Ensuring Maritime Stability, Security & International Collaboration in a Changing Arctic Workshop

Tokyo, Japan

As NGOs with a history of research on the Northern Sea Route, The Nippon Foundation and the Ocean Policy Research Institute have held international conferences on this subject for many years. This year, we are honored to work with the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies(DKI-APCSS)in holding this international workshop on the arctic, in the very year that the United States has taken chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Over these three days, open and free discussions concerning the Arctic region will be carried out under various themes. For many Asian nations including Japan, I expect that the outcomes from the working sessions will provide valuable insight in compiling our arctic strategies. But most importantly, I hope this workshop will give participants the opportunity to exchange honest views and explore common grounds for further international cooperation on the shared governance of the arctic region.

Here in Japan, next Monday, July 20th is Marine Day. This is a national holiday held to acknowledge the bounties of the ocean and wish for prosperity of Japan as a maritime nation. In fact, the entire month of July happens to be designated as the Marine Month. Against this backdrop, taking the time to think about the Arctic Ocean over the coming two days is quite timely and significant.

Japan’s longstanding research in the polar regions has for the most part been to deepen scientific understanding of the region, and to capture environmental trends. The involvement of The Nippon Foundation and Ocean Policy Research Institute on research of the Northern Sea Route started in the early 90s. The then Foreign Minister of Norway visited my office during his official travel to Japan and he proposed this joint research project of the Northern Sea Route which he called “Challenge of the 21st century”. Just a few years prior to that, the former Soviet Union had announced its arctic foreign policy which included opening of the northern sea route to foreign shipping. I thought this would be a timely challenge to pursue and so a joint research project between Japan, Norway and Russia was initiated.

This multidisciplinary project, the International Northern Sea Route Programme or INSROP enlisted close to 400 researchers from 14 countries. It is wonderful that representatives of the institutions which were part of INSROP are participating in this workshop! From 1993 to 1999, INSROP investigated all aspects of the potential use of the Northern Sea Route for transit and regional development. The main conclusion of INSROP was that a substantial increase in international commercial shipping is feasible in economic, technological and environmental terms, but that a number of issues concerning these three aspects needed to be resolved before the Northern Sea Route’s potential could be fully utilized. All products from the research were made public and shared with the shipping industry and other potential users and stakeholders. This laid down the groundwork for future research.

As you know, over the last three decades, circumstances surrounding the arctic have changed drastically. Climatic change is causing arctic sea ice to melt at unprecedented speed. Nations around the globe are racing to seize the opportunity that had been previously trapped under ice. But the Arctic’s new possibilities come with serious risks. As ice continues to melt in the arctic region, it will not only raise the risk of fundamentally altering the Arctic ecosystems and livelihoods, but also raise the risk of altering global systems that will impact the rest of the world.

For example, changes to ocean currents and ecosystems, as well as higher temperatures are to be expected all over the world. In fact, climate change caused by global warming is already altering ocean ecosystems. Recently, The Nippon Foundation together with experts from universities such as Princeton, Duke and Cambridge released a scientific report that addresses the impact of climate change on world marine resources. The report anticipates that climate change may lead to a 60 percent decline in fish stocks for Pacific island nations by the year 2050. Responsibilities to address these heightening concerns fall not only on arctic nations but also on the user nations.

In 2013, Asian nations including Japan were granted permanent observer status to the Arctic Council. It has opened up the opportunity for non-Arctic states to take a more active part in Arctic discussions. Concerted knowledge, wisdom and efforts will surely help to ensure that every possibilities are explored based on the most up to date scientific evidence.

Among non arctic nations, there are those who are now developing their national Arctic strategies as well as plans to engage in more active scientific research. As for Japan, the government’s Headquarters for Ocean Policy, headed by the Prime Minister, issued a Basic Plan on Ocean Policy in 2013 in which they included a clause, stating quote “the importance of taking comprehensive and strategic measures to address changes occurring in the Arctic Ocean due to climate change” end quote. Before long, I anticipate that the Japanese government will be announcing its national arctic policy.

It is clear that a lot is at stake. But at the same time, I believe that together, there is a lot that can be done. This makes holding these kinds of conferences all the more important. Let us seize this opportunity to explore where we can collaborate and where we can do better toward the sustainable management of the entire arctic region. As NGOs, The Nippon Foundation and the Ocean Policy Research Institute are ready to explore the possibilities where we may contribute to this end.

Thank you.