Opening of the Science Forum

Opening Speech by Georg Schütte State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the occasion of the Opening of the Science Forum as part of the 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial in Berlin


Opening of the Science Forum by Georg Schütte State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

© BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Second Arctic Science Ministerial 2018 here in Berlin. I am delighted that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is hosting the 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial together with the European Commission and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture under to the motto: "Cooperation in Arctic Science – Challenges and Joint Action".

The Arctic is changing in an unprecedented way and at a speed we would not have believed possible just a few years ago. The melting of the sea ice is fully under way. The air temperature in the Arctic is rising twice as fast as the global average. Without its white ice shield, the Arctic Ocean can no longer reflect the sunlight. Instead, the heat of the sun is being stored by the sea which is further accelerating climate change. Furthermore, life under water is changing radically wherever the sea ice is disappearing.
What's more: Life on land is also changing due to the thawing of the permafrost. The impact of climate change does not stop at the Arctic Circle but affects the entire northern hemisphere. According to current forecasts, the Arctic might be entirely ice-free in the summer months starting between 2030 and 2070. This will entail major changes for the Arctic's unique ecosystems. Record temperatures have been recorded repeatedly in the northern hemisphere. The Arctic has never been as warm as in 2018: Temperatures last winter were on average 4.9 degrees centigrade above the normal values. The land-based weather station closest to the North Pole, at the northernmost tip of Greenland, recorded more than 60 hours with temperatures above zero (degrees centigrade) in February.

The last Arctic winter was in fact the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic.

This has alarming consequences: The Arctic sea ice is receding. The surface area of the ice in the Arctic Ocean retreated to a record low. Furthermore, the rising temperatures are causing changes in the acidity of the Arctic Ocean which is steadily increasing. The entire productivity of the ocean is changing. These developments will have direct consequences for the people of the Arctic and their communities.

And we still do not understand all the interrelationships. Today's climate models are still not able to map the dynamics in the Arctic fully. Decisions that will shape the future require a reliable basis for decision-making for which predictions and climate models are imperative. This is why research and science are so important.

Two years ago, in September 2016, the United States hosted the first Arctic Science Ministerial. A Joint Statement was signed which sets out our global efforts in Arctic research.

We want to follow up on this document in this 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial. We decided to involve the science community even more strongly this time: Today's Science Forum will provide valuable contributions to the political debate at the ministerial meeting. Today's chairs will therefore participate with introductory presentations in the ministerial meeting tomorrow. The Joint Statement, which will be signed by ministers and representatives of governments of 26 nations and regions, will provide a sound basis for future international cooperation in Arctic research. The 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial once again draws much attention to a region which is of central relevance to the global climate. It also provides continuity and a basis that scientists and researchers can depend upon.

After close consultations, we and the other organizers have decided to follow up on three topics of the 1st Arctic Science Ministerial.

-           We want to jointly improve observation in the Arctic and access to data and infrastructures.

-           This is because Arctic research is vital for our understanding of the global climate. However, we also have to focus on the local impact: The Arctic region is warming faster and serves as an indicator of coming global changes.

-           We want to protect and strengthen the Arctic region: The Arctic populations are those who are most (directly) affected by the rapid changes – ecologically, socially and economically.

We have to address the question of how to shape the future of Arctic research. What questions will we need to ask? What answers do we already have?

Germany is not an Arctic country – but research in the Arctic is high on our agenda. We have observer status in the Arctic Council and maintain state-of-the-art research infrastructures for excellent, innovative research in the Arctic. We are convinced that Arctic research is also research on the global climate. The Arctic is a key region for the global climate and an indicator of future global changes. We also recognize that global action in the Arctic region has a particular local impact. We are convinced that research in international collaborations is particularly suited to providing relevant knowledge.

One such example of relevant research coordinated by Germany is the MOSAiC project for the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. MOSAiC is the first comprehensive, year-round expedition to study the Arctic climate system in the area of the transpolar drift of the central Arctic. The icebreaking research vessel POLARSTERN will be trapped in the Arctic ice for a full year and will drift across the Arctic accompanied by a network of observation stations. The project will close a gap in understanding the climate system of our planet. It will make a major contribution to improving predictions and climate projections.

The project has a total budget of well over 100 million Euros and was developed by the Alfred Wegener Institute in cooperation with an international consortium.

600 scientists and researchers from 17 nations will work hand in hand under MOSAiC and will provide an outstanding example of successful international cooperation.

Another good example of Arctic research is the Year of Polar Prediction project. In May 2017, the World Meteorological Organization opened the Year of Polar Predication to address current gaps in environmental observation which restrict the ability to make accurate predictions in polar regions.

Arctic research requires enormous effort and depends on research infrastructures, namely research vessels, research stations, aircraft and satellites. This makes it even more important to provide open and transparent access to data and research results in order to create added value for the research community and to generate new insights. Novel technologies can help us – artificial intelligence, digitalization and automation offer great potential for research in the Arctic.

However, the aim of the 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial goes beyond the close involvement of science. We want to involve the people who are directly concerned by the many rapid ecological, social and economic changes, namely the representatives of the indigenous Arctic populations. The changes in the Arctic mean great challenges – but also great opportunities for development in the region. I am delighted that we can discuss together with the representatives of the indigenous populations of the Arctic how future Arctic research can contribute to making lasting and sustainable use of these opportunities. What we want is to conduct environmental research and gain new insights together with the local people and their traditional knowledge, and not about them.

The large number of contributions to the conference report this year highlights the strong global interest in Arctic research. A broad overview of Arctic research has been made possible in a unique compilation by states, research organizations and organizations of the indigenous populations in the Arctic.

It is particularly important to us to bring researchers, policy-makers and representatives of civil society close together here at the 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial. Science and research are truly indispensable for the solution of global and local challenges. New insights will provide policy-makers with a reliable decision-making basis to shape the future in an effective and sustainable way.