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International Arctic conference at the Federal Foreign Office

10.04.2014 - Article

Some 150 representatives from around the world gathered at the Federal Foreign Office to discuss the opportunities and risks of sustainable shipping in the Arctic. Greenpeace Kids also dropped in.

Green teams with a polar bear in front of the Federal Foreign Office
Green teams with a polar bear in front of the Federal Foreign Office© AA

Climate change has already had visible consequences in the Arctic. The ice cap is melting faster than predicted by existing climate models. The all‑year pack ice belt is shrinking. The Arctic Sea ice is dwindling. As a result of this, new shipping routes through the Arctic Sea could become navigable. In the long term, this might lead to Arctic shipping routes becoming increasingly important for international trade. At the same time, the Arctic’s sensitive ecosystems have to be protected.

On 10 April, around 150 representatives of governments, research institutes, companies, associations and NGOs gathered together at the Federal Foreign Office for an international Arctic conference to discuss these issues. Under the heading “Sustainable shipping in the Arctic – prospects for international cooperation”, they discussed how security, environmental protection, the development of new resources and the opening up of new shipping routes can be reconciled.

Greenpeace Kids for better protection of the Arctic

At the entrance to the conference, around 30 young environmental activists together with a polar bear from the environment organisation Greenpeace drew attention to the importance of an intact ecosystem in the Arctic. During the last few weeks, the schoolchildren had worked in green teams with more than 250 other children in various German cities under the motto “Protect my polar bear” and collected around 52,000 postcards for better protection of the Arctic. On the fringes of the conference, the young people met representatives of the Federal Foreign Office, to whom they handed over the petition.

Sustainable new Arctic shipping routes

Minister of State Böhmer opening the Arctic conference at the Federal Foreign Office
Minister of State Böhmer opening the Arctic conference at the Federal Foreign Office© AA

In her opening speech, Minister of State Maria Böhmer stressed that the interest in the Arctic was now global. International cooperation was of key importance for guaranteeing the sustainability of Arctic shipping. The Minister of State added that in essence, this was about how new economic opportunities could be exploited, how the environment could be protected and what contribution Germany could make within the scope of such cooperation.

With the world’s third largest merchant marine and the world’s largest fleet of container ships, Germany had a particular interest in new shipping routes, said Böhmer. Even if policy on the Arctic was primarily a matter for the states bordering it, Germany nevertheless had an interest in assuming responsibility in this area. Germany had specialised maritime technologies that met high environmental standards. The Minister stated that as a trailblazer in environmental and climate protection and with its considerable commitment in the fields of marine protection and polar research, Germany could make an important contribution towards sustainable new shipping routes in the Arctic.

Arctic cooperation

Volker Perthes from SWP
Volker Perthes from SWP© AA

Volker Perthes, the director of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik - German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) talked about the importance of Arctic cooperation for security. Especially in difficult geopolitical times, such as the current crisis between Russia and the West, it was evident that international cooperation was essential. He added that good Arctic cooperation could also serve as a model.

In five different panels, the participants subsequently discussed the geostrategic importance and economic opportunities of new shipping routes in the Arctic for international shipping. The special ecological challenges of the growth in shipping in the Arctic was also discussed in one panel.

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