Facts & Figures

Arctic Research Station Established: 2007
AC Observer: 1996
Active Polar Icebreakers: 1

Since the mid-1800s, German explorers have been contributing to scientific discoveries around the polar regions. Carl Koldewey led the first German expeditions to the Arctic in 1868 and 1870, and in the beginning of the 20th Century Alfred Wegener, who developed the theory of continental drift, conducted a number of expeditions in Greenland.

Having already been an observer to the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), the predecessor of the Arctic Council, Germany joined the Council at its founding in 1996 as an accredited observer. Replacing its 1991 research station on Svalbard, the Alfred Wegener Institute partnered with the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor to build a larger collaborative base for research in 2003. From 2009 to 2016, the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) secretariat was headquartered in Potsdam, Germany – the first time in the IASC’s history the secretariat has been located in a non-Arctic country.

Against this background it comes as no surprise that Germany gradually increased its political engagement in the region. In recent years it has held regular Arctic events at the Federal Foreign Office and published the country’s first ever Arctic Policy Guidelines in late 2013.

Beyond the country’s official engagement in the region, Germany’s private sector is increasingly interested in the potential of the Arctic. Germany already imports roughly 2/3 of its energy from Norway and Russia. As these two countries further expand their energy production northwards into the Arctic in order to maintain production, it can be expected that so too will German energy dependence on the Arctic grow. Additionally, Germany, as a resource poor country, is highly dependent on the import of raw materials. Due to its sizable shipping industry, Germany is also interested in shorter shipping routes between Europe and Asia. German energy companies are already active in Arctic or near-Arctic regions, German shipyards have built polar vessels, and German industry offers expertise in port infrastructure and management to Arctic nations looking to expand their facilities.

Germany’s Arctic engagement is based on three pillars: polar research activities; the fight against climate change and for environmental protection; and the sustainable realization of economic opportunities.

Germany is primarily an Arctic player with regard to its polar research activities. This research is done mainly by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut (AWI), the Center for Polar and Marine Research, and the Federal Agency for Geosciences and Resources (Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, BGR), responsible for terrestrial exploration activities.

The AWI has two Arctic research stations on Spitsbergen (a joint Franco-German endeavor called AWIPEV) and on the Samoylov island (a German-Russian collaboration). In addition, both institutions possess a range of polar research ships (e.g. Polarstern), planes (e.g. Polar 5+6) and other polar research capabilities. As a leading advocate in the fight against global climate change and an advocate for environmental protection, the German government has called for strict environmental standards to apply to all activities in the Arctic region.

To conclude, in recent years the German government has become more aware of the opportunities as well as the challenges a transforming Arctic offers, and has consequently stepped up its regional engagement.

Federal Foreign Offices (Auswärtiges Amt):

The Arctic

Guidelines of the Germany Arctic Policy

Federal Ministry of Education and Research:

Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy: