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Interview: Pekka Shemeikka, Chair of SDWG

When the Arctic Council Chairmanship passed from the United States to Finland in May of 2017, the Arctic Council also welcomed new Chairs for several of the six Working Groups. In the interview below, get to know Pekka Shemeikka of Finland, the new Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).

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

I am a career diplomat; I've been working for the Finnish Foreign Ministry since 1990. I was lucky enough to able to work for Rio+20 preparations by the EU in years 2010-2012. At that time, the three integrated dimensions of sustainable development became close to my heart. I also had a chance to work with the UN Secretary-General's GSP (Global Sustainability Panel) and its Secretariat (Janos Pasztor, at that time). I see becoming the Chair of SDWG as logical and indeed excellent continuation of that.

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

Well, that depends a bit on how you define the Arctic! I am a keen nature lover both with trekking and sailing in the Finnish Arctic. For the first working trips that I took for the Arctic Council and the SDWG, I even took my hiking boots with me, but (to my great disappointment) I could not find time for a real hike in the woods during our travels to Maine or to Alaska. We're simply too "lean and mean" in the organization of our SDWG meetings! But at least I know now that I have to come back to Alaska later on my own to enjoy the mountains, or the Aleutian island archipelago, or the Southwest with its famous totem poles! There is enough space in the Arctic for all sustainable economic and social activities, including the burgeoning industry of sustainable tourism.

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

I am very happy about SDWG's new long-term strategic plan, which is also the SDWG's first such plan. This will make it possible for us to guide our work more strategically on the basis of sustainable development. I am particularly excited when I consider how we could take better advantage of the UN sustainable development coals (SDGs) when promoting and further developing our work and projects. Sustainable development and the human dimension have always been at the core of SDWG's work!

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

As I said, I have always felt a great respect for nature, including the people living in the midst of it. In practice, it is the Arctic which is geographically closest to my heart. At the same time, I believe in active social, economic, and environmental policies and actions. There is maybe something typically Finnish in that. In my work in the past, I enjoyed chairing a working group with 27 member states in Brussels. On this basis, I am looking forward to working actively and collectively with all the SDWG members, both the Arctic States and the Permanent Participants.