(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Friends of the Arctic.
"I used to be able to call my father and ask him when there was something wrong with the reindeer that I did not understand. But what’s happening now is new to him. He can no longer give me advice."
That is what he said, the young reindeer herder I spoke to recently. As I stand here today, I carry his words with me.
Ladies and gentlemen. When I was a child, my father took our whole family hiking in Abisko up in Swedish Lapland. He introduced us to the beauty and the unique natural environment of the Swedish Arctic.
Ever since, the Arctic has held a very special place in my heart. And I have come back on several occasions to visit the research stations in Abisko and Tarfala.
As of yesterday, the region of Västerbotten is chair of the Barents regional council. So it seems just right to gather this morning here in Umeå for the first EU Arctic Forum. To bring the EU to the Arctic and the Arctic to the EU. And to meet here, at Umeå University, known for ARCUM, its Arctic Research Center.
Together with all the Arctic expertise gathered in this hall, I believe this makes a perfect match for the European Union with its strong support for research, science and innovation.
Last week’s frightening report from the IPCC reminds us that the need for polar research has never been greater – nor more urgent.
I am proud to be able to say that Sweden and the EU are making this a priority. Not least by gathering all of you here today; experts, stakeholders and decision makers.
Ladies and gentlemen. When we think about the Arctic we think about climate change and the environment. We think about polar bears and melting glaciers. And we should. We have to.
However, the Arctic is also about peace and security. History and culture. It is about sustainable economic development in eight countries, with a total of more than 500 million citizens. It is about the wellbeing of all the people, plants and animals to whom the Arctic is home.
Take, for example, the young man I quoted in the opening of this speech. He is Sami. His family have been reindeer herders for generations.
For them, reindeer husbandry is not just a way of achieving an income, but the bearer of a long cultural tradition and a Sami identity.
Today, however, as winters get warmer, the reindeer have a hard time finding enough to eat. And because of drought in other parts of Sweden, supplementary feed is extremely expensive. Fewer calves survive – and the herders’ livelihood is threatened.
The situation of the Sami reindeer herders is just one example of the complex interaction between environment, economy and politics in the Arctic.
Ladies and gentlemen. The research station in Abisko is where I first understood – many years ago – how even Sweden faces the consequences of climate change.
I wish that everyone could go there, to see with their own eyes the dramatic changes taking place in the Arctic right now. I realize, of course, that this is not an option. But what we can do, and must do, is to listen to those with first-hand knowledge.
That is why we meet here today: to better understand what is happening in the Arctic region, and how that change affects us all.
Ladies and gentlemen: Coming generations may not have a voice or a vote – at least not yet. But they trust us to make the right decisions, and to base those decisions on solid knowledge.
It is my hope that this Forum will help us do just that.
I hereby declare the EU Arctic Forum opened!