The Paris climate agreement in December 2015 is a historic achievement. This is the case particularly for the Arctic, which is not only a home for four million people but also a key player and stakeholder in the combat for a sustainable future. The Arctic has undergone and will undergo a substantial transformation due to globalization and environmental changes. This rapid transformation stems mainly from the abundant natural resources of the Arctic, both renewable and nonrenewable. The other driver is climate change and the melting of the polar ice sheet, which opens possibilities for new transport routes. This has great strategic global influence.
Finland’s national Arctic strategy positions us as an Arctic country with clear goals and responsibilities to which we want to contribute and see progress. Moreover, the strategy looks at the region not only from a political but also from an economic perspective. It also defines Finland as an Arctic state as a whole.
An important part of cooperation in the North is the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in which Finland just transferred presidency to the Russian Federation. The objectives – sustainable development and political stability in the Barents region – remain relevant today.
It is estimated that the oil reserves in the Arctic can last until the end of this century, and gas reserves even longer. Mineral deposits are rich and can create incentives for developing new technology in underwater mining, for example. Under suitable circumstances the Arctic region can develop into an investment area that will create prosperity for people and companies for years to come.
The announced investment plans in the region are already significant. The current investments plans in the Barents region alone are estimated to be over 140 billion euros.
Safe shipping in the long icy Arctic routes is a powerful eye-opener to show how crucial cooperation between different companies, organizations, services and states really is. We often think that icebreakers are the key to safe passage in icy conditions, but this is only the tip of the iceberg in safe navigation. I am proud to mention that Finland has built 60 percent of all the icebreakers in the world. The newest one, still in the shipyard, will be equipped with environmentally friendly LNG dual fuel engines.
To harness the full potential of the Arctic region, we need to get the infrastructure right. For instance, data traffic between Europe and Asia is growing steadily. Digitalization, cloud services and the Internet of Things will further boost the need for a fast and secure connection. Plans for laying a cable in the seabed of the Northeast have been brewing during the past decade, and Finland supports this concept.
Operating in the Arctic benefits from the broad international cooperation in research and development. As an innovation and knowledge-based economy, Finland has a lot to offer in this regard. For example, the Academy of Finland’s Arctic Academy Programme (ARKTIKO, 2014–2018) aims to study and understand the change factors affecting the development of the Arctic region, the transformation process and the dynamics of change. The Arctic Seas programme by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, aims to develop essential business areas, such as marine technology, marine transport, offshore solutions and environmental technologies.
In light of recent geopolitical developments, the aim of the Arctic Council to restore peace and constructive cooperation in the region is more than welcome. We should not miss the potential for the sustainable future of the Arctic, and Finland is willing to do her share – not least as the incoming chair of the Arctic Council.
Finland may be a small country by some standards, but our knowledge and experience in Arctic issues makes us larger than we seem. In the words of Iceland's first female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, “There is no such thing as a small nation.ˮ We must think big and act big in the Arctic issues, together with our partners.