Interview with Arctic Council Observer: Standing Committee of the Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR)

19 March 2020
The Standing Committee of the Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR) has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 1998. As an Observer, SCPAR can contribute to the Arctic Council through meeting attendance, providing scientific expertise to Working Groups, project proposals and financial contribution (not to exceed financing from Arctic States, unless otherwise decided by the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials) and statements.

We spoke with Eirik Sivertsen, Chair of SCPAR, about fostering Arctic cooperation, the challenges associated with climate change at the ecosystem and government level and how youth inspire hope for the future of the Arctic.

How do you work with the Arctic Council to tackle pressing issues in the Arctic?

Parliamentary cooperation in Arctic affairs has been continuing for more than a quarter of century. The first Parliamentary Conference on Arctic cooperation was held in Reykjavik, Iceland, as long ago as 1993. Since the end of the Cold War, we have engaged in dialogue within the Arctic to make sure that collaboration between our countries could persist and flourish. One of the first initiatives by the Arctic Parliamentarians was a request to establish the Arctic Council. While I cannot personally take credit for this, we have been satisfied by how the governments of the region have responded to and facilitated the requests we have made to further the Arctic cooperation. This is especially so for efforts to include and strengthen the human dimension, which has been a core element of parliamentary cooperation.

The Arctic as a whole is a success story for international teamwork. Had it not been for the political climate we have enjoyed, we would not have been able to achieve so much in the region. This has been a priority for us – to try to make sure that the people with experience and wisdom, the scientists, the engineers and the business community, can work together to tackle the numerous Arctic challenges.

What pressing issues in the Arctic are of interest to SCPAR?

In my mind, there is one threat that eclipses everything else. Climate change. This is a challenge that effects the whole Arctic. It threatens the people, the nature and the wildlife, the entire ecosystem. We have already witnessed the diminishing ice, the increase in forest fires and the acidification of oceans. And we still do not know enough about what is happening and why. For this reason, we need more research, more international collaboration and stricter measures to curb emissions. We need it because we do not know the exact point at which things will spiral out of control, the point of no return. The UN has warned that we have less than 11 years to limit the global climate change catastrophe. In the Arctic, I fear, we have even less time, as the pace of change is faster here in the High North.

For me, this is the biggest challenge facing Arctic Parliamentarians: to voice the threat of climate change and work with our respective governments to speed up the climate actions and adaptation measures. This is our main agenda as we approach the Arctic Parliamentary Conference in Tromsø on 1– 3 September this year. As the conference assembles parliamentarians from all Arctic countries and the European Parliament, we have the opportunity to set ambitious goals, covering major parts of the global economy. We also invite the Permanent Participants and other Arctic Council Observers to take part, and I look forward to discussing how we can advance a truly sustainable development for the Arctic and its inhabitants.

What is your vision for the future of the Arctic?

One thing that gives me hope is how young people are responding to the climate crisis. They are demanding that the older generation passes the torch. If we are not strong enough or bold enough to carry it ourselves, they will bear the burden. This is a sign of a new generation of leaders, people with hope. For me, this is extremely important. That young people, those who will suffer from the consequences of climate change, take responsibility for something they have not themselves been the cause of. This gives me reason to demand more responsibility from those of us who are decision makers. If the youth, the next generations, are willing to go so far, we must accompany them. We must shoulder our own responsibility.

While we are facing such a huge challenge, we must not forget who we are doing this for. It is for the people. For our homes. The Game of Thrones fans among us will remember the following words, "Cold and damp, that's how the southerners see the North. But without the cold, a man cannnot appreciate the fire in his hearth. Without the rain, a man cannot appreciate the roof over his head. Let the south have its sun, flowers and affectations, we northerners have home." And this is definitely something that is worth protecting.

To learn more about the role of Observers and the criteria for admission, click here. You can learn more about the past and ongoing work of Arctic Council Observers through their activity reports and reviews.