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A Safe and Secure Arctic through Cooperation

Speech by the Minister for foreign affairs Kristian Jensen at Aarhus University - Matchpoint Seminar, 12th of November 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen! It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. Let me begin by thanking Aarhus University and the City of Aarhus for hosting this event, as well as the organizers of Matchpoint for bringing together so many guests.

Let me start by saying, that the Arctic is a priority topic in our foreign policy and today I want to focus on three issues related to this;

Firstly, The Arctic and Global Climate Change. Secondly, Security and Governance in the Globalised Arctic. And finally – and this is my main political message today:  We need more international cooperation to secure a peaceful Arctic and to facilitate sustainable development and seize the commercial opportunities in the Arctic.

This requires a determined effort across the full range of new commercial opportunities, be they mining, tourism or shipping. The Kingdom of Denmark and its industry and businesses are world leaders in operating in the special Arctic environment. The Danish, Greenlandic and Faroese governments will do their outmost to create the necessary framework for these opportunities to become a reality. The Arctic is a good business case. The world is hereby invited to capitalize on these opportunities. I will also remind everyone, that this development needs to be sustainable, eco-friendly, in full consultation of the local communities and in a way that benefits the people of the Arctic. 

Enhanced infrastructure, such as communications and satellite capacity in the Arctic is one concrete deliverable that facilitates sustainable development and commercial activities. I will elaborate on this later in my speech.
The point of departure for all we do in the Arctic is the ‘Kingdom of Denmark’s Strategy for the Arctic 2011-2020’. Our overall priority is to maintain a peaceful, secure and safe Arctic to the benefit of the people who live there, and to ensure sustainable development of the region.

Contrary to much conventional wisdom, the Arctic is not a legal vacuum. We already have a well-functioning international legal framework and a solid political base for peaceful cooperation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) applies in just the same way as it does in other parts of the world, and the five Arctic coastal states have agreed in the Ilulissat declaration to solve possible disagreements through international law and by peaceful means.

 [Combatting global climate change]
Let me move on to the first issue: Combatting global climate change. In just a few weeks’ time the whole world will meet for the COP21 in Paris. The climate talks will have an enormous influence on the future of the Arctic – as well as the rest of the world. During my visits to Greenland this summer, I personally witnessed how dramatically climate change affects this region.

The best thing we can do to address the challenges in the Artic is to agree on an ambitious climate deal in Paris. We face a challenging task to secure an ambitious and universal climate change agreement in order to contain global warming within the limit of 2°C. 

And a lot of things are already happening. Last week the Global Green Climate Fund agreed on the first 8 projects to be implemented. These projects will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Denmark is contributing to the fund. And many more projects will follow in the near future. 

I also see a lot of political action. The EU remains committed to an ambitious reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2030. The US government has clearly taken a lead role by announcing a number of initiatives to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the GLACIER conference in Alaska I discussed this important topic with John Kerry and I have no doubt that Kerry and the current American chairmanship of the Arctic Council are very ambitious about this agenda. We are also seeing movement towards more ambitious plans from other parts of the world, notably China.
During the last months, I have continuously raised the challenges related to our climate with colleagues from Asia, Africa and other European countries. I am chairing a Climate Diplomacy Action group where I seek to reach out to some of the poor developing countries which also will be key in efforts to reaching an ambitious agreement in Paris.
We will need to work intensively on these issues the coming weeks.

[Security and Governance in the Globalised Arctic]

Let me move on to my second agenda item on security and governance in the Globalised Arctic. The fact is that if the Arctic is to develop its full potential, it must remain a low-tension region.
The Arctic Council is the most important forum for cooperation in the Arctic. The Council has proved that it is able to adapt to the changing circumstances in the Arctic. The Council has moved on to being not only a decision-shaping, but also a decision-making forum. As a follow-up from the legally binding Search and Rescue (SAR) and the Oil Spill agreements, the Arctic states agreed as recently as last month to establish an Arctic Coast Guard Forum. This tangible initiative will help the implementation of the Search and Rescue and Oil Spill agreements, and taken together these measures will provide a framework for safer, more secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic.

Things are also happening outside the Arctic Council. The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) agreement on the mandatory Polar Code for ships operating in polar waters is a major step towards better maritime security in the Arctic region. The other one is a declaration signed by the five Arctic coastal states, where they commit to conduct future commercial fishing in the high seas area of the Arctic Ocean only pursuant to regional management arrangements, and to establish joint scientific research in the area. Furthermore, all Nordic states are members of the Arctic Council. The Nordic states see the Nordic cooperation on the Arctic as a supplement to the ongoing work in the Arctic Council.

We also expect the EU to adopt a strategy on the Arctic in 2016. We favour concrete EU projects within science and research on environmental and climate change issues in the Arctic; economic development in the Arctic based on sustainable use of resources as well as stepping up the dialogue with the Arctic States and indigenous people. All this goes along with our priorities for the work of the Arctic Council the following years: improved infrastructure on telecommunications; strengthen scientific cooperation, such as the monitoring of climate change in the Arctic and enhancing the cooperation on the oceans in the Arctic.

[International Cooperation as the way to facilitate Sustainable Development in the Arctic]

The last issue, I wish to touch upon is how to strengthen Arctic cooperation and infrastructure to secure sustainable development while supporting those most affected by the changes - the people living in the Arctic? What is at stake here is not a choice between development and no development. People living in the Arctic have the same right to enjoy growth and prosperity as everybody else.

One important condition for further economic development is the need for better infrastructure. Let me give you a practical example of the kind of challenges we face in this area, and what we do to deal with them.
In the Arctic Council we have decided to establish a new task force on Telecommunications Infrastructure, which is chaired by Denmark and Norway.  We are looking at ways to enhance our communications and satellite capacity in the Arctic. This seems like pretty straight-forward stuff - satellites, mobile phones, internet access, 24/7 surveillance are after all parts of everyday life. Except, in the Arctic this is not the case!

Because of the curvature of the earth, most existing satellites simply do not cover the Arctic. And because of the large distances, low population density and harsh climate it is not possible to compensate with land based infrastructure. This is not to say, that there is no coverage. But the few systems we have in place to cover the Arctic region have limited bandwidth that cannot accommodate the increased activity that we have seen in recent years - and expect to see in the years to come. Currently, we do not have sufficient capacity to monitor the increase in ship and air traffic; share scientific data from our research stations; detect oil spills and to effectively manage search and rescue operations in the Arctic.
Satellites are expensive, so we have to spend our money well. I see at least three good reasons in favour of better telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic.

Firstly, it will improve our capacity to share data in case of accidents and environmental incidents which can lead to better surveillance capacity of the ocean environment and maritime traffic in the Arctic. Secondly, growth in the Arctic region will benefit from a fast and reliable internet connection, because it stimulates business and education.  And finally, we need to ensure that the local Arctic communities are able to take advantage of the modern communication and engage fully in the digital economy.

Developing better communications infrastructure in the Arctic requires coordination and cooperation between Arctic states, states interested in the development of the Arctic region and the private sector.
In Denmark, the National Air Navigation Service Provider (NAVIAIR) has partnered with a number of companies (from: Canada, Ireland, Italy) to develop the first global Aircraft Tracking system via Satellite. By 2018, the system will provide Aircraft Surveillance coverage to 70 percent of the Earth’s surface - including of the Artic and Polar regions where we currently do not have coverage. This partnership between the public service provider and private businesses will improve our ability to handle the expected increase in air traffic over the North Pole as airlines seek to shorten distances of their long haul flights.

In this way, the system will both provide an economic incentive in cutting costs for airlines, an environmental benefit as less CO2 is emitted from shorter flights. And as an added benefit, the system will also provide authorities with an improved tracking system for flights that can be used in search and rescue operations – both in the Arctic and elsewhere.


The conclusion of today is the following. It is beyond doubt that if the Arctic is to develop its full potential, it must remain a low-tension region. And we must act globally on climate change. The best way to ensure that is to continuously develop and strengthen international cooperative measures which address the real and concrete challenges facing all countries and peoples in the region. In the Arctic we need to use the soft instruments to solve the hard issues.

There has been a lot of focus on increases in military presence in the Arctic, especially from Russia. We follow these developments closely, but we must keep in mind that military and security assets in the Arctic also perform a wide array of civilian tasks in the fields of search and rescue, environmental surveillance and so on.

Because of the increased activity in the Arctic - as for example tourism, shipping or mining - all Arctic states are looking at the need to increase their capabilities. We are doing the same in Denmark, where the Ministry of Defence is currently working on an assessment of our military capabilities in the Arctic. The crucial thing is that any build-up of military capabilities is taking place within a broader agreement among the Arctic states that problems are to be dealt with in a peaceful manner and within the framework of international law.

Pushing for rules, institutions and practical cooperation that deliver real solutions to concrete problems for real people, businesses and states remain the most effective means to maintain the Arctic as a low-tension area. Within this context cooperation in areas such as search and rescue and surveillance can in itself be turned into a powerful driver for international cooperation.