First, allow me to start by stating how delighted I am to take part in such an esteemed conference as the Arctic Frontiers on its opening day. As this is also the first time when an Estonian member of Government addresses this conference, I would sincerely like to thank the organisers for the invitation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This session “Arctic Responses to Covid-19” is highly topical, as the ongoing COVID pandemic is complex and has a profound impact across the globe, to all regions and countries. It started perhaps as a public health matter, but has by now proven to have a serious and long-term cross-sectoral effect globally, especially for economies and social sectors.
In order to find ways to best limit the impact of the crisis, a lot has to be done nationally, but also through regional and global cooperation. In this context, quite paradoxically, it seems that the pandemic is providing a momentum for more emphasis on climate related issues. Namely, when discussing the recovery, the key word used is sustainability, innovative and environmentally friendly solutions as countries want to build up a greener economic model. As a member of the EU, Estonia is very content that the EU Green Deal is at the heart of EU efforts to build back better and greener. While committed to climate neutrality internally, the EU is leading the world towards a greener economic model, focusing on making the UN climate conference in Glasgow a success. Estonia welcomes the fact that green recovery and investments that focus on the future are in the heart of global discussions.
As a very general conclusion, COVID has in a very tough way helped to raise awareness about climate challenges and need for green recovery. Taken from the perspective of the Arctic as an especially vulnerable region when we speak about the environment, the pandemic can actually also leave behind something positive. If the global community is taking climate related challenges now more seriously, the Arctic will benefit.
The current crisis has also proved the importance of connectivity, both physical and digital. During the crisis, we have all seen that good online services are essential in our every-day life, be it for schoolkids, people in home offices or allowing public institutions to continue offering their services. In our view, implementing innovative and digital solutions through clean technologies is the key for smart transformation also in the Arctic. Estonia as an innovative neighbour of the Arctic wants to participate in this transformation process, as we can help in better adaptation hand in hand with modern development of society and technology. Reaching out to people who live in remote areas is the essence of Estonian digital society. Currently, the digital ecosystem developed in Estonia during the last 25 years has bolstered resilience in this crisis and allowed us to adapt to the situation in a dynamic manner. For example, in a crisis like the current one, one can make use of advanced e-health infrastructure, so patients can receive high quality medical service even if the access to doctors is limited. This is possible thanks to digital prescriptions, sick leaves through our national health portal and multiple telemedicine solutions.
Estonia believes that digital solutions can and must be implemented for tackling the Covid-19 crisis globally. For example, in cooperation with Singapore we launched the Global Declaration on the Digital Response to Covid-19 in July 2020. This declaration seeks to mobilize political will to emerge from the crisis stronger and better equipped by using innovative digital solutions and working together as a global family. As of today 69 countries have joined the declaration, which also remains open for further support.
Together with the WHO, Estonia is helping to build trust governance framework for the global secure health data interoperability. This will enable to exchange trustworthy health data between countries and build various cross border health data services in the future. The smart vaccination certificate serves as the first practical project, which would help to assure countries worldwide that they can trust the vaccinations administered in other countries, secure the integrity of the vaccination process lifecycle and help to restore reliable cross-border movement. The first phase of piloting has started and all interested countries are welcome to join the project.
The experience from these projects can also provide input for new digital health initiatives, which can contribute in the human health sector in the Arctic.
The indigenous people of the Arctic merit special attention. As a small nation Estonians are well placed to connect with the concerns and aspirations of Arctic indigenous peoples. Climate change and Covid have disrupted their traditional way of life which we treat with utmost respect. Building up resilience in these communities is key. Estonian social scientists and linguists who have done extensive research on Russian Finno-Ugric peoples could perhaps offer useful insights for bolstering resilience in these communities because Estonia’s experience gives them unique knowledge on how to combine traditions with innovative and high-tech solutions. Estonia itself is a good example of combining traditions and a modern way of life.
When we place the Estonian experience in the Arctic context, some of our solutions could prove useful for Arctic communities, especially for solving social problems The platforms of Estonian companies for e-health, smart logistics, green technology and their experience in organizing hybrid virtual events/conferences can be successfully applied in the Arctic helping to maintain social contacts. Digital solutions also help reduce the ecological footprint of communities.
As said, this crisis is very complex, and I have today touched upon only a few main challenges and possible solutions. Estonia is facing similar challenges that communities in the Arctic and we can relate to their situation. Our long-term polar research experience, clean technology innovation, knowledge of smart technology and attention to indigenous peoples can contribute to the sustainable development of the Arctic.
To conclude, unity and continued close cooperation at the regional and global level remain key, with common objective to overcome the impact of COVID-19 and contribute to a sustainable recovery and future. As the northernmost non-Arctic country, we are very much ready and willing to do our part in this.
Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets' speech at Arctic Frontiers 2021 virtual conference “Building Bridges” session “Arctic Responses to COVID-19” 01.02.2021
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