Iceland’s Chairmanship 2019-2021

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland

" Working closely with all partners, inside as well as outside the region, is of utmost importance for both prosperity and security in the Arctic region. The conflictual elements that may result from the opening-up of the Arctic make the Council’s contribution to sustainable development in the region increasingly relevant.

I truly believe that an active dialogue, based on state-of-the-art scientific research, conducted through dynamic collaboration between our countries and organizations, is the best way forward for a constructive development of the Arctic Council. "

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Together towards a sustainable Arctic

The Arctic marine environment

The Arctic marine environment

During its Chairmanship, Iceland will highlight plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment, drawing on the findings of the first desktop study on marine litter in the Arctic. The Arctic Council will work on the development of a Regional Action Plan to reduce marine litter, including micro-plastics, along with other efforts to monitor and limit its impacts.

Innovative methods to improve the utilization of living marine resources may have considerable potential for driving sustainable economic growth in coastal communities. Iceland is leading the development of a project on the Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic, exploring opportunities to increase the value of marine products.

Iceland will continue to promote safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic. With increasing marine traffic and activities, it is essential to maintain close and effective cooperation among the Arctic States on search and rescue, as well as emergency prevention, preparedness and response. Circumpolar meteorological and oceanographic cooperation also serves to improve safety at sea and should be developed further, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization.

Climate and green energy solutions

Climate and green energy solutions

The importance of basing climate policies on solid scientific foundations cannot be overstated. The Arctic Council will continue observing and assessing climate impacts on Arctic marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, and an update report on Arctic climate change will be prepared for the 2021 Ministerial meeting in Reykjavík.

Building on the work of the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, efforts to identify opportunities to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants will continue. Progress in this area could help slow the current pace of change in the Arctic while work is underway to reduce longer-term impacts.

The development and application of practical green energy solutions in the Arctic region should be encouraged, enabling communities to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Projects that promote knowledge exchange and aim to support small and remote Arctic communities in transitioning to sustainable energy will continue running in 2019-2021.

People and communities of the Arctic

People and communities of the Arctic

Initiatives that aim to promote the wellbeing of the roughly four million people living in the region will remain central to the Arctic Council’s work. Northern communities are already facing challenges that result from the impacts of climate change, demonstrating the need for action to strengthen resilience and facilitate adaptation.

New economic opportunities, including in shipping and tourism, can contribute to growth and prosperity of Arctic communities, if they are carried out sustainably. Environmental protection and social inclusion must always go hand in hand with economic development.

Reliable and affordable telecommunications are essential for Arctic inhabitants in order to access services and participate in the digital economy. Iceland’s Chairmanship wishes to maintain a focus on improving connectivity, in close cooperation with the Arctic Economic Council, building on previous mapping of needs, gaps and solutions.

Gender equality is an important element for achieving sustainable development. Iceland will continue to lead a project that aims to promote dialogue on gender equality in the Arctic and strengthen a network of experts and stakeholders in the field.

Stronger Arctic Council

Stronger Arctic Council

Iceland’s Chairmanship will strive to enhance the constructive cooperation that has always been a key strength of the Arctic Council. Close consultations between the Member States and the Permanent Participants must continue, and further opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration with Observers should be explored.

Iceland wishes to strengthen cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council, on the basis of a new Memorandum of Understanding, with the shared objective of promoting responsible economic development.

Icelandic Chairmanship News

  • PAME releases first ‘plastic in a bottle’

    The Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group launched the first bottle equipped with a GPS transmitter into the Atlantic on 12 September 2019. Called “plastic in a bottle”, the capsule will simulate how marine litter and plastics travel far distances into and out of Arctic waters. The collected data will serve as an outreach tool to create awareness around the growing concerns on marine litter in the Arctic. This first plastic in a bottle was sent off from the Reykjanes peninsula by Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Iceland’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources from the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Thor in conjunction with the PAME Working Group meeting in Reykjavík. Iceland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council until 2021 and places a special focus on marine litter and plastics in the Arctic.

  • A source for Arctic optimism: The Blue Bioeconomy

    Editorial by Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials


    The blue bioeconomy is and will be a major contributor to achieving sustainable development in the Arctic and beyond. The term “blue bioeconomy” refers to innovation potentials in utilizing and creating new marine products with the help of new unconventional processing methods. It is therefore also one of today’s main sources for great optimism for our region, especially given the Arctic Council’s specific focus on sustainable development and environmental protection.

  • Put into reality: EPPR looks into the VIKING SKY incident

    At its first Working Group meeting during the Icelandic Chairmanship, the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group held a workshop on the VIKING SKY incident – a cruise liner that got into distress off the Southern Norwegian coast. Authorities involved in the rescue operation in March 2019 shared their experiences and lessons learned with EPPR delegates. Quickly the questions arose: How would this incident have played out in the high Arctic?

  • Interview with Magnús Jóhannesson, the Special Coordinator on Plastics

    Magnús Jóhannesson is the Council’s designated special coordinator on plastics, marine litter. In this interview, the former Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat speaks about the plastics issue in the Arctic, the Arctic Council’s efforts to tackle the issue and his new role within the Icelandic Chairmanship team.

  • Interview with SDWG Chair Stefán Skjaldarson

    Stefán Skjaldarson is the new Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). Growing up in one of the most remote parts of northeast Iceland, he got to know the scarcities of an Arctic childhood until education and eventually his work in the Foreign Service of Iceland drew him out into the world. Chairing SDWG is a return to the Arctic Council for Stefán Skjaldarson. He was involved in the Rovaniemi Process – a forerunner of today’s Council – and took part in the preparatory meetings for establishing the Arctic Council. In this brief interview, he speaks about experiences and inspiration guiding his work for SDWG over the coming years.

  • First meeting during Iceland's Arctic Council Chairmanship

    On 18-19 June 2019, Arctic Council delegates gathered in Reykjanesbær, Iceland, for the first Senior Arctic Officials’ executive meeting during the Chairmanship of Iceland (2019-2021). Amongst other things, the Senior Arctic Officials, joined by the Permanent Participants and representatives of the Council’s Working Groups, discussed initiatives falling under Iceland’s priority themes.

  • Towards an international symposium on plastics in the Arctic

    In April 2020, the Icelandic government and the Nordic Council of Ministers will host an International Symposium on the Threat of Plastics to the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Marine Environment. The aim of the symposium is to gather the best available knowledge on plastics in the Arctic and to find solutions for tackling the issue. Registration is already possible and the call for abstracts will open on 1 July 2019.

  • Arctic Council Ministers meet, pass Chairmanship from Finland to Iceland, Arctic States conclude Arctic Council Ministerial meeting by signing a joint statement

    At the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland, Ministers of the eight Arctic States, leaders from the six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations and the Chairs of the six Working Groups of the Arctic Council met to mark the passing of the Chairmanship from Finland to Iceland. In the Rovaniemi Joint Ministerial Statement, the Arctic States reaffirmed the Council’s commitment to maintain the Arctic as a region of peace, stability and constructive cooperation. Additionally, Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini released a Chair’s statement, summarizing the Council’s achievements and giving guidance for the next two years. The International Maritime Organization was accredited as a new Observer.