© Norwegian Chairship

One year into the 2023-2025 Norwegian Chairship: A Q&A with SAO Chair Morten Høglund

16 May 2024
One year ago, Norway took over as Chair of the Arctic Council in an unprecedented and challenging situation following a pause of all official Arctic Council meetings. From the start, this Norwegian Chairship has been referred to as ‘probably the most important Chairship in the history of the Arctic Council’. Halfway through its two-year term, we caught up with the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Morten Høglund, to touch base on where the Council stands now, Norway’s accomplishments so far, and what we can expect in the future.

When Norway became Chair of the Arctic Council in May 2023, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the Council would operate. One year later, can you provide a brief update on where the Council stands now?

When Norway became Chair one year ago, we set two ambitious goals: to navigate the Council safely through these challenging times and to ensure that the Working Groups could continue their vital work. I’m very pleased to share that we are making good progress on both these goals.

Early this year, all eight Arctic States in consultation with the six Indigenous Permanent Participants reached consensus to resume official Working Group meetings. Although we are not able to resume political–level meetings yet, the ability for Working Groups to meet is a game changer. Much of the Council’s value comes from the everyday work that the Working Groups conduct. They address some of the most pressing issues affecting people living in the Arctic. Their ability to meet virtually is vital in advancing projects that respond to rapid climate change and tackle some of the most important and urgent challenges in the Arctic.

So, I can say one year later, we are in a totally different and a much better position in terms of doing the important work on the main issues the Council is concerned with.

What have been Norway’s main accomplishments during its first year as Chair?

One of our main achievements I would say is making progress to advance the resumption of project-level work. This advancement is thanks to the close interaction and constructive cooperation that we as the Chairship have had with all Arctic States and Indigenous Permanent Participants, despite not having official meetings on the Senior Arctic Official level. Since the beginning, our approach has been inclusive, considering the needs and concerns of everyone in the Council. Over the past 12 months, we've held regular consultations, hosted meetings with all six Permanent Participants and engaged extensively with the six Working Groups and the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. I’d say maintaining this level of cooperation and coordination with all Arctic Council stakeholders is a big achievement during this challenging time.

Another accomplishment has been elevating issues of emerging concern. One example is the launch of the Norwegian Chairship Wildland Fires Initiative. As devastating wildland fires continue to impact the Arctic, we saw a need to tackle this urgent issue through increased circumpolar cooperation, knowledge sharing and partnership. So, in autumn 2023, we launched the Wildland Fire Initiative. A major component of this initiative is a series of Chairship-hosted panel discussions and events held in person and virtually. So far, we’ve hosted four thematic discussions at various international events and fora with Permanent Participants, knowledge holders, scientists, researchers, Observers and other experts. These discussions have touched on themes including cultural burning, fire ecology, climate change, operational considerations – to name a few. As we head into the next wildland fire season, it’s been quite impactful to see how this initiative has brought together dedicated experts and knowledge holders that are addressing this urgent issue.

Norway’s Chairship has four priorities: Oceans, Climate and Environment, People in the North, and Sustainable Economic Development - as well as two cross-cutting priorities, Indigenous Peoples and Youth. Can you share some highlights from how Norway has addressed these priorities so far?

When we presented our priorities for our Chairship, we were very much aware that it was ambitious and that given the unusual circumstances, we would have to accept that there are limits to how far we can get in implementing the program. However, after one year, I am overall very satisfied with where we are and how we’ve been able to address the priorities outlined in the program.

Under our Oceans priority, one important initiative we recently concluded the 3rd International Conference on the Ecosystem Approach to Management in Arctic Large Marine Ecosystems. The Norwegian Chairship hosted this conference in collaboration with four of the Council’s Working Groups and two Observer organizations. It brought together over 170 experts and knowledge holders onsite in Tromsø and more online, facilitating in-depth discussions on sustainable ocean management.

Another initiative that the Norwegian Chairship supported under its Oceans and Youth priorities was the 2023 Arctic Ocean Research Cruise II led by the Norwegian Polar Institute. The research cruise hosted students from Arctic nations where they gained hands-on experience in several different fields and research areas related to the Norwegian Chairship priorities, participated in data acquisition and collected material and data for their own research.

I’ve already mentioned the Chairship’s Wildland Fires Initiative, which we launched under our Climate and Environment and People in the North priorities. In addition to the discussion series that will continue throughout our Chairship, another outcome will be an electronic compendium on Arctic Council wildland fires projects and deliverables, as well as a summary report for Senior Arctic Officials and a communications campaign during the 2025 wildland fire season.

The Norwegian Chairship and Working Groups have also been very active at international and regional conferences, organizing and participating in thematic sessions on topics such as black carbon and methane, permafrost, marine litter, plastic pollution and more. Such events have been an important venue to network, exchange knowledge and advance cooperation on key issues that fall under the Norwegian Chairship priorities.

What can we look forward to in the last year of the Norwegian Chairship?
Under our cross-cutting youth priority, we will continue our efforts to improve the opportunities for young people to engage in and influence the Council's work. As part of this, we are organizing an Arctic Youth Conference in January 2025 in Tromsø, Norway – created by and for Arctic youth. We are currently setting up a Chairship Youth Committee that will guide our preparations and shape the agenda for this first of its kind gathering under an Arctic Council Chairship umbrella.

I’m also pleased to share that preparations are under way for the first international Arctic Emergency Management Conference in March 2025 in Bodø, Norway. The Norwegian Chairship is working closely with the Arctic Council’s Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group and other partners on a robust program aimed at responding to emerging challenges and risks.

The Norwegian Chairship is also planning to bolster the Arctic Council’s presence at international events such as COP29. In general, I look forward to the continued advancement of projects and initiatives within the Working Groups while elevating this work via regional and international conferences.

And of course, I hope that this will culminate with a successful Chairship transition to the Kingdom of Denmark in Spring 2025. While there’s still a year left until we pass the baton, work is already underway to ensure a smooth and constructive transition.

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