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Interview: Jens Peter Holst-Andersen, Chair of EPPR

"Basically, EPPR works on saving lives and protecting the environment. Both subjects should inspire everyone."

What is your background, and how is that you came to be the Chair of this Working Group?

I am a naval officer in the Royal Danish Navy, and I’ve spent a great deal of my career sailing Greenlandic, Faroese, and Danish waters. Recently, I have been working for the Danish Defence Command, and today I am at the Ministry of Defence. In both places I have focused on emergency responses related to search and rescue (SAR) and environmental protection. In Denmark, the Ministry of Defence is responsible for those tasks. As I have had the opportunity of being engaged with the operational, planning, and policy sides of emergency response, I was privileged to get the role as the Kingdom of Denmark’s head of delegation to EPPR in 2013. Then, in 2015, I was also made vice-Chair of the Working Group. As a responsible Arctic nation, the Kingdom of Denmark intends to contribute actively to the work of the Arctic Council; as we had never before chaired the EPPR Working Group, it was a great opportunity. We were excited to take advantage of this opportunity when the position of Chair came open.

Have you spent much time in the Arctic? If so, what’s the most memorable experience that you’ve had during that time?

Most of my operational career has been on board navy ships in the Arctic and North Atlantic, and I’ve been lucky enough to travel very often in the region. It is impossible for me to set apart a single “most memorable” experience in the Arctic, because there have been so many memorable moments, but two things immediately come to my mind. Those two things are the nature – which is at the same time wild, pristine, grandiose, dangerous and gentle – and the people living in it, with it, and from it. I have had the privilege of seeing this from all its many sides. That includes the most extreme storms off Cape Farewell, fishing trips in beautiful summer weather, and facing both polar bears and sled-dog puppies. I have met and worked with the most wonderful people throughout these experiences, and that has been a great privilege and inspiration.

What is it about the work that takes place in this particular Working Group that most inspires or excites you?

Basically, EPPR works on saving lives and protecting the environment. Both subjects should inspire everyone. I’m even tempted to use the phrase “I want to make a difference.” And, honestly, that is the case. My experience with the work of EPPR and the Arctic Council has shown me that it is actually possible to make a huge difference in the Arctic. It’s true that a lot of reports that are published have only a very limited interest beyond the Working Groups, but in my daily work I actually see a lot of added value which is used in practice. And – even more importantly for our efforts to save lives and protect the environment – we create focus, and we help to gather and connect the right people and organizations for the benefit of all. To me, one of the most exciting tasks is to create the foundation for constructive cooperation between people, states, and organizations.

When you were considering the position of Chair, what – in general – made the idea appealing to you? What made this role attractive?

That I have a crush on the Arctic! I found it very appealing to get the chance to work with something I really care about and with highly skilled and professional colleagues from a range of very different countries and positions. As I mentioned, I feel that it’s truly possible to deliver added value and make a difference for people and the environment. It has sometimes been frustrating to witness how good intentions regarding the Arctic region have suffered from the lack of coordination and knowledge, or even from ignorance. In my eyes, EPPR has developed into one of the primary actors in terms of Arctic emergency prevention and response with a great deal of influence. And here I have the chance to contribute to something truly meaningful.