Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here and to be able to share some thoughts with you on an issue very close to my heart.
Have you ever heard the story about the frog and the boiling water?
If you put a frog in a bowl with hot, boiling water it will jump out at once. But if you put a frog in cold water and heat it slowly, the frog will stay and adjust to the water until it is too late for it to flee. Of course it will die.
The story is about adjustment and the risk of not facing a serious problem until it is too late. It strikes me as a provoking image of how to face a likely change of climate. And how to survive in a decent, human world.
There is plenty of scientific evidence that climate is changing. This is not a unique process in the history of Earth. But in the more limited “time perspective" of human history it is a dramatic development.
The global temperature is now rising at a rate never experienced before. The causes of these changes are not quite clear. There are strong indications, though, that human influences, primarily through the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, play a major role.
The scientists might disagree on how the natural variations and the human impact on the climate interact. But they do tell us that we will face a serious situation in the future.
Not only the scientists carry that message. The native people of the North, with their deep knowledge of the environment, through hunting, herding and fishing, make their observations: the weather varies more, it behaves unexpectedly and outside the norm. Even the media report more and more about these warnings.
The consequences of climate change are especially intense on high latitudes and in the Arctic. This region acts as a sort of early warning system for the rest of the world, with global social and economic impact as a result.
A very extensive international study involving several hundred scientists - the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment - has just been completed. Although we cannot predict in detail, we know a great deal of what will happen, and the changes are already there.
The temperature in the Arctic will rise between 4 and 7 degrees during the next one hundred years. This is twice as much as the expected average global temperature rise. Far reaching consequences will include melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, coastal erosion, decreasing ice on the polar seas and a different mix and quantity of species.
The dramatic changes in the Arctic will, as I said before, have worldwide implications. The sea level will rise. More fresh water from the Siberian rivers into the Arctic ocean can alter the ocean circulation system and the whole weather machinery will change. More extreme results are already obvious, such as draughts, floodings, forest fires and insect outbreaks.
So, what can we do? There are a number of things we can and should do, as individuals and together. To start with, we must try to minimize the harmful causes of all this.
The Montreal agreement on protection of the ozone layer and the Kyoto protocol on controlling greenhouse gases are good examples. But they must be followed by action and new technology, which are crucial steps for a sustainable development in a long time perspective. Also new international agreements must develop. The last few days I have been pleased to see in media that such attempts are being made.
We will need to adjust. But we cannot wait and, like the frog, realise the situation when it is too late. Climate change is a slow process and fits badly into the fast pace of modern politics. History has witnessed climate disasters before on a local and regional scale. The most natural way to adjust has been to move away from deserts or flooded ground. Migration has become a solution. But the scale of what we might experience now is different.
The sea level is expected to rise a metre or so in just a few decades. What will happen? “We have no place to go to", noted the Minister of Environment from the Seychelles, at a Colloquium organised by myself and my collaborators just a few weeks ago. The theme was “Arctic Under Stress".
I am very happy to say, that also representatives of the young generation as my daughter Crown Princess Victoria and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark were present and very interested. We discussed the warming Arctic and its global consequences on board the Swedish icebreaker “Oden", which is on a long, Arctic research expedition this summer.
With an expected rise of the world's sea level, low lands such as the Maldives and many other small islands might disappear from the map. Major population concentrations of the world are also vulnerable to sea rise.
A large portion of Bangladesh, for example, will come under water. 17 million people in that country live on land less than one meter above sea level. Such is the situation also in many major cities like Bangkok, Mumbai, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila; and Florida and Lousiana are other areas at risk.
What world would we like to see for our children and their children? Many of the big problems that we will discuss during the next few days will depend on our treatment of the environment. For the first time in history we have the chance to influence the environment on a global scale. Climate change is the foremost important issue on the international agenda. We all have to take our responsibility.
I have only touched upon a few of the issues we are confronted with. There are major environmental changes ahead that will present risks as well as opportunities. Even if we are wiser than the frog and decide to jump out of the water, we will have nowhere to jump to. The world we have is the one and only. Therefore we have to stay and make it as human and rich as possible.
The word in Greenland for weather and climate is “sila". Sila is also the word for universal consciousness, the all-pervading, life-giving force that is manifested in each and every person.
Sila integrates and connects a person with the rhythms of the natural world. So let us all listen to, understand and follow the deep sense of Sila. I have learnt a lot through “Sila" but Sila never listens to me.
Like nature she finds her own way and follows her own rules with an amazing energy... Of course, I am talking about my dog. I thought it was a smart idea to call her Sila, to remind everybody in my surrounding about our responsibility towards nature.
If we want future generations to survive, we have to listen to mother Earth, to act and to act now!