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.
Could you tell us something about your background and how you became Chair of SDWG?
In my career I have worked abroad for quite a long time. I was Ambassador to Norway from 2003-2008, came to Iceland for one year and then went to Austria. My last posting was to China, where I lived until December 2017. When I came home to Iceland, I started working as inspector for the Foreign Service, but was then approached by the Permanent Secretary and the Chair of the Arctic Council if I was interested in chairing SDWG and to come into Arctic Council work again – and I said yes, sure.
Can you share a memorable Arctic experience with us?
I always remember one beautiful winter day, cold with clear skies. I drove on my snow mobile up in the mountain area of my home and all of a sudden I found an Arctic fox. I started chasing it but finally took to my senses and stopped up. I realized he had a tough enough life without being chased by me. You did not see anything except for the white snow, the white fox and me. This is a memory I always keep with me.
What inspires you about SDWG’s work?
People sometimes jokingly ask why people in the Arctic are worried about the warming of the climate. People, including Icelanders, generally like warm weather. However, climate change is affecting the environment very seriously and it will affect the livelihoods of people who are already marginalized by the geographic location and tough living conditions. On the other hand, raising temperatures create new opportunities for people who live in the Arctic, who can utilize the environment for their living. Thus, there is a negative and a positive side and I think it is interesting how they play together.
What are your ambitions as new SDWG Chair?
My ambition is mostly to use the knowledge and experience I have gained in my life to support the work of the Council and SDWG. In addition, Iceland contributes with several focus areas. Within these, SDWG will deal with energy issues, marine issues, and the contamination of the seas, such as plastics in the Arctic. This is all on our agenda and hopefully our projects can contribute something meaningful.
View the full interview with Stefán Skjaldarson on the Arctic Council Vimeo channel.