Climate change calls for action in the Arctic region
Ministry for Foreign Affairs 27.11.2019
Sustainable Arctic and Antarctic policies play an integral role in combating climate change. In the seventh part of the “Sustainable Foreign Policy” series, Petteri Vuorimäki, Finland’s Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs, tells us about Finland’s expertise in dealing with cold conditions and its active role in polar policy.
Petteri Vuorimäki is the Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The Arctic and Antarctic are facing significant challenges today. Climate change clearly affects polar regions more powerfully than the rest of the world.
Threats to biodiversity, new sea routes and the negative side effects of tourism all present challenges to our understanding of how the Arctic and Antarctic regions should be protected. In addition, the international community’s interest in the Arctic region has increased from the point of view of geopolitics, among other perspectives.
What issues does Finland consider important in Arctic and Antarctic policy?
“Finland is one of the five countries that are both permanent members of the Arctic Council and consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty. We have first-class expertise when it comes to polar areas,” says Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs Petteri Vuorimäki.
Tuomas Lähteenmäki interviewed
“Finland’s long-term objectives in the Arctic and Antarctic regions include protecting the environment, strengthening meteorological cooperation, reducing black carbon emissions and, in the case of the Arctic region, strengthening regional cooperation. Finland’s expertise in cold conditions has also been an important factor in our export promotion,” Vuorimäki summarises.
The Arctic Council is the most important actor in terms of Arctic policy. The Council is an intergovernmental forum consisting of eight member states. Six organisations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have permanent participant status and are actively involved in the Council’s work. In addition to these, the Arctic Council has more than thirty observers who participate through their engagement in the Council’s working groups.
“The Arctic Council aims to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. It is very important to ensure that the significance of Arctic policy is understood widely throughout Finnish society. Arctic issues cannot be compartmentalised into areas such as foreign, climate, science or industrial policy,” says Vuorimäki.
“I represent Finland as a Senior Arctic Official in the Arctic Council and participate in the work of Finland’s Arctic Advisory Board. I also represent the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in the steering group preparing the new Strategy for the Arctic Region in Finland,” says Vuorimäki.
In addition to Arctic policy, Vuorimäki’s duties include matters related to the Antarctic. Antarctica does not belong to any single country, and it has no permanent population except for people working in research centres. How is Antarctic policy connected to the Ambassador’s other work?
“I am the Ambassador responsible for both Arctic and Antarctic issues. This is important because the state of the environment is causing concern in both Arctic and Antarctic regions due to the melting of ice, changes in biodiversity and the negative side effects of tourism, among other challenges,” Vuorimäki sums up.
“Many people are surprised to learn that Finland is one of the countries conducting top-level research in Antarctica. Aboa is a Finnish research station in Antarctica that conducts world-class research in areas such as gravity, the composition of the upper atmosphere and atmospheric aerosol processes. It is very important for Finland to better understand what is happening in the Arctic and Antarctic as a result of climate change,” Vuorimäki says.
Antarctic issues will be a central topic of discussion particularly in the coming spring. The Arctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), which will take place in Helsinki in May–June, will bring nearly four hundred representatives from over 50 countries to the city to discuss the implementation of the Antarctic Treaty. Decisions at the meeting will be made by 29 Consultative Parties, including Finland. Vuorimäki will chair the event.
“Finland has been a member of the Antarctic Treaty since 1989. We are one of the countries making decisions, and we are also known our wide-ranging expertise on how to operate in cold conditions. Finnish icebreakers are internationally known, but we also have special cold weather expertise related to housing construction, transport and high-level communications technology, and our expertise is valued,” Vuorimäki says.
How has the importance of the Arctic grown in EU policy, and has this been visible during Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU?
“From the point of view of the visibility of Arctic policy, developments have been moving in the right direction in recent years. The EU has issued three Arctic Communications, the most recent of which was in 2016. Awareness of Arctic issues has increased, especially due to climate change,” says Vuorimäki.
During the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Finland has sought to keep Arctic issues high on the EU agenda and has proposed updating the 2016 Communication.
“We should be more active in raising issues related to the Arctic region. With this in mind, it is important that we invest in the implementation of the new national Arctic strategy in Finland, too. We must therefore work together to ensure the development of our polar know-how. People around the world will continue to be interested in our expertise in the future, too,” Vuorimäki says.
Vuorimäki has worked with the EU’s external relations for a long time. Before serving as Ambassador, he worked in the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels.