change and the need to move towards a greener and more sustainable use of energy 
  2. Governance and international cooperation in the Arctic
  3. My view on the priorities for the Arctic Council in the coming years

Climate change is a threat not only to the environment, but also to global economic prosperity, development and – more broadly – human security. As the global middle class is growing – with a massive 3 billion people over the next 20 years - global competition for natural resources will only intensify.

I visit Greenland as often as possible and during these visits I have personally witnessed just how dramatically climate change affects this region. In Greenland, climate change is not just something you read about in a report. It is happening right in front of your eyes. This leaves arctic indigenous peoples especially vulnerable to climate change because of their strong dependence on the environment for food, culture and way of life.

What we see in the Arctic is an unmistakable warning about what is coming to the rest of the world. It is still not too late to take effective action. But we must act now!

The solution is three fold:

  1. We must deliver on energy efficiency; 
  2. We must diversify our energy supply with much more focus on renewable energy sources, 
  3. We must increase interconnectivity and liberalize our energy markets to ensure that no country or region is left in energy-isolation.

Renewables play an even more important role in the Arctic. With many communities often situated in remote locations without being connected to national energy grids, renewable energy solutions offer a way for Arctic communities to increase their independence on traditional fossil fuel generators for electricity and heating. Other local solutions, such as optimization of energy consumption in buildings could also hold great possibilities in Arctic communities.

The other side of the equation - climate change – remains one of the greatest threats of the 21st century. There are some tough decisions to be made in the near future. As President Obama said at the UN Climate Summit in September last year: “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” I very much agree.

For the very same reason, we must work actively to ensure an ambitious and global agreement at COP21 in Paris next year for all countries. We will get no second chance.

An agreement in Paris will be a significant achievement and a great step forward in addressing climate change. But it will require hard work and a significant climate diplomacy effort. I am therefore happy that the EU foreign ministers yesterday agreed on a climate diplomacy roadmap to intensify the work towards COP21 in Paris.

  • For the first half of the year, our priority is to exert maximum pressure on major and emerging economies to be ready with their mitigation commitments.
  • For the second half of the year, we will aim to showcase the EU’s ongoing climate cooperation and financing towards international partners in this area.

If we are to succeed in Paris in December, everyone must do their part. We all need to take responsibility and show effective action and we need to do it now! It will affect us all – but the Arctic region more than most.

According to the IPCC, climate change is expected to lead to a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in late summer and increased navigability of Arctic marine waters before 2050.  The milder climate in the Arctic opens up new opportunities that are changing the arctic economic landscape. Greenland and the Faroes Islands rightfully see great potential in these new possibilities and they want to make use of them to diversify and strengthen their economies – a process that the Danish government very much supports.  And something that we - together with Greenland and the Faroes Islands –work in very close coordination to do.

The question is: How do we ensure that we manage these new Arctic potentials in a responsible and sustainable manner?

***

To strike that balance we need good governance in the Arctic. Governing and developing the Arctic region is something that must be done within a solid international framework. International cooperation in the Arctic is not a choice. It is a necessity. The Arctic is a region where cooperation across borders is central to the success of new policy initiatives – this goes for all stakeholders. And it is something that must be done in cooperation with - and with respect for - the peoples of the Arctic.
If we are to develop the Arctic region economically, we must do so in a way that ensures that all stakeholders play by the same rules. This goes for safety standards in the extractive industries and when exploiting the marine resources of the arctic oceans. It may not be all Arctic states that are active in the extractive industries. But – as with climate change – it is evident, that an environmental disaster anywhere in the Arctic will have devastating effects on the entire region.

To the Kingdom of Denmark, the Arctic Council remains the central forum for international cooperation and governance in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council has shown that it is able to adapt to the changing circumstances in the Arctic. Since its inception in 1996 the Arctic Council has played an important role in developing our scientific understanding of the Arctic region. This is knowledge that is invaluable in the global fight against climate change and in the protection of the unique environment and ecosystems of the region. But it is also knowledge that we need if we are to seize the opportunities that the future holds for this region.

Over the years the Arctic Council has come up with important policy recommendations. And recently the Council has shown that it cannot only be decision shaping but also decision making. Here I am of course thinking about the Search and Rescue agreement (2011) and the Oil Spill agreement (2013). I would also like to highlight the Arctic Economic Council that was established last year thanks not least, to the efforts of the current Canadian chairmanship. The Arctic Economic Council is an important innovation in our efforts to engage the private sector in creating sustainable economic growth in the Arctic.  These are important examples of what the Arctic states can accomplish together.

At the same time, we have managed to accommodate the increased international interest in the Arctic. Never before has so many states and other stakeholders engaged themselves in the Arctic. The admission of new observers like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and India to the Arctic Council comes to show that we believe that countries with a legitimate interest and stake in the development of the Arctic should be involved in the development of the policies that will govern the region. This inclusive approach is central if we are to attract the necessary international investment to develop the Arctic economies. And it is necessary for us to continue to build on the excellent international cooperation that exists within Arctic science and research.  Therefore I also hope that the EU will become even more engaged in the work with the Arctic region in the future, and I hope that we will soon be able to welcome the EU as a full observer to the Arctic Council.

A crucial priority for the Danish government is to keep the Arctic region as a low tension area. Despite the differences there may be in other theatres in the world, we must cooperate peacefully on Arctic issues and so far I am reassured that that is also what is happening.

We have a strong basis for maintaining the region as a region of international cooperation. In the Ilulissat declaration, the Arctic Coastal States made a commitment to solve disputes through international law and by peaceful means. I find it important to stress these shared commitments – not least in view of our own recent submission of our territorial claims to the seabed north of Greenland.

The submission is a historic and important milestone for the Kingdom of Denmark. It is no secret that the area to which we have submitted our claim overlaps with a claim made by Norway. And that, it is likely that there are potential overlaps with Canada and the Russia. It is, however, important for me to underline, that the process regarding the overlapping areas – or areas of common interest, which I prefer to call them - in the Arctic Ocean is characterized by very good cooperation with our Arctic neighbors – fully in line with the Ilulissat declaration. In the Arctic we walk the talk.

***

Last summer I spoke with Secretary Kerry about our shared responsibility in the Arctic and the upcoming US chairmanship of the Arctic. We agreed that addressing the impacts of climate change in the region is one of our main challenges. I am happy to see that this issue will be one of the top priorities for the US when they take over the chairmanship from the very successful Canadian chairmanship in April.

I would also like highlight some of the other priorities, which are priorities to the Kingdom of Denmark in the Arctic in the coming years. Issues that coincide with the priorities of the US-chairmanship:

  1. Strengthening Arctic governance and developing the way we work with observers;
  2. Reinforcing focus on how to improve search & rescue operations; 
  3. Improving oil spill prevention and response.

I find it particularly encouraging that the US has indicated that they will seek to introduce new areas to the work of the Arctic Council, such as developing solutions for better and cheaper energy for remote communities, improving telecommunications infrastructure and securing freshwater supplies – all of which can be of great benefit for the people living in the region. We in the Kingdom of Denmark fully support these initiatives. 

To develop solutions we need to continue to continue to promote our science and research in the Arctic. The important work done by our universities and research institutions is the glue that binds our understanding of the Arctic together. International research in the Arctic is a pre-requisite for us to understand the challenges we face in the high North.  And it is a necessary tool if we are to develop effective policies in the Arctic Council for sustainable economic activity in the region.

These are big ambitions. We can only live up to these ambitions through a strong and active Arctic Council. We are well under way thanks, not least, to the efforts of the current Canadian chairmanship. And I find it very timely, that the US chairmanship has also indicated that it will seek to continue to strengthen and develop the role of the Arctic Council. We – in the Kingdom of Denmark - certainly look forward to contributing with our knowledge and expertise to help achieve these goals together with all the members of the Arctic Council.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me underline once again that addressing climate change in the Arctic is a key priority for the Kingdom of Denmark – both when meeting the challenges and managing new opportunities in a responsible and sustainable manner.

There are 3 keys to ensuring a prosperous, safe, secure and sustainable Arctic.

  1. An ambitious deal at the COP21 in Paris with a strong focus on transitioning towards greener sources of energy.
  2. The continuation of the good work in the Arctic Council in order to make sure that we have a solid framework in place for the increased activity in the Arctic.
  3. And that we maintain the Arctic as an area of low-tension with a strong focus on friendly regional and international cooperation.

In my view, these will be the determining factors for the responsible and successful development of the Arctic region in the future.

Thank you for your attention!

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