Intervention by Karmenu Vella,

European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience  (GLACIER)


Introductory remarks

  • I am very happy to represent the European Union at this important event today. Indeed, as the world prepares for the COP21 climate conference in Paris, this event could not be timelier.

  • The previous speakers have clearly set out the main challenges we face in relation to climate change, so I will not go into them here. Suffice it to say that if the current trend continues, we could have a "nearly ice-free" Arctic ocean by 2050 at the latest. This beautiful state, Alaska, has over 100,000 glaciers, half of all in the world.  And we are seeing a large amount of ice disappearing in an unusually short time.  Scientists are telling us that the Arctic ice cap has thinned by more than 50 yards since 2012, about one sixth of its original thickness, and the ice flow is now 25 times faster. 

  • This has implications for the Arctic's fragile ecosystems, for the people that live there – and for our entire planet. Access to food and water, the use of land, the economy, security and the environment: all will be profoundly affected.

Climate impact on the Arctic / Paris COP 21

  • Most urgently, the speed of change in the Arctic underlines the immediate need for speed of action on climate change.

  • This November/December, in Paris, the EU is committed to ensuring the adoption of a legally binding, ambitious and fair international agreement applicable to all and capable of keeping the world on track to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees.

  • We have agreed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

  • We are also the biggest donors of international climate finance, providing a total of €9.5 billion in 2013 alone. 

  • Let me be clear: Paris is our best bet for a secure Climate future. But the clock is ticking. We are only 100 days from the opening day. Therefore, the international negotiations must be accelerated. An ambitious agreement requires commitments from all countries to reduce emissions. All countries need to act responsibly and communicate those commitments.

  • And to be frank with you, political leaders have to do much more work to get there.The good news is that, after a slow start, more and more countries are submitting their contributions: so far, 56 countries representing 61% of current global emissions.But the not so good news is that the current contributions still represent only around a quarter of all countries.

  • The Paris deal can only be considered a success if it is truly universal and works for all.


  • Tackling climate change and other environmental threats to the Arctic requires a deep level of understanding. Research is therefore key.

  • The EU is one of the biggest contributors to Arctic research. Over the past decade, we have invested around 200 million euros in research projects covering a broad range of areas.

  • From environment, climate, health, sea mining and fisheries to the development of opportunities for new economic activities and access to Arctic research infrastructures we have been to the fore. We expect our contribution in Arctic-related projects to be in the range of another 200 million by 2020.

  • For 2016-17 alone, we are set to adopt a package of 40 million euros, to:

    • develop an integrated observation system for the Arctic;

    • assess the impact of Arctic changes on the weather and climate of northern latitudes;

    • understand the impact of climate change on the Arctic itself;

    • and promote pan-Arctic transnational access to research infrastructures.

  • These efforts are already bearing fruit. For example, we have recently launched EU-PolarNet: the world's largest consortium of expertise and infrastructure for polar research, which provides a unique platform for increasing scientific cooperation bringing together scientists from the EU, the US, Canada, and Russia.

    International cooperation on Ocean Governance and Fisheries

  • Of course, the EU's cooperation efforts in the Arctic extend beyond research. Emphasizing the link between oceans and climate change, we have launched an international public consultation on ocean governance, asking all stakeholders how we can ensure that the world's oceans are managed more sustainably.

  • In the spirit of international cooperation, we also share the objective that commercial fisheries on the Arctic high seas should not begin before a science-based and precautionary management regime exists. All key actors, including the EU, must be involved early on in discussing such measures, ensuring ownership and support.

    EU Arctic Policy

  • Let me conclude by saying that as the situation in the Arctic continues to change, so we must continue to update our approach and our policy.

  • Given the increasing strategic importance of this region, we have consulted widely, both within the EU and with Arctic stakeholders. The responses clearly prioritize  climate change and environmental protection as important issues that the EU should engage in. With this in mind, we are currently preparing proposals to further develop the EU's Arctic Policy.

  • We will continue to emphasize:

    • action on climate change and environmental protection;

    • support for sustainable growth in the Arctic; and

    • cooperation and engagement with our Arctic partners.

  • In particular, we will continue to pursue an active role in the Arctic Council. And we will continue to engage with Arctic indigenous peoples – those who are the first affected by developments in the Arctic.

  • I hope that my participation in today's event is further proof of the EU's strong commitment to safeguarding the environment while ensuring the sustainable development of the Arctic region. Thank you for your attention.