Climate Change and Future Scenarios in the Arctic Region

Speech at Venice International University
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It is clear to everyone that the prospects for development in the Arctic Region are related to major global issues which are certainly of geostrategic – and therefore political – importance, and obviously refer to the conservation of an extremely fragile area of the world; last but not least in order of importance, they are related to the human dimension of people living in the Arctic, who follow ancient traditions characterized by costumes that we must and we want to absolutely preserve. We are talking of populations that are an expression of different ethnicities who have a secular and even millennial origin, and help us to better know the history of humanity in very ancient times.

In that framework, the role of the Arctic Council can be of orienting, promoting, coordinating positive actions; I would like to stress that Italy is honored to be a permanent observer of the Council, and I remember that, when I was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I engaged myself to get that important result. Those actions take obviously place in a context where the greatest players in the world are present and actively participate: from the United States of America to China, from the Russian Federation to Canada. Moreover, thanks to the role of the observers, both old and new, that framework is getting richer.

As a consequence, in its meetings the Arctic Council must face not only and not so much the big geopolitical issues which are inherent to the strategic importance of this or that global power in the Arctic context (other bodies are involved in those are matters), but it certainly has the great merit of being the place where different interests confront each other and – I hope – seek a common road.

The issue that perhaps is most dear to me – an Italian who remembers the history of his own country, of his proud countrymen such as Nobile, who opened polar routes so far unexplored – is precisely the theme of the presence, the guarantee of protection, of those Arctic populations, who represent a piece of ancient history of the Mankind. Those populations, from the Inuit of Greenland or the Alaskan, to the Sami in the North of the Scandinavian Peninsula, only to name a few, represent a value and an asset for the whole humanity. They represent cultural, historical heritage and traditions, which we must know better and better in order to respect and protect them. A world that fails to protect those populations would certainly be a very poor world, a world where our children and our grandchildren would live without knowing and without appreciating the treasure of wisdom, culture, respect for nature that those peoples have been able to express for centuries and millennia.

That’s why the other big issue – the environmental protection in the Arctic region, a fragile, very fragile environment – is inextricably linked to the security and the history of those populations. Those people, who live in the Arctic and at the same time “live the Arctic”, to say so, are the first ambassadors and the first guarantors of protection of the environment in which they live. Certainly we cannot decide in Washington or Moscow or Beijing or Rome, the best way in which the environment of the polar bear can be protected, or the best way to protect the Arctic against the destruction of the ice pack. Together with scientists, researchers, and especially with people coming from the Arctic populations, we must necessarily find a way that matches the wise story that for centuries has been able to harmonize hunting for survival with the respect for nature and the respect for the history of those regions.

Let’s not become excited and let’s not rejoice, while emphatically speaking of opening the passage for commercial ships through the Arctic sea. Obviously, that will open promising trade routes for the economy, but I believe that our action should be first of all oriented to ensure that Arctic sea ice last as much as possible, and not that it break as soon as possible to allow the passage of ships, in favour of large multinational companies. The cost to the world would certainly be much higher than those profits, than that economic opportunity. Environment comes first.

I realize that the exploitation of resources, even those in the subsoil – just think of the extraordinary heritage of Greenland subsoil – are attractive to industry groups, to investors, to countries: however that must not turn the Arctic into a big business of the 21st century.

I wouldn’t want to see in the near future an Arctic rush to make havoc of those territories; I would like to see a race to the Arctic to protect that region, to ensure sustainable development, to grant the people for a better life.

There are also aspects of strategic and geo-strategic dimension that are just as delicate. It is no secret that the contrasts between some major powers of the world (the United States, the West, and the Russian Federation) may have repercussions on the race to settle in the Arctic, to ensure strong positions in a devastating new cold war strategy; all of us have the duty to prevent and reduce that danger. We luckily succeeded in managing that situation during the 1990s, and we should try to manage it again in the near future.

For all those reason, the Arctic Council should address an appeal to Governments, to Countries, to States, which certainly have strategic interests we have to take into consideration. However, I believe that, if the leaders of those countries will have a correct vision, they will share the idea that the world will be better if the Arctic won’t be once again a land or sea transit for weapons or armaments, but a search site, a place of study, a protected area, a place – if anything – where we must link respect for nature with adventure: a place, in other words, to further enriching the world, and the younger generations, not to impoverishing it.

Hence the role of the observers of the Arctic Council can be important. A role as the one played by Italy, a country geographically far from the Arctic region but that over the decades has been able to participate to the missions of exploration of the North Pole, and later on established a major base at the South Pole, in Antarctica. Then, as an observer, it also promoted research initiatives of great interest and great scientific level. The Arctic Polar base of Ny Alesund (Svalbard), and the Antarctic base at the South Pole are a demonstration of how – despite the great economic difficulties that our country, like everyone else, is going through – Italy confirmed it is an actor in the field of research in the polar regions.

That is the heritage and the commitment that Italy, which is still the President of the European Union for a few weeks, wanted to express by promoting here in Venice the present important meeting dedicated to the Arctic regions.

I want to conclude by saying that for the Arctic, perhaps more than for other regions of the world, or as it is the case of other world regions equally strategic, the vision of a better world cannot and must not be only an economically oriented vision aiming at its exploitation, at profit, at the resources extracted from the subsoil: a vision that looks at the Earth in terms of hoarding rare earths. On the contrary, there must be a rush and a rather positive vision, looking to the human dimension, to children, women, men who grow in the region where their grandparents, great grandparents, and their ancient generations were born, and who have the right to stay there and to live well. Nature there is fragile and unique, and there is nowhere else in the world: therefore we must preserve it, through scientific research, through the reduction of pollution, through the drastic reduction of emissions into the atmosphere. A commitment that, yes, the Arctic Council should invite countries to take with decision, because too little has been done on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and commitments are too weak, particularly those of the polluting great powers (China, the United States, the India)

All of this must be the subject of a vision not limited to the next two years but regarding the next twenty years at least. A region as the Arctic can be preserved, saved, improved if you look at the younger generations, those that are being born today and who have the right to seeing the world of ice, the Arctic world, improved in twenty years from now, not deteriorated and not entrusted to some film footage. We do not have the right to make the world poorer than the one we found.

Franco Frattini

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