Arctic Circle Forum Scotland
First Minister, 20 November 2017
Thank you. It’s a real honour to welcome you all to Edinburgh for the 2017 Arctic Circle Forum.
I want to thank former President Grímsson and the Arctic Circle Secretariat for their part in bringing the Forum to Scotland. The presence of over 300 people – from across Scotland, the Arctic region, and beyond – is testament to the importance of this event – and of the issues we’re discussing.
Now, I’ve made this point before – but it bears repeating: Scotland is geographically the Arctic’s nearest non-Arctic neighbour. The northern part of Scotland is closer to the Arctic than it is to London. It makes perfect sense for us to play an important and a full role in the Arctic Circle deliberations.
We share ties of history, friendship and culture which in many cases go back centuries. For example, the Icelandic sagas of the 13th century chronicle the early history of our Orkney Islands.
You can see a more recent link on the Mound, at the very heart of our capital city. Last night saw the lighting of Edinburgh’s Christmas Tree. The tree is a gift from the community of Hordaland, in Norway. It recognises the fact that during the Second World War, Free Norwegian Army Units found a home here in Scotland.
So these ties in terms of history and culture are strong and should be celebrated.
Of course, the focus of this Forum is not our shared past – important though that is. It is about the future – and specifically Scotland’s modern relationship with the Arctic region.
Now, our similarities – both geographic and cultural – mean that Scotland and the Arctic states often face many of the same issues. In fact, we’re seeing that more and more, as our nations adapt to major economic and environmental changes – from the onset of global warming to the effects of globalisation.
It means that, now more than ever, there is a need – and indeed an opportunity – for us to work together on shared priorities. That’s fundamentally what this Forum – and our concept of the ‘New North’ – is all about.
Perhaps the most important of those shared priorities is global warming. When Ban-Ki Moon addressed the Arctic Circle Assembly in 2016, he described the Arctic as the “ground zero” of climate change. He highlighted that a temperature increase of 2% worldwide might well mean an increase of 4 or 5 degrees within the Arctic Circle. That’s one reason why many Arctic states are at the forefront in tackling climate change.
Scotland is also leading by example. Last week, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, I spoke about the specific steps our country is taking.
We’ve already set – and are well on course to meet – some of the most ambitious emissions targets in the world. We’re now in the process of making those targets even tougher. As part of that we have committed to an early decision on when Scotland will aim to achieve net zero emissions. Our targets for renewable energy generation and the early adoption of electric vehicles are the most stretching in the UK.
And since 2012, Scotland’s Climate Justice Fund has provided £21 million for projects in sub-Saharan Africa, which help communities there combat the effects of climate change.
Of course, in many areas – such as renewable energy generation – we recognise that while we are doing well, we are still a long way behind countries such as Iceland and Norway. And so increasingly, we want to work with and learn from countries in the Arctic to help achieve our ambitions.
Just last month, I had the honour of opening Hywind Scotland, off the north east coast of the country. It’s the world’s first floating windfarm – and it has been developed by the Norwegian state energy company, Statoil. It’s a hugely exciting project, which could transform the development of offshore windfarms in deeper waters. It’s one example of the international collaborate that Scotland seeks to be involved in.
We are also a world leader in marine energy. More wave and tidal power companies have demonstrated their technologies at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney than at any other site in the world - including firms from Finland, Sweden and Norway.
And we’re collaborating with Arctic nations on essential scientific research. Scottish universities and research institutes have worked with partners in Norway and the United States to study the Greenland fjords. Their research aims to predict how melting ice sheets will affect sea levels.
This is the kind of collaboration that is is helping us to fulfil our moral obligations in relation to climate change. But it’s also helping us to realise significant economic benefits. The low carbon sector here in Scotland currently employs almost 60,000 people.
Working together on climate change is first and foremost essential for the future of the planet. However, it will also bring economic benefits to communities across the New North.
I’ve focused on climate change so far, because it’s so fundamental to the future of all of our nations. But the programme for the next 2 days demonstrates there’s much more scope for collaboration.
If we take tourism, as one example – that’s a sector which is expected to grow dramatically in the Arctic, over the coming decades. And it’s an area where Scotland has particular strengths. Our tourism industry accounts for over 200,000 jobs across the country. So we have a lot of expertise in developing sustainable tourism. But we’re also keen to learn – and create new tourism links - with our Arctic neighbours.
That’s why, late last year our tourism agency signed a memorandum of understanding with Iceland’s tourism board – to share ideas, knowledge and best practice. And that kind of collaboration will be particularly important as more remote areas become accessible for tourism.
We’re also working with our partners to equip communities – particularly those in remote areas – for the economic and environmental changes we will see in the future. After all, these changes will have a major impact at the local level. So we need to ensure our communities have the resilience and the ability to thrive.
One of the discussion sessions of this Forum focuses on the work of Lateral North – a design collaborative from my home city of Glasgow. For the past year, they have been working with the Anchorage Museum in Alaska on the ‘Mapping Anchorage’ project. It involves helping three Anchorage communities to become more resilient and connected – by identifying challenges and opportunities, and proposing solutions.
Now, tourism and design are, of course, just a couple of the issues being covered as part of this Forum. Over the next couple of days, there will also be sessions on planning and transport; new shipping opportunities; local energy solutions; marine development; young people in remote communities; air travel; and business cooperation. The variety of sessions I think demonstrates the extent of our shared priorities – and also the scale of the opportunities for further collaboration.
And of course all the issues we are discussing are linked – directly or indirectly – to a much larger theme. One of the questions which countries across the world are struggling with at present is how to ensure that a dynamic, open and innovative economy goes hand in hand with a fair, inclusive and sustainable society.
No country has all of the answers to that question, but Arctic countries on many measures are doing pretty well. For example, they account for 5 of the top 11 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. So for Scotland, it makes sense for us to look north as well as south when we tackle major social and economic challenges.
Our hope is that by working more closely with the Arctic Circle – on the environment, on business links, on improving local communities – we can help build a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable society within Scotland. But we also believe we can play a part – together with all of you - in bringing benefits to nations across the Arctic and around the world.
That’s why I’m so delighted and honoured that Scotland is hosting this year’s Arctic Circle Forum. I hope all of you find the sessions enjoyable and informative. And I hope that this event will mark the start of even closer relations between Scotland and our neighbours in the New North.