Ávarp ráðherra á ráðstefnunni „A Clean and Global North“

Helsinki, 29. nóvember 2019
Concluding remarks
Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and an honour to be with you here today, in the very room where the first Northern Dimension foreign ministers’ meeting took place, to celebrate our 20th Anniversary! 

Let me begin by commending Finland on their level of foresight and leadership when it comes to Arctic affairs and in identifying ways to create synergies and develop regional cooperation in the North. 

I would also like to highlight my Finnish colleague’s, Pekka Haavisto’s contributions to the development of regional cooperation in the Arctic. You may not all know this but Pekka is actually an expert on Arctic affairs and an author of a report that still is regularly cited in Arctic circles. 

This report, a Review of the Arctic Council Structures, was written in his former life as an academic, way back in 2001. And it is safe to say that time has done both the report and its author justice. 

Now speaking of the Arctic, as most of you well know, Iceland currently holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. It is a responsibility that we relish as it is truly both an exciting and challenging time to serve as the chair. 

Our region is confronting a pace of change not experienced in modern times. This includes continuous, noticeable and fateful warming of the Arctic climate which has led to:

Opening up of new sea routes, 
increased access to natural resources, 
increased tourism, 

but also

Rising sea levels due to glacial reduction, 
changes in biodiversity, and 
ocean acidification

All these issues, both perceived opportunities, and obvious challenges, will have an impact within and beyond the Arctic. 

Addressing these challenges, as well as taking responsible advantage of the opportunities, requires active and responsible political leadership as well as extensive and constructive cooperation among the different actors, including Nation States, Indigenous groups and NGOs. The slogan of our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council – Together towards a sustainable Arctic – frames this responsibility very clearly. 

Under the overarching theme of sustainable development Iceland emphasizes strongly the importance of looking equally into all its three aspects:   

the environment, where we are looking specifically at green energy solutions, 
the economy, with an emphasis on the Blue BioEconomy, 
and societal aspects, such as building resilience, engagement of Arctic youth and gender equality. 

It is our firm belief that to tackle todays biggest challenges, such as climate change, we need an inclusive knowledge-driven approach. For this reason, we have emphasized increased cooperation with Arctic Council Observers, which include observer states from far away regions as well as NGOs and international organizations, and actors such as the Arctic Economic Council, who share our interests of sustainable and responsible economic development in the region. 

And speaking of challenging conditions, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 
recent examples have indeed demonstrated the importance of building Search and Rescue capacity and cooperative mechanisms that meet the increasing needs in the North Atlantic and Arctic region. In this respect, Iceland is looking into the possibility of establishing a search and rescue cluster in Iceland, preferably in cooperation with our Arctic partners. The significant growth in activities and marine traffic we have already experienced, in addition to what is already expected, demands that we plan responsibly and build our collective capacity accordingly. We need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to environmental and marine accidents. 

Ladies and gentlemen,
We all recognize, that the challenges we face today will not be dealt with or solved by the people of the North alone, not solely by our Governments, not solely by our experts, not solely by businesses, International organizations nor NGO’s.  It is only through collective action that we will be able to succeed. 

We also need to inspire hope and engagement in our youth and in our societies at large. We must do it through inclusion and resilience building. And even though failure really isn’t an option, we must not let the fear of failure lead to inaction. Success is usually only achieved through trial and error and trial again. And yes, error comes with a cost. The alternative is however worse and comes at an even greater cost. 

It is a lesson we have learned back home in Iceland time and time again. By the same token we have learned as well, that the reward and benefit of standing up, learning from our past mistakes and building on those lessons learned, is priceless. Transformative even.

Allow me to share with you some examples:
Sustainable use of natural resources transformed Iceland within the span of less than a century from being one of the poorest countries in Europe into one of its most affluent states. 

This transformation is grounded on two key factors. Firstly, the turn away from coal and oils to renewable energy. Today, over 96,5% of all houses in Iceland are heated with renewable energy sources, thereof are 89,6% geothermal. 

The second factor was to turn away from unsustainable fisheries to responsible resource management, which I will discuss a little later. These “green” decisions, in my view, were two of Iceland’s most important policy decisions in the last century. They were indeed borne out of practical necessities, but they also paved the way for a modern and prosperous society. They were not only right, but the only decisions that could truly bring our country to the next, sustainable level of development. 

Today, Iceland has agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and the Government aims for a carbon neutral Iceland by 2040. Our pledges to the Paris agreement have been assessed and have been deemed complimentary to a temperature increase within the 2°C in a report by the World-Wide Fund, published earlier this year. That said, the reduction of black carbon emissions certainly needs relentless joint efforts contributing to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. To a certain extent such black carbon related mitigation work is currently being conducted both within the Northern Dimension and the Arctic Council. We depend on their success.

Ladies and Gentlemen! 
We are still learning, but I can tell you that the introduction of the Blue BioEconomy concept in recent years, has had significant positive societal effects in Iceland. This concept is in fact born from the establishment of our current fisheries management system. A system that was developed after some dark years of overfishing first after we acquired control of our fisheries resources. The Blue BioEconomy is in fact a clear example indeed of how one can learn and develop through trial and error. 

Through innovation and biotechnological solutions, we have learned that it is possible to increase considerably the utilization level and value of biomass brought ashore. Some Icelandic companies have even managed to completely eliminate biomass-waste from living marine catches. Only a few years ago, this idea would have been thought of as revolutionary. Today, it is simply considered as sensible business practices.

Innovators and researchers in a small fishing town in the north of Iceland make a product out of a shrimp shells that fights inflammations in the body. This process started more than 20 years ago after a TV journalist filmed the polluted ocean underneath a fishing factory, filled with reddish shrimp shell waste that nobody made use of. Instead of scolding the journalist for the negative piece of news, the owner of that plant took a hard look at his practices and chose innovation over inaction. Today this product is sold nationally and to overseas markets bringing additional revenue and foreign currency earnings. It has further served as inspiration for further innovation and enabled highly educated people to return and find or establish jobs in their old hometowns. 

Another entrepreneur in a fishing town nearby Reykjavík produces collagen from fish. Collagen is supposed to keep you looking young and fresh – and obviously … I take it every morning!

These examples represent sustainable development at its finest and in Iceland, this approach laid the foundation for a thriving society and innovation sector. Arguably, this concept of seeking to use every gram and part of a cod or a shrimp represents a very back-to-basics way of thinking, and at the same time a very modern way of thinking – as we all agree that wastefulness is unacceptable. 

Ladies and Gentlemen.
The Northern Dimension is a unique multilateral framework and a successful model of strengthening stability and building confidence in Northern Europe. For Iceland, our main focus within the Northern Dimension is on the Arctic region. The importance of the Arctic was clearly noted in the renewed Northern Dimension was established at the ND Summit in Helsinki in 2006.  However, the Arctic component has never really been fully utilized, even though a remarkable share of the ND activities directly benefit the Arctic and the Arctic peoples. And I must say that I truly believe the Northern Dimension policy overall would benefit greatly, if its Arctic Dimension were bolstered.

Moreover, Iceland welcomes and encourages the increased attention to creating synergies between multilateral cooperation formats in our region. This is necessary to avoid overlaps, enhance cooperation between actors in the Region and avoid duplication. It is clear in my mind that actors such as the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies could very much complement the work being done within the Northern Dimension and the same is certainly true for the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS). Closer cooperation and contacts between these regional actors would indeed benefit all of us. 


Dear friends,
It is in the interest of all inhabitants of the North that we use every means possible to increase our knowledge of each-other, the region and of what is at stake. And I remain confident that if we approach the challenges and opportunities at hand with a sense of humility, respect for the realities we face, for one another and the enormous responsibility we carry on behalf of future generations, we will be able to make real and meaningful progress for the benefit, prosperity and wellbeing of our peoples.


And finally, dear friends, a very happy 20th Northern Dimension anniversary!
Thank you.