Remarks With Greenland Foreign Minister Vittus Qujaukitsoq and Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen
Secretary of State
June 17, 2016
FOREIGN MINISTER QUJAUKITSOQ: Good afternoon. I think it’s appropriate to have a brief presentation and introduction of what we are doing here. Welcome to this briefing and good afternoon to all of you. I am pleased to welcome Secretary John Kerry to Ilulissat, Greenland. Today, we are pleased of having you here with us here to present the challenges and what the climate change is affecting us and how it can affect the rest of the world.
We met in Anchorage last year for the glacier conference in August 2015 where the possibility of a visit to Greenland was also raised. Together with my colleague, my esteemed colleague, the foreign minister, Kristian Jensen, we are honored to host you here today. When the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended our Arctic Council ministerial in Nuuk in 2011, it was the first time that the U.S. was represented by a secretary of state at an Arctic Council ministerial meeting.
Since 2011, Arctic developments both positive and negative have increased the magnitude and impact. Today, U.S. is a key leader in Arctic affairs and your chairmanship since 2015 has really demonstrated the increasing importance of Arctic issues also to the global agenda. The U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council has been historic in bringing closer to the reality of decision-makers around the world, the developments that are taking place in the Arctic these years.
During this visit, we will seek to explore and hopefully resolve some of the shared challenges with which we are faced with in the Arctic. Climate change, sustainable development, Arctic living conditions, and defense cooperation are some of the issues which we will address. As Secretary of State, you have succeeded in setting and reaching a very high level of ambition in your council chairmanship, and I hope that your Ocean conference planned for September of this year will prepare the ground for new decisions and mechanisms for managing our rapidly changing situation in the Arctic. I have traveled in Alaska and I know that Greenland shares many challenges and opportunities with the U.S. Arctic. I look forward of hearing how you see Greenland.
With these words, Secretary Kerry, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you – the floor of the deck. (Laughter.) The deck is mine. Well, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you so much, and Premier, thank you for having us. My friend, Kristian Jensen, the foreign minister of Denmark, thank you very much for being here, and I appreciate both of our briefers here and the great efforts of Denmark to make this ship available and to help to organize this very, very informative last couple of days.
The United States is very proud to be holding the chair now of the Arctic Council, and as the foreign minister said, we have a very ambitious program of trying to address black carbon and its impact on ice melt to affect the lives of indigenous population of the Arctic region and help improve them, and to deal with maritime safety and other issues that are being thrust at us because of the changes that are taking place in the region. The United States is an Arctic country along with Norway, Denmark and Russia, Canada. And we are all engaged with other Arctic participants in the Arctic Council in the effort to try to understand what is happening here.
There is profound change throughout the Arctic region. The permafrost is thawing in many places. Methane is being released as a consequence of that – not just on land, but even under the sea. You can light a match in some places in the ocean and it will inflame because of the bubbles of methane that are surfacing. We learned today about the impact of ocean current on this. So we know there are combined forces that are having this impact.
But we also know that human beings, by the choices we are making to provide our power, our energy, are having a profound negative impact through massive amounts of carbon dioxide, a third of which gets stored in the ocean but which is now having an impact on the changes of the ocean. There is a 10-times-greater acidification impact on the ocean today than there was 50 million years ago, and we know how to measure that. We can measure it through ice cores and through many other means of determining the history of the ocean.
So out of this particular ice fjord, the most active ice flow in the Northern Hemisphere there’s 86 million metric tons of ice each day flowing out into the ice flow, breaking off. I was told coming in here by the pilot of our airplane, who has lived here all his life, that there is enough water being emptied off the ice flow into the Arctic that it would take care of the city – and each day, there is enough water that would take care of the city of New York for an entire year. So this is gigantic transformation taking place and you can see it in the naked eye as you see where the ice has retreated from just in the last 15, 20 years, where the marks are still left.
So what we did in Paris with the Paris accord on global climate change is critical now to be implemented, but it’s not even enough. We have to all move faster in order to embrace new energy policies that are sustainable, that are clean, alternative – all of which are there for the using if governments and private sector make the right choices.
So I wanted to come up here today to both underscore the urgency but also to learn – and I did learn. I learned more about the threat of the Antarctic, which in many ways is far greater than the threat of the ice melt here in Greenland, what I’ve learned today – and an area where we don’t know enough, where we need to do more research, and where we need to respond to greater effect.
So this has been a significant eye-opener for me and I’ve spent 25 years or more engaged in this issue. There’s always more to learn. And we also learn the things we don’t know – and there’s a lot we don’t know that we still need to continue to research and work at. So I thank all those scientists, all those folks who dedicate their lives to helping us to understand that. We saw many of them who live up in Svalbard at 79 degrees Latitude where they are trying to figure out the answers for all of us who have to make policy. But there’s no mistaking that we are contributing to climate change – we human beings – and we have choices that can undo the damage that is being done or reduce – at least mitigate the worst effects so that we can preserve life as we know it and want it to be on this planet. So I’m very grateful to everybody who helped to make this happen and look forward to continuing to work with them and others to make something happen.
And let me turn to my colleague here, Kristian, and ask the foreign minister of Denmark if he would join in this.
FOREIGN MINISTER JENSEN: Sure. Thank, John, and thank you to Vittus and Kim for inviting us here and receiving us. And it’s been great to come here again and actually to see how much the ice has retreated. Well, it’s not great to see, but is a great eye-opener to see for oneself. Coming back here after some years, that things has changed. We can see more ground. You can see that the ice is less. So things are changing and we are perhaps the last generation who can do something about it. And it gives us an obligation to be able to pass on this fantastic climate, this fantastic piece of nature to our children and grandchildren. It gives us an obligation to do what we can to make sure that the manmade effects of climate change are being reduced and stopped as we can.
I’d also like to commend the U.S. for what you’re doing in your leadership in the Arctic Council, because what we need to do in the Arctic is both to be aware how much is needed to preserve this area, but also to create a possibility for the people living here to have a sustainable life. It means that we are focusing on telecommunication so you have an outreach to the world, as we all need, and also to find the sustainable growth and economy through a sustainable tourism. I know the steps they’re taking in here and next week to create new facilities for sustainable tourism. It’s a great thing to do because we need to work together.
And that’s perhaps one of my final points. As you mentioned, we need also to work together in the research. We can do things here in Greenland, we can do things together with you, but I think that we need to pile our efforts together also with the Norwegian researchers, with researchers of Canada and other countries, in order to really understand what’s going on. We have been researching here for many decades and we’re still just scratching the surface of understanding the enormous powers that are going on.
So we need to work together closely, combine our efforts, share our knowledge, and make sure that we can do whatever we can to stop the changes we’re seeing right now – not only for the people of Greenland, not only for those living in the Arctic areas, but for people living all over the world, because we’re getting the influx that we’re getting, the – we see and we feel the changes coming out of here all over the world. So we have a chance to work together, and I hope we will do that even more.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thanks, Kris. Thank you all.
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