Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
It may be difficult to believe on a chilly morning like today, but we see every day here that global warming is affecting the Arctic like nowhere else on our planet.
Scientists have shown that summer sea ice coverage in the Arctic has been shrinking for at least the past 40 years, at the rate of roughly 13% a decade.
This change may be less visible than the heart-wrenching pictures of starving polar bears that we see on the news. But it is just as much a cause for concern. The loss of sea ice changes wind patterns and ocean currents. And even for those of us who live far below the Arctic Circle, there is no escaping the dramatic effects.
And of course that is because of the vast proportion of the Arctic region that consists of ocean.
Over the course of my mandate, entering my 5th year in this privileged position, I have strived to make Ocean protection – or Ocean Goverance as we call it – a priority.
A priority for me, for the EU and for the United Nations.
And we have made big strides in recognising the role our ocean plays in providing for our planet and regulating our planet.
And yet that provision and regulation becomes ever harder.
Last year’s extreme weather events caused billions of euros of damage, with devastating social and economic consequences. This year we have already witnessed forest fires in the Arctic, severe drought on the European continent, and destructive tropical storms. There is good reason to believe that such events now, unfortunately, represent the “new normal”.
No surprise then, that the World Economic Forum, in its Global Risk report 2016, called the Arctic "the real barometer of global risk".
It is our collective responsibility to face up to this reality. It is our collective responsibility to act.
The European Union’s Arctic policy, adopted two years ago, is our response to this new reality. It focuses on three areas of action: climate change and the Arctic environment, sustainable development, and international cooperation.
And we are taking decisive steps to put it into practice.
On climate change, we remain fully committed to the Paris Agreement. As you know, the European Union has committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gases by at least 40% in 2030 and 80% in 2050, compared to 1990.
On the environment, we are addressing the increasing problem of marine litter and micro-plastics. Reducing black carbon emissions in the Arctic remains high on our list of priorities. And after the entry into force of the Polar Code last year, we are now pushing for international standards for ships using and/or carrying Heavy Fuel Oil.
And we are looking at how we can invest in the Arctic in ways that are innovative and sustainable, which make the most of the region's natural characteristics, and which respect the fragile environment and the wishes of its peoples.
Because we know that good policy-making is about listening to those concerned. That is why the European Union has put those voices at the heart of its Arctic policy. We have set up an annual Arctic Stakeholder Forum and a regular dialogue with the Arctic's indigenous peoples.
For the past two years, we have been collecting the views of the people who live in the region about how to develop the Arctic sustainably. They have a privileged connection with and knowledge of the Arctic. Their voice must be heard and taken into account.
One of the top investment priorities to emerge from our talks has been connectivity. So we will look at how we can use European funding to improve digital infrastructure in the region, for example the roll-out of broadband. We will also look into improving cross-border cooperation.
And we will make sure that the European Union’s budget continues to benefit the Arctic and its peoples.
Earlier this year, the European Commission put forward its proposals for the European Union’s next long-term budget from 2021 to 2027.
Under those proposals we would spend one in four euros – 320 billion – on climate action.
And we would invest 16 billion euros in a Space Programme that would allow people to better navigate, to better communicate, and to better map their changing surroundings. Satellites would systematically cover the Arctic region and support search and rescue missions, ship routing, iceberg detection, and climate change monitoring.
In the meantime, we should not forget to make full use of the funding opportunities that are available right now.
Starting with efforts to improve data collection and sharing. There is still so much left to discover and understand. And the rapidly changing Arctic environment makes accurate data more essential than ever. For policymakers and decision-makers, and for those who live and work in the Arctic as well.
Since 2014, the European Union has funded more than 50 Arctic related projects worth more than 180 million euros.
In addition, our European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) combines data and observations collected by hundreds of research institutes, and makes them readily available to all. It has already mapped the topography, geology and habitats of the Norwegian and Barents Seas, as well as concentrations of contaminants, the distribution of marine life, and the level of human activity.
And we are teaming up with our partners around the world to shape the international Arctic science agenda for the years to come. Next week, the European Commission is co-hosting the Second Arctic Science Ministerial meeting in Berlin. Delegations from more than 30 countries will attend.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This brings me to the third and final pillar of the EU’s Arctic Policy: promoting international cooperation.
So far, the Arctic story has been one of constructive cooperation. That is not least due to the excellent work of the Arctic Council.
While not a full member, the European Union is nevertheless strongly involved in the Arctic Council’s work. We are for example cooperating under the OSPAR Commission to protect the Arctic marine environment. This includes setting aside Marine Protected Areas.
Another excellent example of what we can achieve if we work together is the binding multilateral agreement to prevent unregulated high seas fishing in the Arctic Ocean, which was signed in Greenland two weeks ago.
This deal is truly historic. For the first time, the international community is taking a precautionary approach to managing ocean resources. Rather than rescuing fish stocks from collapse after years of overfishing and unregulated exploitation, we are setting up a management system even before the Arctic high seas are accessible for our fishermen. Once ratified, this agreement will put in place a moratorium on commercial fisheries for at least 16 years.
I am convinced that such close and productive cooperation is the way forward.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Union wants a strong Arctic and a sustainable Arctic.
We will continue to protect this precious region. We will continue to preserve its unique cultural heritage and landscapes. And we will continue to empower the people who live there to make the most of economic opportunities, while keeping their environment, and their dignity and self-determination intact.
* * *
Check against delivery