Delegation of the European Union to Brazil

Arctic: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EU Arctic Forum + Indigenous Peoples’ Dialogue

Brussels, 10/11/2021 - 12:00, UNIQUE ID: 211111_7
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Good morning to everybody,

Excellencies, Ambassadors, Arctic friends and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for attending this European Union Arctic Forum today and also and tomorrow's dialogue with Arctic indigenous peoples. I would like to thank also all of the people who have been reacting to our Joint Communication from the Commission and the High Representative, which was issued already one month ago, on the 13th of October. Your observations are very important. They contribute to a key objective: the key objective is to build a constructive and enhanced engagement of the European Union in the Arctic matters.

Many elements in the Joint Communication have been much welcomed: our focus on science and research, the strong emphasis on the climate change challenges, and our support for the robust inclusive and sustainable development, which should strengthen the livelihood of Arctic inhabitants, obviously including indigenous peoples.

Allow me to focus on a couple of important elements of the Communication that also have been given particular attention.

The first one is about call for joint work to keep oil, coal and gas in the ground, including in the Arctic. And allow me to remind you that many years ago I was trying to work on keeping the oil on the Yasuni, in the Amazon, in the ground in order not to affect the Amazon. I have to say that was a failure and finally this oil was exploded causing an important environment damage on the Amazon. Let’s hope that we are going to have a much better result, much better success in the Arctic.

It cannot be said often enough: Climate science must not be questioned. From the daily reporting from COP26 we see the urgency to globally transition towards climate neutral and clean technologies. To that end, we need to look at our access to critical raw materials, many of which can also be found in Arctic locations. This would have considerable implications for the economies and inhabitants of Arctic States, and certainly also for their environmental balance.

This is why our Communication has a second key point, and this second key point clearly states that the European Union will champion with global partners the setting of the highest standard for reducing the environmental and social impact of any exploitation and processing of these raw materials that will be absolutely necessary to succeed on the green transition.  We may abandon oil gas and coal, but we will need other kinds of materials in order to provide other kinds of energies.

And we will continue to have a close dialogue with local populations about these transitions, which are already affecting the geopolitical relations in the zone. Because certainly, in the Arctic we will be facing a new geopolitical scenario. Maybe nobody was interested on these ice landscapes, but more and more many players, also new ones, who are not Arctic states, are now increasingly active because they realise how important it is geopolitically to be present there. We, as the European Union, are following security developments in the Arctic closely and, in certain respects, with a strong concern. Arctic security encompasses environmental, economic, political and military elements, which cannot be seen in isolation from each other. In short, our engagement in the Arctic is a necessity for us.

The Arctic States, there are eight of them, have the primary responsibility for what happens on their sovereign territory. Yet many of the challenges the Arctic is facing can best be tackled through regional or international cooperation. It is true the Arctic States are first, but they will not be alone, and alone they would not be able to solve the problem. The European Union will therefore mainstream Arctic matters in our diplomacy and enhance our work in Arctic regional fora. We have a special ambassador for this area [Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic Matters], who is very active. Allow me to salute him. And we maintain our application for Observer Status in the Arctic Council. I know that some Arctic countries are not very eager but the presence of the European Union, but believe me, I think it would be an important support for the Arctic Council if the European Union could be present as an observer. This would enhance our work in the working groups of the Arctic Council.

We will also enhance our strategic foresight, especially regarding the links between climate and security. This work will be done within NATO, which is also very much interested on that.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is very important to work together with all Arctic partners in Europe, with the United States and Canada, and with other players involved in Arctic affairs. Such international cooperation is vital to keep the Arctic as a peaceful region and in strong cooperation.

Personally, I will be looking forward to visiting the unique and pristine Arctic region in the course of next year, and hopefully meet some of you present here today.

The Arctic must remain a zone of low tension with no contamination from more volatile regions. All of us have the global responsibility to ensure this, and the European Union will strive to enhance such a fruitful civilian dialogue and cooperation with our partners.

It is our duty, it is our responsibility. I wish you a very successful conference.

Thank you. 

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