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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is the fifth President of Iceland. Grímsson was born in Ísafjörður, a small fishing town on Iceland’s northwestern peninsula. He graduated from the Reykjavík Lyceum in 1962 and then studied in[…]

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the fifth President of Iceland, explains the perilous environmental situation in the Arctic in light of climate change.

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson: The Arctic was for centuries largely unknown, a very remote part of the Western world, and it was only 100 years ago that discoverers starting to go to the North Pole and to these remote areas. And then the Cold War closed the Arctic in terms of military confrontation and the conflicts between the Soviet Union on one hand and the Western powers on the other. So, one of the most important things to remember when we look at the Arctic in the beginning of the 21st-century is that it is so recently that we as mankind have been able to come together to discuss and decide what do we do with respect to the Arctic future.

There is no part of planet Earth which has so recently arrived on our desk as a challenge and as an opportunity. So therefore, the cooperation in the Arctic is one of the most crucial issues of the 21st-century for many reasons. One is that this is the front line of climate change. The aggressive melting of the ice in the Arctic will have consequences all over the world. If only a quarter of the Greenland ice sheet melts this will lead to two meters rising sea levels everywhere in the world. And already we are seeing that the present melting of the Arctic sea ice is causing extreme weather events in the United States, in Asia and in other parts of the world. In addition, the Arctic is one of the richest parts of the world in terms of untapped natural resources. And with the continuous melting of the Arctic sea ice there will be new shipping lines linking Asia to America and Europe in a revolutionary way like the Suez Canal on the Panama Canal did in it's time. That is why the Arctic has now become the new economic and political playing field.

In 2015 the United States takes on the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. It is the first time since the Arctic Council became a treaty making organization that the U.S. takes on that responsibility. And the chairmanship is not just a formal role, it is supposed to provide a vision, a policy agenda and a direction towards the future. So it's very important that all the people in the United States who are interested in climate change, who are interested in the environment, realize that in the next two or three years the U.S. will be in the leadership role with respect to the future of the Arctic, of course in partnership with other Arctic countries as well as the observer states from Asia and Europe. Although the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental body, there is a role for activists, environmentalist, experts, scientist, ordinary people in this process. And in order to facilitate that, together with many other partners from the Arctic I established last year what's called the Arctic Circle, which is a kind of an international assembly where everybody, whether it's an individual or citizen or a government or a corporation or a scientific institute or a university or an activist group, can come together where everybody has the same role, the same right to speak and discuss.

So I would encourage, especially in the two next two or three years, everybody who is concerned about these issues in the United States, first of all to look at the Arctic Circle on the website and see if you want to come to the assembly, if you want to attend the following meetings that will take place in the United States, in Greenland and Singapore, as well as Iceland in the next 12 to 18 months, but overall be aware that your own country, the United States of America, will from 2015 to 2017 be the leader in making policy and agreement and map out the future for that part of planet earth where climate change is most aggressively taking place. And as I said before, this will be the first time after the Arctic Council was established that the U.S. faces this way a monumental responsibility and therefore the democratic dialogue with Washington, with the State Department, with the Obama administration and all the others who are involved in this journey, is very important. There was a big great march in New York about climate and hundreds of thousands of people participated. I'm not sure if many of them realized that in the early months of next year it will be the U.S. who will chair the international cooperation on that part of Mother Earth where climate change is most aggressively taking place.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton