Read an interview with Roberta Burns, the Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).


When the United States assumed the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, all six of the Arctic Council Working Groups (ACAP, AMAP, CAFF, EPPR, PAME and SDWG) also welcomed new Chairs. The current Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) is Roberta Burns.

1. What is your background, and how is it that you came to be the Chair of SDWG?

I have been a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State since 2007, serving overseas in Mexico, Afghanistan, and France. I have also been stationed in Washington, D.C., most recently in 2011-2013, when I was the U.S. Head of Delegation to the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). I quickly became very invested in the subject and jumped at the opportunity to work on Arctic issues again when the United States assumed the Chair of the SDWG and of the Arctic Council in 2015.

2. What has been your favorite experience in the Arctic?

This is a really tough question, because one of the privileges of this job is getting to travel to really interesting places and meet so many unique, special people. Through the SDWG, I’ve seen the northern lights, met with young people involved in traditional ways of life like reindeer herding, and even had lunch at the Kiruna Ministerial 1,500 feet below the earth’s surface in an active Arctic mine. In this job, you begin to expect the unexpected! Probably my most memorable experience, though, occurred on the northern coast of Iceland, when I helped round up sheep after their summer freely wandering the hills. I will never forget the incredible view of the ocean from atop those cliffs!

3. What are you most looking forward to about your next two years as Chair of SDWG?

I am excited to engage directly on Arctic issues again, particularly through the SDWG. Working towards improving economic and living conditions for the more than four million people who call the Arctic home is a priority of the U.S. Chairmanship. I am proud that the SDWG is taking on a number of challenging but very important issues that directly impact Arctic communities. SDWG’s focus on the human dimension of the Arctic provides us with the incredible opportunity to engage with and learn from people across the region.

4. Why did you want to take on this role in the first place?

The Arctic is in a period of significant transition. Increased maritime traffic, rising temperatures, and thawing permafrost—along with myriad other changes in the region—are having profound impacts on Arctic communities. Communities that have existed for thousands of years are facing many challenges along with some new opportunities. Through the Arctic Council, and in particular the SDWG, we have an opportunity to positively impact the Arctic and its future. I took on the role of SDWG Chair because I wanted to be part of this important moment.