Ambassador Kent’s Welcome Remarks at Polar Seminar hosted by the Estonian Academy of Sciences

September 20, 2023

Good afternoon, President Soomere, distinguished panelists, Members of the Academy, and guests.  It is truly wonderful to be in this architectural gem of a building, designed by Martin Gropius, the uncle of famed German-American architect Walter Gropius, who started the Bauhaus movement and ended up in my family’s town of Boston.  I extend my gratitude to the President for hosting this seminar here.

Science and technology cooperation between the United States and Estonia is a point of pride for both sides.  When I presented my credentials to President Karis upon my arrival in Estonia, he spoke about the high volume of co-written scientific papers.  As the grandson of two science professors who maintained working relationships with international colleagues, I agreed about its importance in facing our shared challenges.

Academy President Soomere has also recognized the importance of scientific collaboration through support of the Academy’s Arctic Research Professorship Program.  These grants build Estonian researchers’ capacity to collaborate in international Arctic research, and I commend him for his support. 

Since 1994, when Estonia and the United States concluded our first science and technology bilateral agreement, we have collaborated across many fields: energy, space, science education, and key for our conversation today – environmental science and marine research.

Polar issues – at both poles – are receiving renewed and reinvigorated attention.  The urgent crisis caused by climate change as well as geopolitical currents are driving our expanded engagement. 

Today’s panel is taking place at an opportune moment.  We gather today to hear and learn from some of the world’s leading experts on polar research in Estonia and the United States.  They will discuss key issues in the field, including the effect of climate change on cultural heritage to the potential of biorobotics in Antarctica. 

We stand at a moment of inflection, in the polar regions, as elsewhere across the globe.  We are observing a multitude of challenges to the long-established multi-state collaboration in the polar regions.

In the Arctic Council, you are all too well aware of Russia’s obstructionism.

In the Antarctic, we see Russia and China seek to undermine established commitments to peace, science, and environmental cooperation in the Antarctic.  Just three months ago, we saw Russia and China block the establishment of a new marine protected area in the Antarctic.  The new area would have helped protect the fragile ecosystem of the Antarctic from the effects of climate change.

We can’t mention the polar regions without talking about climate change.  There is extreme stress on both polar regions due to dramatic climactic changes.  We see regular heat waves in both the Arctic, where temperatures reached as high as nearly 40 degrees inside in the Arctic Circle in recent years, or as high as 25 degrees in the Antarctic.  Heat waves cause loss of sea ice.  As the sea ice recedes, so does the irreplaceable biodiversity of the polar regions.

How we face these challenges is critical to protecting the polar regions and preserving them for scientific cooperation.  We must come together as like minded nations to oppose the obstructionists.

We are grateful for Estonia’s 20-year plus commitment to the Antarctic as a party to the Antarctic Treaty.  As climate change accelerates in the polar regions and geopolitical forces attempt to undermine our cooperation, we look to join forces with our allies to protect the Arctic and Antarctic.  In this spirit, we encourage Estonia’s speedy accession to the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection.

Looking to our speakers coming up, I am especially delighted to welcome Evan Bloom, whose reputation certainly precedes him.  My colleagues back in Washington were overflowing in their praise and respect for his career-long dedication to protecting and preserving the Arctic and Antarctic for peaceful scientific cooperation.

I thank all the experts on the panel for putting in the hard work and years of research that will enlighten and educate us, and most importantly, inform our policies on the polar regions with well-grounded, scientific facts. 

We are all following in the wake of Estonian-born explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, one of the first people to see Antarctica in 1820.  His voyage proved that land existed in southern ice fields, despite previous assertions to the contrary.  His scientific discovery expanded our knowledge of Antarctica and set us on the path for further research and exploration.

 Aitah. Thank you for listening.  Now for the real experts!