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Interview with Bryndís Kjartansdóttir, Senior Arctic Official for Iceland

12 February 2018
The Arctic Council recently welcomed Bryndís Kjartansdóttir as the new Senior Arctic Official for Iceland. In this interview, get to know her background and what she sees as the prospects and challenges for the Arctic Council in the months and years ahead.

Q: What is your background, and how do you feel it has prepared you for your role as a Senior Arctic Official?

My work for the Icelandic Foreign service has been very varied, including multilateral and bilateral work, both at home and in embassies abroad. I have mainly been tasked with European issues, not least the Agreement on the European Economic Area, which constitutes the basis for Iceland’s relations to the European Union. However, the task that has best prepared me for the role of Senior Arctic Official is without a doubt my work as Executive Secretary of the Arctic Council Secretariat that was set up in the Foreign Ministry during the Icelandic Chairmanship 2002–2004. Those were interesting times in the history of the Arctic Council, as both the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR) were published in 2004. I am therefore familiar with the work of the Arctic Council but also very much aware of how much the Council has grown and changed. I can see that there are a lot of new things to be learned. I notice, though, that one aspect of the work of the Arctic Council has not changed; that is the excellent spirit of cooperation that continues to characterize it.

Q: What elements of your work with the Arctic Council are you most looking forward to?

The Arctic Council covers a wide range of interesting issues related to environmental protection and sustainable development, including its economic, social, and cultural aspects. I look forward to diving further into the substance of the work and to obtaining a good overview and knowledge of the issues at hand. In addition, I very much look forward to cooperating with all the different actors of the Arctic Council, i.e. its member States, Permanent Participants, Working Groups, its Observers, spinoff organisations such as the Arctic Economic Council, and of course the team at the Arctic Council Secretariat.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you see for the Arctic Council that you are looking forward to tackling in your new position?

Today, the Arctic Council agenda is both broader and deeper than before. It covers to a larger degree issues like search and rescue, sustainable economic development, culture, and education in addition to science and research. There are more stakeholders involved, including the Observers and the organizations and events that relate to the Arctic Council, such as the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, the Arctic Economic Council, the University of the Arctic, the Arctic Energy Summit, and many more. It would certainly be relevant for the Arctic Council to look at how the work of those different bodies can be translated better into its work.

Increasing knowledge of the Arctic Council among Arctic inhabitants and among the general public certainly is a challenge, too. I can see that many members of the Arctic Council family rise to that challenge by contributing to increased visibility through social media. I think we can do even more to raise the profile of the Arctic Council and its good work, and I look forward to working on communications matters together with the ACS.

The Government of Iceland identifies Arctic cooperation as a priority in its foreign policy and has emphasised a strong Arctic Council as the most important consultative forum on Arctic issues. In this context, I find the work that the Council is currently doing on strategic planning very interesting as well.