This summer’s tour to Svalbard was an extremely enlightening experience. It offered a welcome opportunity for ministers from both the north and the south to discuss the global environmental agenda. Our discussions were greatly enhanced by outstanding excursions led by Arctic scientists. The truly fascinating nature and historical developments of the region were unforgettable. By Klaus Töpfer
Svalbard is the perfect setting for discussions about the important global and regional environmental challenges faced by all countries. With the Arctic experiencing the effects of global change almost twice as fast as the rest of the world, it provides us with an early warning indicator. Here we see, for example, how climate change may affect other parts of the world. Here we also begin to understand the importance of international cooperation in research and knowledge.
|this seemingly clean environment is subjected to substantial environmental pressuress
The natural environment of Svalbard is almost indescribable. Even though humans have used this area for more than 400 years, its nature still captivates us with its large tracts of unspoiled wilderness. With an area of 62,700 km2, Svalbard represents a significant part of Norway and Europe’s last wilderness. At the same time the harsh climatic conditions here have played an important factor in preserving its cultural heritage. Svalbard is truly an important part of our global heritage.
Svalbard, however, and indeed the entire Arctic, presents a paradox. This seemingly clean environment is subjected to substantial environmental pressures. A changing climate will have dire consequences for many species that already live under marginal conditions. Many environmental pollutants are transported here by wind and ocean currents from industries further south. These toxic substances threaten the health of Arctic wildlife and the humans rely on them.
We are utterly dependent on international cooperation to succeed in the protection of Arctic ecosystems. As Svalbard showed us, the Arctic is a memorable place. It is only through our actions today that we can ensure that future generations will have the same opportunities to build their own memories of this wild nature.