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EU Commission: Climate change 'most comprehensive threat' facing Arctic

Almost one-third of Finland's land mass is located in the Arctic Circle. The EU plans to bolster its role as a geopolitical player in the at-risk region.

Merta, vastarannalla lumipeitteistä maata.
A file photo taken in 2019 off the coast of Greenland. Image: Ida Guldbaek Arentsen / EPA

The Arctic region has reached an "unprecedented crisis point" due to climate change, a problem which is the "most comprehensive threat" facing the region, the EU Commission said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Issued by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the statement called for more EU engagement to foster a "peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic."

"The Arctic is especially sensitive to global warming - it has warmed three times as fast as the planet on average during the last 50 years. Current Arctic sea ice cover is at its lowest level since at least 1850 and is projected to reach practically icefree conditions at its summer minimum at least once before 2050," the document stated.

Almost one-third of Finland's land mass is located in the Arctic Circle.

The risks posed to the Arctic by global warming will have a knock on effect which will cause sea levels to rise, coastal erosion, biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction. As sea ice melts away, according to the statement, more greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere and accelerate climate change.

EU aims to cap Arctic fossil fuel extraction

According to Commissioner of the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU is prepared to bolster its role as a geopolitical player in the Arctic. He said that the role of indigenous populations, particularly women and young people, need to have a louder voice regarding decisions made about the region.

"The EU is committed to make the Arctic safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous. Safe and stable, through enhanced international cooperation; sustainable and prosperous, by ensuring a strong link between the EU's Arctic engagement and our climate policy, the European Green Deal and its blue economy dimension," Sinkevičius said in a statement.

The Commission's statement said that extracting fossil fuels in the region should no longer increase in scale. Sinkevičius acknowledged, however, that gaining international consensus about those goals would require "intensified diplomatic efforts."

The communication (PDF file) also noted that gas and oil extracted from the Arctic by Russia continues to be imported to the EU. However, the EU's broader climate goals include a planned shift to green energy sources and a reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels.

The EU said it is directing funds towards the green transition of the region, and was also planning to set up a European Commission office in Nuuk, Greenland, in order to raise the profile of Arctic issues in the EU. Greenland is an autonomous region belonging to Denmark, but does not belong to the European Union.

The EU's Arctic policy statement issued on Wednesday was an update to one it issued in 2016, as its policy has been regularly updated since it began issuing such policy statements about the region in 2008.

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