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First meeting during Iceland's Arctic Council Chairmanship

Iceland hosted its first Senior Arctic Officials’ (SAO) executive meeting since assuming the Arctic Council’s Chairmanship in May.

On 18-19 June, representatives of the eight Arctic States, the six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations and the Council’s six Working Groups gathered in Reykjanesbær, a municipality close to Reykjavik’s international airport.

On the agenda were projects and initiatives that will be carried out during the two-year Icelandic Chairmanship term. “We have an ambitious work plan and the support of all Arctic States and the Permanent Participants to implement it. We are very satisfied with the outcomes from our first executive meeting and are now looking forward to advancing the projects we have discussed”, says Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, the new Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

The theme of Iceland’s Chairmanship program is “Together towards a sustainable Arctic” and it includes four priority areas: Climate and green energy solutions, the Arctic marine environment, people and communities of the Arctic, and a stronger Arctic Council. (Read the full Chairmanship program here.)

Improving coordination on marine issues

Iceland’s focus on the Arctic marine environment also reflects the Council’s ambition to enhance its coordination on marine issues. As recommended in the Senior Arctic Officials’ Report to Ministers, which was adopted by the Rovaniemi Ministerial meeting in May, the Arctic Council will develop a SAO-based mechanism. This mechanism foresees the Senior Arctic Officials to periodically meet with marine experts to discuss and coordinate marine issues, as well as to give strategic guidance for the Council’s marine-related work.

Marine litter in focus

Within its priority theme on the Arctic marine environment, Iceland places a special emphasis on marine litter. The meeting delegates discussed several initiatives related to this topic. Amongst these was the International Symposium on the Threat of Plastics to the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Marine Environment, which will take place in April 2020, as well as a proposal for a meeting of Arctic Ocean Ministers, potentially coinciding with the symposium.

Iceland has also designated a special coordinator on plastics: the former director of the Arctic Council Secretariat Magnús Jóhannesson. Now special advisor to the Chairmanship, Jóhannesson will steer coordination with the Working Groups and other relevant bodies and experts to ensure that the work undertaken under the auspices of the Council and the political interest in this matter match.

Cooperation with the Arctic Economic Council

Furthermore, Iceland’s Chairmanship program states the intent to strengthen the cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council. The new Memorandum of Understanding between the two councils builds the basis for this collaboration. It outlines their shared objective of promoting responsible economic development in the Arctic. Improving connectivity is one of the areas that both councils will collaborate on during the Icelandic Chairmanship. Thus, SAO Chair Einar Gunnarsson invited the new Chair of the Arctic Economic Council, Heiðar Guðjónsson, to join the discussions in Reykjanesbær.

Outlook on the Working Group projects

Besides informing the representatives of the Arctic States and Permanent Participants about their work plans in the executive meeting, the Working Group Chairs and executive secretaries also convened for a separate meeting with the SAO Chair. “The Working Groups are the driving force of the Arctic Council and it was important for us to exchange ideas between our team and the Working Group representatives early on in our Chairmanship. A strong Arctic Council depends on the projects that further our understanding of Arctic change and that contribute to the well-being of Arctic inhabitants”, says Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson.

Thematic visits for the delegates

In line with Iceland’s Chairmanship priorities, the Chairmanship team invited the meeting delegates on an excursion around Reykjanes peninsula in the south-west of Iceland. The thematic visits to a fish processing plant and a geothermal energy company demonstrated Iceland’s long-standing experience within both green energy and blue bio economy.

During the Icelandic Chairmanship, Arctic Council delegates will convene for meetings taking place all over Iceland. The next executive meeting and first plenary meeting will be hosted in Hveragerði, a town and municipality in the south of Iceland in November 2019.