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Finland - Speech by minister Väyrynen at the 6th Annual Arctic Shipping Summit

Opening Address by Dr. Paavo Väyrynen, Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development at the 6th Annual Arctic Shipping Summit in Helsinki, 27 of April 2010.

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Your Excellency Deputy Minister Donskoy,
Chairman Niini, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address this important Summit. Northern issues have been particularly close to my heart and one of my policy priorities for decades. This Summit offers an excellent occasion to highlight once again the importance of the Arctic and I am very pleased to see that this Summit has gathered so wide and competent audience.

For a long time the Arctic has meant sailing into unknown seas. However, thanks to the meetings like this, we are becoming more and more aware of the challenges linked to the Arctic and measures needed to overcome them. Climate change, with effects on ice, snow, water and permafrost in the Arctic, appears to be reaching a tipping point. We have to have a better understanding of the global mechanisms in our environment to be able to mitigate and to adapt.

We are faced with new and increasingly diverse challenges in the North. On one hand, we are benefitting from a wider access to natural resources as well as opening of new sea-routes. But on the other hand, our attention has to be attached to sustainable development, human health, environmental protection and the preservation of the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and Arctic communities. A comprehensive approach is therefore needed.

A sustainable use of the natural resources and clean technologies are key issues that will guarantee long-term prosperity for the nations and people in the Arctic region. We have to explore how cooperation could be enhanced to develop further the guidelines in fields such as tourism, shipping, and maritime safety. International Maritime Organization is currently updating and strengthening the existing guidelines on navigation in ice covered waters, and by the year 2014 there should be a mandatory Polar Code. Our wide and unique experience of ice conditions has to be taken into account also in the new Code.

The Arctic Council is the only circumpolar, transatlantic cooperation forum covering the Arctic region. It has a good record in research and standard-setting, particularly in environmental and shipping sectors. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) Report that was approved by the Council last year, is the first of its kind and one of the most comprehensive Arctic shipping assessments so far. The Report, prepared under the leadership of Finland, together with Canada and the US, contains a baseline assessment using as a reference arctic marine activities at the beginning of this century. It is also a strategic guide for both arctic and non-arctic stakeholders and an important policy document. We are pleased that the implementation of the recommendations of the Report has already started.

There is also a growing understanding that the capacity to respond to emergency situations in the Arctic should be improved by exchange of information, training and experience, technical development and support, and the coordination of response. Due to low population and infrastructure density, emergency response resources are thinly spread over a large area. This makes search and rescue operations difficult to stage and manage. The Arctic Council has recognized the importance of operational cooperation between the Arctic states and the existing arrangements in the Baltic Sea and Barents region can offer valuable guidance in this work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finland has been a major stakeholder in Arctic issues resulting with number of initiatives such as Northern Dimension and the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. We are also evaluating and strengthening our national policies.

The work for readjusting the Arctic policy started in 2008 at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as a contribution to the Arctic Communication by the European Commission. The Communication can be seen as a first step towards a comprehensive Arctic policy of the EU. It clearly signals that the EU recognises the importance of Arctic. This recognition goes hand in hand with one of the key objectives of Finland: it is important to see the Arctic in the context of cooperation, rather than competition.

In November 2009 the Finnish Parliament gave a unanimous support for an adjustment of the Government’s Arctic Policy. As a response to this in February this year a Working Group was appointed to prepare a report on Finland’s policy review for the Arctic region. The report will be ready during this spring. In addition, the Arctic Advisory Board on Arctic Affairs has recently been established by the Government to facilitate domestic discussion and to follow up the Working Group’s review.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In winter, as a rule, all Finnish ports in the Baltic Sea are frozen – this winter being especially a good proof of this. The history of our shipbuilding industry is closely linked to our dependence on foreign trade and on the need of a well-functioning sea transport system, no matter what the weather conditions are. This dependence on effective winter navigation and icebreakers has contributed to the development of top level expertise and applied research in the field of Arctic maritime technology, as well as highly competitive Finnish shipyards building vessels for ice conditions. It should be reminded that some 60 % of the icebreakers in the world today are built in Finland.

For decades, highly sophisticated vessels for specific demanding use – beside icebreakers, vessels for oil-drilling, marine research and cruising – have been designed and constructed in Finland. The platform of the Finnish shipping industry is the network of planners, contractors, sub-contractors and stakeholders in offshore industry. We have the know-how and we can deliver.

Furthermore, ice service for merchant vessels and icebreakers by the Finnish Meteorological Institute - producing real-time ice maps - is based on a long experience of use of satellite remote sensing technology and on observation networks and knowledge of the geophysical characteristics of sea ice. The research and services conducted in the Baltic Sea can be applied also in the Arctic.

Finland’s expertise in the Arctic relies essentially on state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary Arctic research and training. High technology and highly educated labor-force are trademarks for us. The companies invest intensively in research & development. Efficiency and environmental concerns are reflected well in production. The University of Lapland and the Arctic Center, the University of Oulu and Thule Institute and the University of the Arctic/UArctic are prime examples of our many-faceted Arctic research facilities.

The Government of Finland and our public institutions are actively supporting the commercial activities in the Arctic. Shipyards receive innovation support and export credits. Finnish National Research Center VTT participates in the design of icebreaking vessels at all stages of the planning. As a specialty, the Center is a leading expert in the world in model freezing. For example, the VTT has contributed to the development of a blade-heating system for wind power plants so that they could also be used in Arctic conditions.

When dealing with an environment as fragile as the Arctic it is extremely important to reconcile the business and environmental interests. While access to oil, gas and mineral deposits in the Arctic increases, it is imperative to ensure that the methods used are designed for and working under these demanding conditions. This applies particularly to vessels and transport of oil in ice-covered sea. Finnish industries’ expertise in exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic region is already in use, but there is much more we still can offer.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The changes in the Arctic are rapid – the climate change is twice as fast as elsewhere in the world. New oil and gas reserves are expected to be revealed soon. The fish stock is already moving north, opening up new fishing grounds. The first Trans-Arctic shipping lanes – particularly the Northeastern Passage – could be a reality in just a few years. Preparing ourselves for the future challenges demands international cooperation, communication and most of all the desire to fully – and responsibly - exploit the potential the Arctic offers.

I would like to give my special thanks to the organizers for bringing together such a versatile group of experts to confront these challenges and possibilities. I wish you all a successful conference!

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