Thank you Dagfinnur [Sveinbjörnsson, CEO, Arctic Circle] for the introduction and good morning ladies and gentlemen.
It’s a pleasure to be here in this impressive venue to speak on the topic of ‘Scotland: a New Arctic Strategy.’ I would like to thank former President Grimsson for his invitation to attend and thank him for his continued engagement with the Scottish Government, most recently through his visit to Edinburgh in September.
This is my first visit to the Assembly. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, attended the last two Assemblies and speaks in glowing terms about her experience here. So I’m very pleased as Scotland’s External Affairs minister responsible for developing Scotland’s first Arctic Strategy to attend the Assembly
I’ve been extremely impressed by the array of high level and expert participants in the Assembly sharing thinking and shaping the future. Much mention has been made of the Sustainable Development Goals which Scotland has already incorporated into our National Performance Framework, and we have hosted Icelandic officials interested in our Wellbeing Economy Governance Group.
It has been good to see a number of Scottish themed workshops and participants from Scotland. Indeed, later this evening there will be a workshop at 6pm on “Scotland and the Arctic: Encounters and Representations in literature and art”.
As the Scottish Minister also responsible for Culture, I would encourage you along to what should be a fascinating discussion including what links Frankenstein, Scotland and the Arctic Culture as peoples and connects us. Importantly if we are to share Arctic aims then we should share our culture in doing so.
As many of you will be aware, Scotland’s social and cultural ties with Iceland and the Arctic date back hundreds of years.
Indeed as a recent University of Iceland DNA mapping study has revealed although male mitochondria DNA of settlers to Iceland were Norse, 62% of female DNA was from Scottish and Irish women taken en route to Iceland – I would add unwillingly. Other examples of cross fertilisation is in our arts and culture, for example the Orkneyinga saga, from the thirteenth century captured the history of the Norse Earls of Orkney during the preceding centuries and more recently the Icelandic national anthem was written in an Edinburgh townhouse back in 1874.
Some of the great Western explorers of the Arctic were Scottish, such as John Rae, the first Westerner to discover the final part of the Northwest Passage.
Scotland’s seas extend 320 km into the Norwegian Sea and similarly into North Atlantic Sea. One of the first non-Arctic country you encounter on leaving the Arctic Circle is Scotland. As a neighbour we share similarities on many of the issues we face which provides opportunities for cooperation.
For example, we have been heavily involved for over twenty five years in the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. My other Ministerial responsibility is for Tourism and I am aware of several sustainable tourism projects which have delivered real value to what is a vital sector for our economy.
Needless to say, the Scottish Government hugely values the opportunities that this programme offers Scotland and we remain committed to participating in the Northern Periphery & Arctic programme, post UK leaving the EU.
Following our engagement with the Arctic Circle Assembly the Scottish Government hosted ‘Scotland and the New North’ in November last year, the first ever Arctic Circle Forum to be held in Scotland and indeed in the UK.
The Forum explored the similarities we face, both in terms of challenges and opportunities, with our Arctic neighbours across a range of topics – climate change, marine science, transport, and, the importance of youth in decision making – to mention just a few.
The Arctic Circle Forum in Edinburgh was a resounding success, providing us with an invaluable international engagement platform but it also developed a conversation on what Scotland’s modern, contemporary relationship with the Arctic should be.
Key to Scotland’s future relationship with the region is a recognition that globally, perceptions of what the Arctic is and should be, have changed. President Grimsson spoke eloquently on this during his visit to Scotland challenging the world to stop looking south and look north instead.
Over the past thirty years, the international view of the Arctic has changed with an increasing recognition of the globally important, dynamic nature of the region and we heard that repeated from Plenary speakers yesterday.
But secondly, he pointed out that by reshaping the map, focusing on the Arctic as a new centre for trade, innovation and investment, Scotland is geographically no longer peripheral at the north west corner of Europe. We find ourselves in a key position, close to the central Arctic, linking the region with the rest of Europe and the wider world.
Of course, the Arctic also faces many of the challenges faced by us all - not least climate change and the environment.
We want to be part of international responses to tackling such issues, I’m proud that the Scottish Government has set, and is on course to deliver against, some of the most ambitious Greenhouse Gas Emission reductions targets in the world. This is from a country which is the oil capital of Europe. We have already achieved a 49% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990 baseline.
Through our new Climate Change Bill, we will deliver increased ambition in response to the Paris Agreement by setting a 90% reduction target for all greenhouse gases meaning Scotland will be a country with a net-zero emission of carbon dioxide by 2050.
In 2017 we delivered 69% of all our electricity needs from renewables and we will meet our target of 100% of electricity by 2020.
The concept then, that rather than being on the edge of Europe, Scotland enjoys a central role within a new global neighbourhood, speaks to why I became convinced that Scotland should develop an Arctic strategy and why we should be doing it now.
This is reinforced by the wider international context. Scotland faces being taken by the UK out of the European Union against our will.
The Scottish Government has been doing everything we can to protect us from the worst impacts this is likely to have. That includes taking steps to demonstrate that Scotland is, and will continue to be, an outward facing international country.
Over the past two years, we have been expanding our international presence. We have offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dublin and Washington. Earlier this year, we opened an office in Berlin. Earlier this month, our new office in Ottawa became operational meanwhile our new Paris office will become operational next week. All of our overseas offices will represent Scottish interests and seek to develop stronger bilateral relations with the host countries, a number of which have a strong interest in Arctic affairs.
So our proactive work on the Arctic is in keeping with our open approach to the world at large.
When I announced at the Forum in Edinburgh that we would be developing our own Arctic Strategy, I had in mind two purposes.
Firstly, to help us position Scotland as a valuable partner to the countries and regions across the Arctic.
Secondly, to identify concrete opportunities for Scotland, academically, economically and socially, to take forward projects or programmes of work related to the Arctic.
Crucially I see our involvement as being as much about what we can offer as a partner as what we can benefit from others . Yes we have much to learn, but we also have expertise, insight and frameworks to offer across a range of areas where we have common challenges.
We have world renowned university research capturing areas of the Arctic, areas of research such as energy and climate change that we want to share.
Policy development for our new Arctic Strategy is underway and our academic consultation will be key.
At the beginning of this month, I convened the first meeting of our Arctic steering group consisting of representatives from across Scottish academia, business and public sector organisations – several of whom are here today.
Separately, we have commissioned researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the Highlands and Islands to undertake a mapping exercise, consolidating the links between Scotland and the Arctic as they currently are to help shape future thinking.
Already, there are themes which are developing such as; climate change and environment; academic and research collaboration; economic opportunities; the geopolitical relationship of Scotland to the region and the links between and opportunities and challenges of remote communities in Scotland and those in the high north. And of course, culture must be a strong theme and thread.
I believe in all these themes Scotland has a distinct contribution to make to our Arctic partners.
One of the most important will relate to communities. In Scotland many of our communities are classed as being ‘remote’. However, through the development of our strategy and closer links with our Arctic neighbours I am keen that we redefine what it means to be ‘remote’. Remote does not need to mean removed.
There is no reason why, through the use of technology and modern infrastructure, sustainable, inclusive economic growth. We can have healthy, vibrant communities in remote areas. How do we make “remote” as a reason for envy not concern.
A further example would be long term spatial planning. Our National Planning Framework (NPF) sets out a vision of Scotland as a successful, sustainable place: a low carbon place; a natural, resilient place; a connected place. Our experience of this has been shared at previous Assemblies and our Arctic Circle Forum in Scotland.
We have particular expertise when it comes to applying marine spatial planning principles to the many and varied seas which surround us with oil rigs, fisheries and wind turbines all sharing the same space, safely and sustainably.
On climate change and the environment, we will contribute to protecting against worsening impacts through our world leading reductions targets.
Renewable energy is one of the best tools we have to combat climate change.
Scotland is the home of energy innovation, and is recognised as a renewable energy pioneer, with world first projects such as:
- the MayGen –the world’s first utility scale tidal array
- the Shetland Tidal Array - the world’s first community tidal array
- the ScotRenewables SR2000 Turbine – the world’s most powerful floating energy device; and,
- Hywind Scotland – the world’s first floating offshore wind farm
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney is also the world’s first and only purpose-built, accredited, open-sea testing facilities for marine renewable energy devices.
There is also fantastic work being undertaken more widely in Orkney looking at opportunities for new investment linked to research, innovation and shipping and Orkney Council Leader James Stockan is also attending this Assembly.
In other areas of the economy, we can also offer insight and promote collaboration.
For example, on sustainable tourism, an issue of importance as the Arctic opens up to new visitors, keen to explore the environment. We are already actively working with our Arctic partners areas such as this, for example Visit Scotland and the Icelandic Tourism Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding two years ago which incorporated aspects of tourism management and sustainable tourism development. How do we disperse tourism in a sustainable “Blue Tourism” agenda spreading the benefits and pressures?
In Scotland’s world class universities, research is also underway and there is a strong spirit of collaboration and international partnership already in existence.
Some are members of the University of the Arctic group, whilst others are partners in cross border collaborations in topics related to geosciences, fisheries and tourism to name but a few, and we hope that this continues into the future.
In drawing to a close, I would like to do three things. Firstly, reiterate my thanks to Mr Grimsson and his team at the Secretariat for both inviting me to this marvellous event and for all the work they do in making it a real success.
Secondly, to emphasise that Scotland, as a near Arctic neighbour has lots to offer to partners across the region and this will be brought out more fully during the development of our strategy.
And finally, to restate our commitment that, we will continue to do all we can to ensure Scotland is a positive destination and partner of choice for all. The New North is the Old North revisted, reseen and reimagined through new eyes and new energy but most importantly respected and I commit Scotland to that vision, that case and that cause.
Thank you all and I wish you well for the rest of the Assembly.