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Estonia as an aspiring Arctic Council observer state

Estonia as an aspiring Arctic Council observer state © Annika Haas

30.11.2020

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear Ambassadors,

On the 9th of November, Estonia submitted its application for Arctic Council observer state status. Such historic occasions were in the old, pre-pandemic times done always in-person. It should have happened in Reykjavik, as Iceland holds the Presidency of the Council. We submitted it however in a manner fit for time of the pandemic and well familiar to Estonians before – virtually.

Digital development and climate change are too phenomena that know no borders – they happen always, by their nature, globally.

Amongst Arctic scientists there is a saying – what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Being the northernmost non-Arctic country, environmental change in the Arctic directly affects us. We do care!

Our long-term polar research experience, clean technology innovation, knowledge of smart technology and attention on indigenous people can contribute to the sustainable development of the Arctic.

The Arctic is the fastest warming area on the planet. The floating sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is shrinking fast. Today we can no longer say that the Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate as the entire globe. It is already warming at three times the global rate, and even faster in some areas. 2020 is no exception.

We continue to see records that no longer surprise scientists – record breaking heat over Svalbard in Arctic Norway, record breaking heat over Siberia in Arctic Russia that caused massive wildfires; collapse of the last remaining ice shelf in Arctic Canada. We see the beginning of a new era in the Arctic. Arctic summer sea ice could disappear within the next decades.

There has been a lot of discussion over the possibilities this offers. But the better we understand the devastating potential effects of the changes in Arctic to us all globally, the more concerned we all should be.

Global warming or environmental change does not stop in the polar regions. The consequences are felt through the atmosphere and ocean and rivers further away. Understanding the complete picture of the ocean-atmosphere-ice system teaches us how to solve environmental challenges.

Moreover, the melting of ice has opened up all new horizons of study in the Arctic. Bioprospecting, genome technology, microbiology. Warming polar areas, melting permafrost and ice will bring unknown microorganisms back to life. New bacteria and viruses might give us answers about the future of climate change but also pose a threat to our health.

Estonia possesses polar research expertise every small country can be proud of. Several pioneers of polar exploration originated from Estonian Baltic Germans. Bellingshausen, Baer, Wrangell, to name a few. They did research long before the international polar year of 1882.

During the Soviet occupation, Estonian scientists participated remarkably in Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. After the restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia’s primary research partners have been the Nordic countries, the European Union and Russia.

We still don’t have enough data and measures from this historically unreachable area. Climate models have not managed to keep up with the speed of shrinking sea ice and accelerating melting of glaciers. Extensive fieldwork campaigns are the best means to gather new expertise. Coordination on international level is most effective and environmental friendly.

We here in Estonia admire the way, in Arctic council, nations are able to put away our differences of opinion, our differing understanding of progressive societal models, and work together. To understand, to preserve and therefore serve humanity.

Estonian scientists participated amongst 40 research institutes in the DAMOCLES project – an integrated ice-atmosphere-ocean monitoring and forecasting system designed for observing, understanding and quantifying climate changes in the Arctic. Recently, the MOSAiC expedition returned to its homeport. The expedition was following the idea Fridtjof Nansen had 127 years ago: letting nature itself be the navigator to cross the North Pole. The results from this largest polar expedition in history will provide us with many important answers in the near future.

Arctic countries are fit to lead the development and implementation of clean technology. There are challenges endangering the Arctic, for example plastic pollution that is gathering there due to the atmosphere and ocean circulation. There are about a few hundred clean technology enterprises operating in Estonia in the fields such as energy, biofuels, and materials technology ready to be part of the solution.

Dear friends, while the Arctic has relevance to all of us, it is everything for the indigenous people who call it home. They need sustainable environment in order to continue independent life in the Arctic. In their Arctic.

While being remarkably adaptable to environmental change, they need help to adapt even better. Maybe Estonia is able to contribute to better adaptation hand in hand with modern development of society and technology. Reaching out to people who live in remote areas is after all the essence of Estonian digital society. We feel this benchmark might also support better opportunities for the indigenous people, also make them better equipped to deal with environmental challenges. Who knows, they may actually need quick pre-warning systems up there

There is knowledge to rely on. For many decades, one of the focal points of cooperation between Estonian ethnographers, linguists and folklorists with their Finnish, Russian and Hungarian colleagues has been the indigenous people of the Ural mountains, Siberia and Far East. The world’s largest genetic database of Siberian people is located in Estonia, which could contribute to genetic research, personalised medicine, prevention and treatment of diseases. Estonian geneticists, human geographers and social scientists have general competence and this competence is at your disposal.

The Arctic Council is a cooperation format offering a platform for deeper collaboration on environment and science. Member states have demonstrated willingness to cooperate on practical topics despite geopolitical rivalry. I believe cooperation in science and environment can be enhanced, and it will facilitate dialogue in other areas as well.

And finally – us not travelling to Reijkjavik for filing our application to become the observer at Arctic Council, may have been a sad occasion of not being able to meet many friends over in Iceland – but I believe that if we sustain the best part of what we have learned over the last year, it will also be good for environment and Arctic climate. And this is – to forge friendships, you must get together. But to sustain them, very often virtual meetings can replace and supplement them easily. The more we embrace and preserve teleworking, the happier Arctic, among other places on this earth, we do get. As pandemic has demonstrated, 30% of jobs can be done from afar – saving all this commute cannot but benefit our environment in the long term. It will only happen if we grab the opportunity and make this part of pandemic shock actually sustainable. This takes some smart policy development, but I am sure all governments eager to save our planet are now ready to think about that!

I wish you all a nice afternoon of teleworking!

Thank you!