Opening remarks of President Tarja Halonen (check against delivery):
His Royal Highness, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Dear Colleagues and Friends,
It is my great pleasure to take part in this meeting, and to see so many of you come together to share your expertise in order to cooperate in the Artic research.
As we all know very well, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and the impacts of the changes happening in the Artic are global. Luckily, ever since the warming of the Arctic was noticed, the international research community has focused intensive research on the Arctic region. And, this research has quickly increased our understanding of the processes and the interactions going on in the Artic region.
However, there are gaps in our understanding of the natural processes of the Artic region. The interactions between the land, ocean and the atmosphere are extremely complex, and cannot be fully understood without international and cross-disciplinary research. As you all know very well, we are not talking just about what happens in the nature, but also, how the nature interacts with us, the people.
One of the things that make me happy is that we have already 30 years of international cooperation in the Artic region. In 1989 the first international committee for Arctic research and association of universities was formed. Later in 1990 the Artic Council was established.
Now, after 30 years, we see extensive network of Artic universities (UArctic), as well as extensive research cooperation in the Artic (IASC), and, we see three legally binding agreements done by the Artic Council. The latest agreement, the Arctic Science Agreement done in 2017, ensures the movement of researchers in the Arctic region as well as the access to the research facilities, infrastructure and data. It gives the basis for our work here.
I am convinced that during this 2-year period we will be able to find new avenues of collaboration and find new research questions and themes to be explored. We will have numerous projects stemming out of the work you have done here, giving seeds for further cooperation in uncovering the unanswered questions we have about the Artic.
Already at this stage, I would like to give a special thanks to the Prince Albert Foundation for supporting this project. Without new research, it is difficult to have new solutions.
Before giving the floor to others I would like to remind us about the broader importance of scientific cooperation. We are all too familiar with the changes that have happened in the political atmosphere in recent years, and we have learned that the political atmosphere is not as stable as we, perhaps, might have thought previously.
Today we are still unsure how the US-presidential election will change this atmosphere. As we have seen in the past: Anything can happen. However, regardless of the political shifts, we know scientific cooperation will continue to form an important pillar for global cooperation. There are few better ways for building relations between nations than exploring the world together and finding solutions to common problems.
Here, I can tell one example from the Baltic Sea. In the 60’s the scientists noticed that the state of the sea was declining rapidly. There was little previous cooperation and it was Cold War period. However, backed by the governments in the region, the scientists around the Baltic quickly focused their research on identifying the causes of the decline of the sea. This gave the policy-makers a possibility to implement the best solutions to the problems, and some good solutions were implemented. Now the Baltic Sea shows signs of getting better, and nations around the Baltic are doing scientific and environmental cooperation despite the political shifts.
What I would like to emphasize lastly is that the cooperation is not always easy. We saw this even in the Baltic region. However, exploring the unanswered questions, building knowledge together, and adapting to the climate change are all areas where we have common interests. We are in the same slowly sinking boat which needs repairing. One of the best things we can do is to cooperate in building the right tools. That is the job of scientists. As a politician, I support this work as much as I can, and help in finding ways to use those tools.
The collaboration and the challenges that we are taking up here today, tomorrow and in our next meetings gives me hope that even though the problems we are facing are extremely large and complex, it is possible to work through them, step by step. The extensive research collaboration that we already see, and what will follow, will lead us from good ideas to great solutions. I believe that the collaboration of scientists, as well as their openness to new solutions is a good example that the policy-makers can take. And I believe the example will carry through from scientists to policy-makers.
To end my opening words, I look very much forward to the discussions and cooperation with you all, and I have strong belief that we will have very stimulating days ahead. Thank you very much.