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Interview with Ulrik Westman, ACAP Chair

A brief interview with Ulrik Westman, recently-appointed Chair of Working Group ACAP.

Along with the incoming U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, all of the Arctic Council Working Groups have also welcomed new Chairs. The incoming Chair of the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP), an Arctic Council Working Group, is Ulrik Westman, head of the International Cooperation Unit at the Swedish EPA.

Q: What is your background, and how is it that you came to be the Chair of ACAP?

Over the last five years my team has been responsible for the overall coordination of the contributions made by the Swedish EPA to the work of the Arctic Council, including through its Working Groups. Since I’m also responsible for the bilateral work the agency carries out globally, the work by ACAP has been particularly interesting, for example, as I have discussed improvements in terms of reducing mercury contamination and other pollutants with the BRIC countries. These are issues that are important for ACAP as well, of course. The Swedish EPA is also instrumental in terms of implementation of some core multilateral environmental agreements and conventions such as the UNFCCC, LRTAP, Minamata, Stockholm and Vienna conventions.

Q: What is your favorite experience in the Arctic?

I certainly enjoy telemark skiing, preferably above the Arctic Circle, and to admire the quiet and the beautiful skies. It’s wonderful to breathe the fresh air and drink the water from small rivers and lakes. And if I get the opportunity, I certainly enjoy scuba diving in cold waters, with incredible visibility watching sea anemones and other amazing creatures.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about your next two years as Chair of ACAP?

We have a very challenging agenda ahead. The ACAP work plan outlines more than a dozen important activities for the next two years, and the U.S. Chairmanship also highlights the importance of curbing pollution in the Arctic. Arctic haze is certainly a challenge to which we need to find global solutions; many of the pollutants we find in the Arctic originate from global sources, but they end up in the Arctic due to sea and air currents and bioaccumulation. We therefore need to work both globally and locally to tackle the challenges. Globally via the existing and upcoming conventions, and locally by dealing with obvious hot spots and contaminated sites within the Arctic.

I would also like to highlight the relatively new Arctic Council Project Support Instrument, which enables us to finance the implementation of relevant Arctic Council and ACAP projects. It is an honour to be part of the application of this new important mechanism.

Q: Why did you want to take on this role?

I like to face new challenges. While working for the United Nations in Nairobi for seven years, I focused on pro-poor land rights and urban planning in informal settlements worldwide. In Bangladesh, I worked to protect the mangrove forests in Sundarbans, and at the Swedish EPA I’ve mostly worked with bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including Arctic cooperation. Considering the dramatic changes that the Arctic region is undergoing, I certainly would like to contribute to the minimization of pollutants ending up in this pristine environment.