Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde at the EU Arctic Forum, Umeå, 3 October, 2019

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Your Royal Highness, Ministers, Commissioner,

Dear friends of the Arctic,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to Umeå - the gateway to the Swedish Arctic. And more specifically to the University of Umeå, proud to call itself the Arctic University of Sweden.

I would also like to extend a special ‘welcome home’ to all European Union partners. This is what the EU Arctic Forum is all about: to bring the Arctic to Europe and Europe to the Arctic.

I remember those early years when Sweden and Finland had just joined the EU, back in 1995. When the maps in Brussels cut Europe off just north of Stockholm and Helsinki and had to be exchanged for maps showing also the vast new northern territories of the union. The European Arctic. Now you are here. So welcome home to the Arctic part of Europe.

But, in fact, the Arctic is a global asset. We all have stakes in this vast, beautiful, fragile and rich region. We all have a responsibility to understand and address the challenges that we’re facing in the far north. They impact on the planet as a whole, as well as at regional and on the local level. That is what we will discuss today. And at the indigenous peoples’ dialogue tomorrow.

Let us remember that the Arctic is a part of the world that long has been characterized by peace, stability and constructive international cooperation based on respect for international law. And let me immediately say that it’s a core interest for Sweden to keep the Arctic that way.

We have succeeded so far, not least thanks to the Arctic Council, in building a political environment that generates win-win solutions.

We have concluded a number of legally binding agreements to foster closer ties – on Search & Rescue, Oil Spills prevention and Science cooperation. Arctic Council working groups continue to produce world class scientific reports on Arctic challenges. Observers, including the European Union, provide outstanding contributions to this work.

And let me also highlight the Barents Euro Arctic Council, not least focusing on regional, project-oriented cooperation, youth and other people-to-people contacts. This is important in a time of increasingly closed borders.

Later today I will hand over the gavel to my dear friend, Minister Ine Søreide, as Norway assumes the national chairmanship of the Barents Council. While the County of Finnmark passes the torch to Västerbotten on the regional level.

The Arctic is a showcase that we should be proud of. By working closely together, and in good faith, we are now in a position to realize the great potential of this region.

Peace and stability are preconditions for development. We therefore have every reason to continue our efforts and further strengthen our cooperation in the Arctic Council, together with other Arctic states and stakeholders as with engaged non-Arctic nations. The indigenous voices, including that of the Saami people, are key to these efforts.

But the Arctic is not only about opportunities. It is also very much about challenges.

The scientific findings are robust: a climate crisis in the Arctic is not a future scenario – it is happening as we speak.

The Arctic Council reports that annual air temperatures in 2014, 15, 16, 17 and 18 were all higher than any year since 1900. Sea ice volume in September has declined by 75 percent in forty years.

It is commonly said that what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic. But it is also true that the source of what happens in the Arctic is often not to be found in this region.

A global mobilization of resources and action is required to deal with Arctic challenges. From Arctic and non-Arctic states alike.

There is a new Arctic emerging that requires new responses, new action geared at adaptation and resilience. We are all in this together.

Global warming and its effects on the Arctic may not only lead to an environmental and ecological disaster in the region.

They are a potential security threat of global proportions.

There is an invoice waiting: Arctic warming could have a cumulative net cost of 90 trillion dollars at the end of this century.

The Agenda 2030 and the Paris agreement represent a shift of paradigm, enabling us to embark on the development of our societies and aspirations to provide a good life, not only for ourselves but for future generations.

But let me be clear. This transformation does not mean that we should reject economic development or growth. We are on the verge of a global transformation of our energy systems, from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

And this transition is just as morally right, as it is financially smart:

We know from history that major transformations driven by technology and innovation create opportunities and economic growth.

And the future belongs

to those who embrace the new green economy,

to those who invest in sustainable technologies and renewable energy systems,

and to those who seek innovations rather than solutions from the past.

 

That is why Sweden has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2045.

In the long term, the low carbon story is the only growth-story on offer.

***

Dear friends,

Here’s where the European Union comes into the picture. As was pointed out in the recent EPSC report “Walking on thin Ice”: With three EU Member States, and some half a million EU citizens in the Arctic, the EU has a natural role to play in the region.

And, as the Arctic becomes a focal point of economic and geopolitical competition and is increasingly recognized as being central to human and planetary survival, the EU must step up its engagement with Arctic states and other stakeholders. Never has ensuring a peaceful and sustainable Arctic been so essential.

I hope that the EU Arctic Forum will reflect on what has been achieved over the past years. I also hope – more importantly – that it will provide guidance on how the European Union, with a new Commission soon in place, could further contribute to addressing Arctic challenges.

Sweden pledges to do its part.

***

Let me finally thank all the organizers – the Commission, the MFA, the County of Västerbotten, the City of Umeå and the University for all your work.

Once again welcome to Umeå.

I wish you all a great stay here.

Thank you!