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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
"The Arctic at a time of change"
Arctic Future Symposium
Brussels, 12 October 2011
Your Highness, Dear Mr Hubert, dear Minister, distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Arctic is really at a time of change. But time is accelerating since our meeting last year.
A recent and alarming study from the NASA confirmed that Arctic Ocean could be entirely ice free in late summer 2013, as the ice is decreasing faster than all models predicted.
And what happens in the Arctic ocean, has consequences for the rest of the world an obviously for the European Union.
The European Union funded programme CLAMER (climate change and European marine ecosystems research) demonstrated last September that the European Seas are submitted to unprecedented quick changes, due to the Arctic ice melt. This change accelerates the rise of the sea temperature and the sea life migration and increases the erosion of European coastline.
At the same time, we are witnessing the increase of human activity in the Arctic. The big oil and gas companies Exxon and ROSNEFT have recently signed a Strategic Cooperation Agreement under which they plan to undertake joint exploration and development of hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic.
These two examples illustrate how time is going faster in this fragile and unique sea basin.
What’s happening there is our common concern. It is our common responsibility to tackle not only the risks but also the opportunities that are opening, in order to ensure the sustainable development of the Arctic.
The EU plays its role here. We will continue to be a constructive and dynamic actor of the Arctic community by implementing the policy objectives defined in the European Commission’s Communication on Arctic in November 2008. Three objectives here:
We have to contribute to the preservation of the Arctic with the people of the region. We have to ensure that the emerging industrialization and exploitation of the Arctic resources will follow the highest environmental and safety standards and will be accessible to all businesses on a level playing field. We have to contribute to enhanced governance in the Arctic through implementation of relevant agreements, frameworks and arrangements.
A first step was to discuss it with representatives of States other than those of the EU that have territory in the Arctic. I have visited Moscow, Washington and Ottawa. Later this month I will be in Oslo. In all these places I listened carefully to what these representatives in these capitals had to say about the Arctic – about their Arctic territories and about what they thought the EU ought to be doing.
There was a general agreement concerning the first two objectives of our policy –preserving the Arctic and promoting sustainable exploitation. The third objective took more explaining. I was asked what "enhanced governance" means in practice.
In hindsight we might have used a different wording. However I made it absolutely clear that we have no desire to impose any new structures. The EU fully upholds the existing law of the sea and respects the sovereign rights of the Arctic states.
In this context, we welcome the April 2010 agreement between Norway and Russia which divided a previously disputed area of the Barents Sea between the two countries and outlined how they would cooperate on hydrocarbons exploitation. This clearly demonstrates that existing law is sufficient and refutes vague suggestions of "security issues" or "potential conflict" in the Arctic.
So what did we mean by "contributing to enhanced governance in the Arctic ?
Simply this: We want to ensure that what we do in the Arctic aligns with what others are doing. We are doing a lot.
Up to now the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for research which started in 2007 and ends in 2013 has funded 46 projects or scholarships that are directly related to the Arctic. This comes to something like 20 million euro a year.
We have projects that study Arctic glaciers, Arctic ecosystems, icebreaker designs and the impact of human activity on its regions.
Now, as part of our effort to take a more integrated approach to the sea, a new project – Arctic Access – has started that will evaluate expected climatic impacts in the next twenty years on economic activity in the Arctic - marine transportation (including tourism), fisheries, marine mammals and the extraction of hydrocarbons. By covering all these activities within one project, cross –sectoral implications can be taken into account.
The European Space Agency coordinates a joint European effort to build and operate satellites for monitoring snow and ice. The most exciting recent development has been the successful testing of the Cryosat satellite. We have long been able to measure the extent of sea-ice but we now have the means to monitor the thickness. The next stage is even more exciting. The EU plans to use the Cryosat technology in future Sentinel satellites. Thus it will not only be useful for research but, by delivering measurements quickly, it will also help those who live and work in the Arctic.
Does this research and monitoring correspond to what is needed? This is what our "enhanced governance" means. Better cooperation. Are we building on what others have done or are we duplicating it? It is a simple matter of efficiency.
You are no doubt familiar with the objectives of the Arctic Council, or those of the Prince Albert Foundation, or those of International Polar Foundation.
All these use different words but the meaning is the same. It makes sense to work together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It has been said that the EU wants more influence on the Arctic. A better way to put it would be that we want to ensure that what we do in the Arctic is in line with our Arctic needs and our Arctic objectives. We already influence the Arctic through our greenhouse gas emissions, or our imports of fuel and of fish. We already influence the Arctic through EU laws. Because some Arctic states are also EU Members, they need to follow EU rules in matters such as fisheries management, safety of vessels, control of hazardous chemicals, energy conservation, or greenhouse gas emissions.
A more urgent aim is for the Arctic to influence the EU. As I said, what we do makes a difference to the Arctic. We want more input from those who live and work in the Arctic to avoid unwanted mistakes. Does what we do meet our objectives of preserving the Arctic region? Are resources exploited sustainably? If not, what can we do to change?
The golden rule is to get in early. Understand when a change is in the air, speak to other stakeholders, and make your concerns known. We have begun a structured dialogue. We held a first meeting with indigenous people last year in Brussels, and a second this year in Tromsø. We encouraged them to look into different funds and cooperation instruments of the EU, such as the INTERREG IV North Sami programme, the Kolarctic cross-border cooperation programme, the Northern Periphery Programme, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. You have probably never heard of these programmes. Well, nor had the indigenous people who came to our meetings - even though those programmes were partly set up for their benefit. So we need to follow up these initial meetings.
Your highness, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me finish by giving you an example of our urgent challenges. The EU is committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and all industrial sectors will be expected to contribute - including shipping or oil and gas exploitation. A Northern route across the summer ice-free Arctic, that cuts the distance between Asia and Europe by a third, is going to be extremely tempting for the shipping sector. In the meantime the offshore exploitation of hydrocarbons will increase in the Arctic region. How will this affect the people who live there? How will this affect the environment? What will happen if there is an accident? Cooperation is absolutely necessary.
Later this year we will report on the progress made since our 2008 Communication. This will be the launching pad for a reflection as to what our next steps should be. The governments of the Arctic States and the representatives of indigenous peoples will of course be included in the reflection process.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mr Charles Emerson wrote something I really liked in his famous book “A future history of the Arctic”:
“The Arctic has become a lens through which to view the world, and this ultimately, is why the Arctic matters”.
I really think that we have to treat with the upmost respect the far north and its people. Because what is at stake there is the future of the planet..