Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dear fellow parliamentarians, ladies and gentlemen, we are very happy to be here. Canada is becoming a much more important country to us than before because of certain developments that have taken place in America in recent years.
I have a strange feeling, because this speech was originally prepared for Mr. Vanhanen. I have the same feeling that a British parliamentarian had in London, when he was making a speech to Parliament. He had short, written notes, and looking at the notes he said, “Well, there are many important issues, and I am going to solve them all now in my speech.” Then there was another note that somebody else, of course, had written, and he looked at it very carefully and said, “This is a rather weak argument but good enough for Parliament.”
I have more or less the same feeling, because these notes were originally prepared for Mr. Vanhanen, our chair, who unfortunately could not travel due to illness.
Finland and Canada had a pivotal role in the early stages of Arctic co-operation. At Finland's initiative, the Arctic environmental protection strategy was launched in 1991 in Rovaniemi, Finland, and under Canadian leadership, the Arctic Council was founded five years later in Ottawa. Both our countries were very much present at its creation.
Now it is Finland's turn to chair the Arctic Council, until next spring, and I will briefly assess some of the developments in Arctic circumpolar co-operation from our point of view.
The most important thing is that the Arctic remains peaceful. That is, of course, fundamental. In spite of the generally negative trend in interstate relations, the Arctic Council has managed to strengthen regional stability and even expand the area of constructive co-operation. It is remarkable that the Arctic Council has secured a strong position in producing scientific reports and assessments, and making recommendations to decision-makers. It has negotiated three international agreements: on search and rescue, on marine oil spills preparedness and response, and most recently, on scientific co-operation.
Now there are organizations specialized in certain areas, such as the Arctic Economic Council, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, and the University of the Arctic. Co-operating closely with them allows the Arctic Council to engage in economic, soft security and educational activities.
It is in Finland's interests to help the Arctic Council assume an even stronger role in regional co-operation. The rationale is clear: Common concerns require common efforts to address them. That's why we chose our chairmanship slogan, “Exploring common solutions”.
Environmental concerns were the most compelling reason to start Arctic co-operation, and it is obvious that environmental and climate issues must remain the main focus of the Arctic Council. It is obvious that all Arctic states continue to have important common concerns to address in the region. The assessments and recommendations of the Arctic Council have spoken clear language about the need to co-operate in order to mitigate climate change, to adapt to emerging situations and to build resilience. Nowhere else than in the Arctic is climate change more evident, as the area is warming at twice the speed of all others. Think about it: twice the speed. The 1% goal has been stated. In the Arctic, that means 3%. It's dangerous.
The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is perhaps the starkest reminder of the need to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and start building a carbon-neutral future to save our planet. At the parliamentary level, Arctic co-operation is also gaining momentum. When we celebrated the Arctic parliamentary co-operation's 25th anniversary this September in Inari, Finland, we noticed this. We are glad our Canadian friends from both houses attended that occasion.
As a result of the 13th Arctic Parliamentary Conference, MPs of the region outlined their common goals on preventing climate change, the need to improve digital connections in the Arctic, social well-being and corporate social responsibility. Together, the parliamentarians of this region requested investments in digital connections so that our Arctic regions would not be left outside of the progress we can witness in our southern areas. MPs of the Arctic also called for the companies of this region to carry out their social responsibility and to take into account the vulnerable Arctic nature.
Ladies and gentlemen, Arctic co-operation attracts worldwide attention, and this development should be welcome. The Arctic Council has invited a large number of observers—both states and organizations. Taking into consideration the growing interdependence of the Arctic and other regions, such a broadening of horizons is now necessary.
One of the fundamental questions for the Arctic Council is the involvement of non-Arctic states with interest in the region. The recent Arctic policy document of the Republic of China points to the kinds of questions that need to be addressed when the Arctic becomes more accessible. It is the Arctic states that should demonstrate leadership in guiding developments in the Arctic. It is time to involve the highest level of decision-makers. Finland is making preparations for a summit meeting of the eight Arctic states to be held next spring. Also, the Arctic MPs supported the idea of the summit in the meeting in Inari.
Such a summit would speak clearly about the efforts to maintain peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the region. It could also tackle some of the most acute issues that our countries are facing. Finland proposes that our countries seek to make further efforts to curb emissions of black carbon and to increase maritime safety and security in the Arctic. I note with pleasure that Canada shares our sense of urgency to reduce black carbon emissions.
Ladies and gentlemen, Finland warmly welcomes the important role that indigenous peoples have in Arctic co-operation. The Sámi, the Inuit and other nations should continue to fully participate in the development of the Arctic countries. Their contributions and cultural integrity should be taken into account in planning for that future.
In the Arctic Council, as well as among Arctic MPs, Canada is emphasizing the need to improve social well-being as well as the living conditions of Arctic inhabitants. Finland is pleased to co-operate with Canada and indigenous organizations in this very important work. Likewise, Finland has greatly benefited from co-operation with Canada in improving educational opportunities for all Arctic inhabitants.
We should be ready to tackle issues that are not yet on the agenda of the Arctic co-operation. Finland would like the Arctic Council to see how wildfires, which are becoming more and more commonplace in the northern areas, could be better prevented from destroying Arctic communities and threatening their inhabitants.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I very much appreciate Canada's vibrant discussion of Arctic issues nationally and internationally. You engage all the stakeholders in the process, of course, starting from the indigenous people and covering all aspects of the topics. I look forward to the discussion on Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.
I would like to warmly thank Canada for your support of the Finnish Arctic Council chairmanship, and for your valuable contributions in all priority areas of protecting the environment, improving connectivity, engaging in meteorological expertise and enhancing opportunities for good-quality education.
After our discussions today, I would add how important we think it is that we could create bilateral consultations and discussions. In that way, we can complement all the developments we can do together in the Arctic Council.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.