Meet the Icelandic Chairmanship Team

Einar Gunnarsson

Ambassador Arctic Affairs
Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials

Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson has been working with MFA's Arctic Affairs Division since August 2018 preparing for Iceland's Chairmanship. Prior to that he served as Iceland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2015 where he, amongst other responsibilities, chaired the Third Committee of the General Assembly during its 72nd session.

Mr. Gunnarsson was the Permanent Secretary of State of the MFA from 2009 until 2014, dealing with the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008. Before serving as Permanent Secretary of State Mr. Gunnarsson held various positions in the Icelandic Foreign Service, such as Director of International Trade Negotiations, Director of Personnel, Deputy Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Geneva, Counsellor at the Mission of Iceland to the EU in Brussels, Counsellor in the External Trade Department and Legal Advisor in the Defence Department in the MFA.

After finishing his law studies from the University of Iceland in 1992 Mr. Gunnarsson worked as a lawyer and a District Court Advocate at a private law firm in Reykjavik until he joined the Foreign Service in 1996.

Tel: +354 545 9915 Mail: eg@mfa.is

Fridrik Jonsson

Senior Arctic Official for Iceland

Mail: fj@mfa.is

Contact the Icelandic Chairmanship Team

Aðalheiður Inga Þorsteinsdóttir

Aðalheiður Inga Þorsteinsdóttir

Counsellor, Arctic Affairs; Deputy SAO & SDWG Head of Delegation

+(354) 545-7971
ath@mfa.is

Sólrún Svandal

Sólrún Svandal

Senior Adviser, Arctic Affairs

+354 545 7331
sss@mfa.is

Magnús Jóhannesson

Magnús Jóhannesson

Special Adviser for Arctic Affairs

+354 545 9965
magnus@mfa.is

 Jóna Sólveig Elínardóttir

Jóna Sólveig Elínardóttir

Senior Adviser, Arctic Affairs

+354 545 7985
jonasolveig@mfa.is

Iris Dager

Iris Dager

Temporary Officer

+354 545 7421
iris.dager@mfa.is

Stefán Skjaldarson

Stefán Skjaldarson

Ambassador; Chair of the Arctic Council SDWG

+354 545 9933
stefans@mfa.is

Icelandic Chairmanship News

  • Arctic Council COP25 side event on ocean acidification was a call for action

    The Arctic is experiencing some of the fastest rates of ocean acidification with potentially severe implications for the ecosystem and communities dependent on these. To raise awareness on acidifying waters and to bring state-of-the-art knowledge on the issue to a global arena, the Arctic Council organized a side event “All aboard! Tackling polar ocean acidification” at the COP25 in Madrid.

    The side event was led by the Icelandic Chairmanship, organized in cooperation with the Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) Working Group, and hosted in the Cryosphere Pavilion. It brought together leading international acidification experts for a one and a half hour briefing on the chemical, biological, and socio-economic impacts of acidifying waters in the North – and what can be done to tackle the issue.

    Iceland’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, HE. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, opened the side event and highlighted his country’s close ties to its surrounding waters. “Iceland takes any changes in the marine environment very seriously. Fisheries are a main pillar of Iceland’s economy. So, any threats to the Arctic marine ecosystem is of concern to Icelandic society”, he stated in his opening.

    Ocean acidification in Arctic waters is widespread and rapid, and while the Arctic Ocean as a whole can be considered as especially vulnerable, the effects of acidifying waters are not uniform across the Arctic. “For the AMAP Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment 2018 we developed five regional case studies and found that effects and impacts on communities vary across the Arctic. Findings such as the potential reduction in sustainable harvest of the Barents Sea cod stocks by the end of the century are severe – not just for the region but on a global scale”, said Rolf Rødven, executive secretary of AMAP.

    AMAP’s assessment was recently backed up by the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. “The AMAP and IPCC reports present complimentary messages on ocean acidification in the high latitudes. Similar as in the rest of the world, ocean acidification is progressing as a result of continued carbon emissions. However, the polar oceans are especially vulnerable to atmospheric emissions because colder seawater naturally absorbs a larger fraction of CO2”, Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC, stated at the side event.

    The ocean has absorbed around one fourth of the carbon dioxide emitted through the burning of fossil fuels globally. Yet, this important role as carbon sink is imperilled. “Ocean acidification is diminishing the ocean’s role in taking up CO2. For every step acidification advances, the ability of the ocean to take up more CO2 becomes smaller and therefor the potential for future global warming increases”, explained Prof Richard Bellerby, from the East China Normal University and Norwegian Institute for Water Research, and Chair of AMAP’s 2018 assessment.

    While some marine organisms might benefit from a higher concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide, such as algae, the negative impacts are very likely to outweigh any positive effects, as attendees of the side event learned. “It is complicated because ocean acidification does not happen in isolation. There are multiple stressors affecting life in the Arctic Ocean, such as warming waters, the loss of sea ice and

    the inflow of freshwater from melting glaciers. However, generally speaking we see and expect a lot more negative impacts”, said Dr Helen Findlay from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

    These effects will particularly be felt by societies that are closely linked to the Arctic marine environment – including many Indigenous coastal communities across the Arctic. “The food-web in the Arctic ocean is very sensitive, so a significant increase in the population of one species or the disappearance of another could have dramatic dripple effects on the entire Arctic marine ecosystem and we Inuit are a part of this ecosystem”, stated Lisa Koperqualuk, Vice President of International Affairs for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada.

    In a society that is intricately linked to the marine biodiversity, ocean acidification alters not just the chemistry of the waters, but also livelihoods, cultures, identities and languages. Ko Barrett thus urged the audience to view the effects of ocean acidification in the context of what this means to people in the Arctic – and beyond. “The changes that are documented in the Arctic are sweeping and severe. And while not experienced directly by much of the earth’s population, these changes are important all across the globe. These changes to the remote areas show that even – and especially there – human induced warming and ocean change is evident. This is a clear call to action,” she said in closing her intervention at the side event.

    In order to base that action on the best available knowledge, AMAP is continuing its work on ocean acidification and is broadening the perspective to take multiple stressors into account that impact life in the Arctic Ocean.

     

    Background information about the Arctic Council’s side event at COP25:

    The side event was held on 9 December 13:00-14:30 in the Cryosphere Pavilion at the COP25 in Madrid. A recording of the full event and interviews with the speakers are available on the Arctic Council Vimeo channel.

    Agenda

    Opening remarks – Icelandic Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, HE. Mr. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson

    Expert Panel

    • Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: The IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere.
    • Prof. Richard Bellerby, Director of the SKLEC-NIVA Centre for Marine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, China, and Lead researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, Norway: Key findings of the AMAP Arctic Ocean Acidification report
    • Dr. Helen Findlay, Biological oceanographer at Plymouth Marine Laboratory: The impacts of ocean acidification on Arctic species and ecosystems
    • Lisa Koperqualuk, Vice President of International Affairs for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada: The effects of ocean acidification on Inuit communities

    Outlook – Dr. Rolf Rødven, Executive Secretary of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP): Summary of key points from presentations and overview of ongoing and upcoming work by AMAP related to ocean acidification

    Moderator: Ambassador Stefán Skjaldarson, Arctic Council Chairmanship Iceland

  • We’re All Aboard!

    Editorial by Stefán Skjaldarson, Ambassador and Moderator at the Arctic Council’s COP25 side-event.

    It was very inspiring to see the high level of interest for the Arctic Council and its work at the COP25 in Madrid. The turnout at the Council’s side event All Aboard! Tackling Polar Ocean Acidification, held in the conference’s Cryosphere Pavilion, was quite impressive and discussions I had with some of the attendees after the event, not least young people, gave me confidence that the work we do matters to many. The success of the event also confirmed to me that the Arctic Council’s science-based approach to meet the environmental challenges we face, as well as the active involvement of the Arctic indigenous peoples, is extremely important to succeed with our work.

    The presentations by the scientists and the gloomy perspectives they gave of our future if we do not act decisively now, caught the attention of those present. Their accounts of the different challenges we face in the Arctic, due to melting of the ice and fast-increasing ocean acidification, and their calls for action, left the audience with a true sense of urgency. Moreover, we were presented with concrete examples of how this all affects the livelihood of the indigenous peoples of the North.

    The event shows that people, not least young people, are listening and that our actions - or inactions – are watched closely and that we will be judged by our performance. We must therefore keep up the good work by using the best of science combined with indigenous knowledge, to lay the foundation for meaningful decisions and actions. In this context I would like to mention AMAP’s Arctic Ocean Acidification Report as well as their highly valuable policy recommendations, both of which were presented at the event. Also, the perspectives presented by the Inuit Circumpolar Council gave us all a sense of how the livelihoods of Arctic indigenous peoples are affected and how indigenous knowledge that has been passed down for thousands of years, is relevant when meeting the challenges of the fast changing Arctic environment.

    Indeed, other countries, regions and continents will also need to act responsibly if we are to make meaningful progress in addressing the root causes of ocean acidification in the Arctic. We who live in the Arctic should therefore not only use the knowledge we have and the knowledge we will acquire in our work at home. We must also share it and use it to make the world aware of the consequences that their actions and inactions have on the Arctic environment. Moreover, that the changes happening in Arctic also can have dire consequences for the world outside the Arctic. That is why it is so important that the Arctic Council reach out to the wider world by i.e. organizing events of the kind we did in Madrid.

  • Stepping up youth engagement in the Arctic Council

    Arctic youth is not just the future but also the present. A slogan that Indigenous youth leaders coined when they got together for the first Arctic Leaders’ Youth Summit in Rovaniemi, Finland, in November 2019. They called for a more active involvement in the issues that affect them – now and in future – and in doing so they joined a global movement of young people that are speaking up for their rights as they see their future imperiled by climate change.

    Over the years, the Arctic Council has stepped up its efforts to engage youth. Working Groups such as the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) and the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) have been forerunners in not just looking at how youth is affected by a changing Arctic but in actively involving them in their projects.

  • Arctic Council to host side event at COP25

    Arctic States, Permanent Participants, and Working Groups take the topic of ocean acidification, and the Council’s knowledge base on the issue to Madrid

  • Arctic Council actors join forces in Hveragerði

    At the meeting just concluded in Hveragerði, Iceland, delegates of the Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting discussed enhanced cooperation on issues related to people and communities of the Arctic

  • Together towards a sustainable Arctic in Hveragerði

    First Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting during Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council places emphasis on people and communities

    On 20-21 November 2019, the Arctic Council will gather in Hveragerði, Iceland, for the first Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting during the Chairmanship of Iceland (2019-2021). The meeting will focus on work related to People and Communities of the Arctic. Iceland puts an emphasis on cooperation between all entities of the Council – reflecting the Chairmanship’s overarching theme: Together towards a sustainable Arctic.

  • Arctic Crossroads

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


    Reflecting back on the first ever joint meeting of the Arctic Economic Council and the Arctic Council earlier this month I can honestly say it left a mark on me. It left me feeling inspired to do more. And I think that was the general mood of the meeting: An appetite for more. For more dialogue, more understanding, more collaboration. And that inspires optimism and a feeling that we are on to something. Something new, exciting and, what is most important: Something sensible.

  • The Arctic Blue Bioeconomy – A driver for growth

    Sustainable use and increasing the value of goods produced from biological aquatic resources plays an important role for driving sustainable economic growth in the Artic - particularly for development in coastal and rural communities. This is what we call the blue bioeconomy. Put simply, it is about sustainably maximising the value and use of aquatic bioresources, producing food, feed, bio-products and bioenergy. The main drivers behind the development of the blue bioeconomy are research and development, innovation and knowledge transfer.

  • Gender Equality in the Arctic

    Gender Equality in the Arctic (GEA) is a project of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). The project focuses on gender equality with an emphasis on diversity in terms of discourses, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, governance, education, economies, and social realities. The GEA project strives to contribute to sustainability and balanced participation in leadership and decision making both in the public and private sectors.

  • Seal trapped in fishing net

    First International Symposium on Arctic and Sub-Arctic Plastics

    A new International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic will bring together experts on marine plastics to share new and emerging knowledge and best practices. 

    The symposium will bring together experts on marine plastics to share knowledge and best practices, with the ultimate goal to feed into the Arctic Council’s regional action plan for the Arctic.

    When: 21-23 April, 2020
    Where: Reykjavík, Iceland
    Key dates:

    • 1 November 2019 - Early bird registration ends
    • 1 December 2019 - Abstract submission deadline
    • 15 January 2020 - Acceptance of abstracts finalized
    • 1 February 2020 - Program finalized; End of registration

    Learn more and register here.

    Iceland holds the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from May 2019 to May 2021 and the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019. In both roles, the Icelandic Government is focused on the ocean, and particularly on the fight against plastic in the marine environment.

    Therefore, the Government of Iceland has decided to host the first International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic in collaboration with the Nordic Council of Ministers in connection with the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. On behalf of the government of Iceland, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, and the Ministry of Industries and Innovation are responsible for the preparation of the Symposium.

    Sponsors of the symposium are the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the OSPAR Commission, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland, the Harvard Kennedy School and the International Arctic Science Committee.

     

  • Arctic Council to host side event at the 2019 Our Ocean Conference

    The Arctic Council will host a side event at this year’s Our Ocean conference in Oslo on 23 October. The side event is themed “A Cleaner Arctic Marine Environment – Battling Marine Debris in the Arctic” and is organized jointly with the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs and two of the Council’s Working Groups: the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group.

  • First joint meeting between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council

    The Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council hold their first joint meeting in Reykjavik today, 9 October 2019, bringing together government representatives of the eight Arctic States, business representatives, as well as representatives of the indigenous Permanent Participants, and the Councils’ respective Working Groups. The meeting is a step towards enhancing cooperation and collaboration between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding the secretariats of both Councils signed last May. The discussions in Reykjavik will focus on subject areas of common interest, such as marine transportation and blue economy, telecommunications connectivity, responsible resource development and mainstreaming biodiversity, as well as on responsible investments and corporate social responsibility.

  • Arctic Circle Assembly: Arctic Council Working Groups’ and Permanent Participants’ panels, breakout sessions and events

    Several Arctic Council Working Groups and Indigenous peoples organizations holding Permanent Participant status in the Council are hosting side events at this year’s Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. See an overview below.

  • Building knowledge and confidence in the Arctic

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


    As we learn more about the challenges we face in the Arctic, it becomes clearer by the day that collaboration with partners outside the region is needed in order to effectively tackle them. What is more, non-Arctic states around the globe are waking up to the fact that what happens in and to the Arctic has direct and widespread effects on them.

  • Planning for a greener Arctic future

    The Arctic Community Energy Planning and Implementation Toolkit

    Arctic winters tend to be long and, in many places, extremely cold. Energy use in Arctic communities therefore can be very high, making reliable and affordable electricity and heating a priority. Today, many Arctic communities rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation. These fuels can come from local sources or be shipped in by land, sea, or air – and those transportation methods bring still more challenges and costs. Thus, there is a growing need, desire, and opportunity for communities to develop clean energy projects.

  • Increased warming pushing Arctic freshwater ecosystems to the brink

    The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group has released the first circumpolar assessment of freshwater biodiversity across the Arctic. The State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Report, which was presented to Ministers at the Rovaniemi Ministerial meeting in May 2019, provides a synthesis of the state of knowledge about biodiversity in Arctic freshwater ecosystems (e.g., lakes, rivers, and associated wetlands). It finds that Arctic lakes and rivers are losing the ability to sustain their current level and diversity of Arctic freshwater species.

  • 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.