by H.E. Yun Byung-se
Minister of Foreign Affairs
July 7, 2015
Ambassador Lippert and
Ambassadors of Arctic Council states,
Vice Minister Kim,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening. I can see that all of us have enjoyed exploring the Araon. For me, it was a special moment. The past month has been my “maritime month.” In mid-June, I was in Croatia, the “pearl of the Adriatic” and visited the port of Rijeka. Then, it was Yeosu, one of the world’s most beautiful harbors, to deliver a keynote speech. And last week, we had the election of Mr. Lim Ki-tack as Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a significant milestone for a maritime nation like Korea. And today, to top it off, we’ve had our tour of the magnificent vessel Araon, meaning “all seas,” and are celebrating the second anniversary of Korea at the Arctic Council.
I still have vivid memories of the 15th of May, 2013, the day Korea joined the Council as an observer. That was just three months after the inauguration of President Park and the new government, which had chosen cooperation in the Arctic as a major policy area. So you can imagine the sense of satisfaction we had at the time. And I think that the decision to accept Korea to the Council reflected the international community’s expectations for us, in terms of dealing with the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic.
As you know, one such challenge is climate change. The whole world is feeling the impact, but the Arctic is really at the sharp end. Compared with the global average, the region’s temperature is rising twice as fast. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out that the Arctic is the “ground zero for analyzing the impact of climate change.” In fact, a few years ago, while visiting the region, he was shocked to hear about the astonishing rate its glaciers are melting away – at the rate of 150 cubic kilometers per year, that is 150 billion tons every year. This week, he is planning to visit the Arctic Polar Ice Rim again, to raise awareness on climate change.
For my part, last week I spoke at a workshop on the Low Carbon New Climate Economy, where a new report of the New Climate Economy Project was discussed. The Project is a joint effort co-sponsored by Korea, and I emphasized that to tackle climate change, we in the international community must get our act together. Fail to act now, and we’ll pay an unbearably high price later - and pass on an even greater burden to future generations. Indeed, this year, the UN at 70 is focusing on adopting a new global climate change regime. The upcoming Paris Conference in December could become a make-or-break moment, for the Arctic, and for our entire planet.
Korean scientists have been active in the Arctic, researching the region’s climate change, and also its ecosystem and geology. The Arctic and the Antarctic are not only natural wonders, but natural labs to gauge the health of planet earth. We are committed to contributing to the science of climate change, as well as to broader research on the polar regions. That’s why over the past five years, the Araon has been sailing both Arctic and Antarctic waters with our researchers. And that’s why our scientists spend a good part of the year at the Dasan Arctic Research Station in Ny-Alesund(니알슨), Norway.
And the changes that they have observed in the Arctic are real and serious, from rising sea levels to disrupted ecosystems. At the same time, we should also be innovative and creative in turning the challenges into new opportunities. The opening up of Arctic sea routes will inevitably generate some opportunities in economic terms.
Indeed, the Arctic is now turning from a region for geographic explorations to an area of economic promise. The international community is eyeing the economic prospects, from shipping routes and fisheries to oil, natural gas, iron and other minerals. The commercialization of the Northern Sea Route, expected around the year 2037, is being touted as an alternative to existing sea lanes such as the Suez Canal.
Of course, some of the projections should be taken with a grain of salt. And we should not forget the adverse impact that economic activity could have on the fragile Arctic environment. For instance, shipping brings the risk of large scale oil spills and marine accidents. In this sense, the IMO’s adoption of the Polar Code was very timely. The incoming IMO Secretary-General is experienced and well versed in these matters, and I am confident that under his direction, it will be implemented effectively.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As a country encompassed by seas, Korea has a strong maritime tradition. It has the know-how and experience in many fields, including shipping, shipbuilding and fisheries. I believe that this make Korea an ideal partner for cooperation in the Arctic.
Indeed, last month at a conference titled the “Global Arctic: a new model for global cooperation,” held in Canada, President Grimmson of Iceland named Korea as a model observer member of the Arctic Council. He commended Korea’s proactive contributions and activities in the Arctic. He also noted that Korea’s vision in the “Master Plan for Arctic Policy” could serve as an example for other countries.
In fact, for us the Arctic is part of the Eurasia Initiative, which we are working on as a matter of national strategy. One of the pillars of the Initiative is “linking the continent as one.” And for this, President Park Geun-hye stressed that we need “to enhance connectivity between the eastern Eurasia and the seas through the newly available Northern Sea Route” when she unveiled the Initiative in October 2013.
And next week, we will take an important step to realize our vision for the Initiative, the Eurasia Friendship Express. The Express will cross the continent, from Vladivostok, to China, Mongolia and eastern Europe, all the way to Berlin. It is my dream to see the day when East Asia and Europe are connected both through the trans-continental railways and the Arctic waterways.
We have also been working bilaterally as well as multilaterally through the Arctic Council. The Arctic issue has been high on the agenda in summit meetings with the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Russia. At the ministerial level, I underlined our commitment to contributing to Arctic issues during the first Korea-Nordic Foreign Ministers meeting last September.
Furthermore, last month we took the step of appointing an Ambassador for Arctic Affairs, who is also an experienced expert on climate change. This too is a sign of the importance we attach to multilateral and bilateral cooperation in the Arctic.
And as an observer member of the Arctic Council, we will continue on a responsible path, for the sustainable development of the region as well as in addressing climate change. In this regard, we appreciate the program of the U.S. chairmanship under the theme of “One Arctic: shared opportunities, challenges and responsibilities.” This is a well-timed, forward-looking initiative for a Council which will turn twenty next year.
The American author Kim Stanley Robinson wrote on the Antarctic that, quote, “below the 40th latitude there is no law; below the 50th no god; below the 60th no common sense and below the 70th no intelligence whatsoever,” unquote.
However, I believe that we can shape the Arctic as an area of science and research, collaboration, harmony and shared prosperity.
So, in closing, let’s do it together. Let’s uphold the spirit of the Arctic Council, and commit ourselves to preserving the Arctic’s pristine environment and promoting its sustainable development. Thank you. /끝/