Arctic Council actors join forces in Hveragerði

At the meeting just concluded in Hveragerði, Iceland, delegates of the Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting discussed enhanced cooperation on issues related to people and communities of the Arctic.

Hveragerði, Iceland. For the first time during the Icelandic Chairmanship, representatives of the eight Arctic States and six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations, as well as the Arctic Council’s six Working Groups and over thirty Observers, met for a Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting.

More than 120 delegates gathered in Hveragerði, a town in the south of Iceland, to discuss ongoing and upcoming activities of the Council. A special focus was placed on initiatives related to People and Communities of the Arctic, a theme that Iceland has identified as a priority for its two-year Chairmanship term (2019-2021).

“The well-being of the roughly four million people living in the Arctic is central to the work of the Arctic Council – across Chairmanships. We wanted to use this first plenary meeting during our Chairmanship to call attention to the variety of topics our Working Groups are dealing with that affect people and communities of the Arctic”, says Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

The Council’s six Working Groups are currently undertaking over fifty initiatives in a variety of areas of specific concern to Arctic peoples and communities ranging from health concerns, to economic opportunities, youth engagement, climate change related impacts, and the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge.

This diverse project portfolio also served as a backdrop for a joint meeting between the Council’s Working Groups and Observers that was held prior to the plenary meeting. The joint session explored closer collaboration on a number of specific projects. “Observers and Working Groups enjoyed productive discussions on 19 different initiatives where Observers were able to ask questions, provide commentary, recommend experts and express interest for potential involvement in the future. This session demonstrates the value of continuing a constructive dialogue between Working Groups and Observers”, states Stefán Skjaldarson, Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group and host of the joint session.

An important contribution to the discussions on people and communities of the Arctic was a report by the Saami Council on the 2019 Arctic Leaders’ Summit held in Rovaniemi, Finland, last week. The high-level political gathering brought together more than 80 Indigenous leaders from across the Arctic. “One very strong and clear message from our summit in Roavvenjárga/Rovaniemi, from both the Arctic Leaders and the Arctic Youth Leaders, was that Indigenous knowledge is key to ensure sustainable development of Indigenous communities in the Arctic. Economic development in the Arctic cannot happen without proper participation of Indigenous peoples, also pointing towards Indigenous peoples’ languages as an essential source of knowledge”, says Christina Henriksen, Vice President of the Saami Council.

Further topics that were discussed in Hveragerði included the Council’s work on tackling the issue of marine litter and plastics, the Senior Arctic Officials-based mechanism to coordinate cooperation on marine issues in the Arctic Council, as well as current and future cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council.

In addition, Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson informed the meeting delegates that the Arctic Council will host a side event at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference 2019 in Madrid, Spain. The side event is themed “All Aboard! Tackling Polar Ocean Acidification” and will brief COP25 delegates and media on the risks ocean acidification poses for Arctic ecosystems and the inherent impacts on communities and economies.

The next Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meeting will take place in Akureyri 25-26 March 2020 and will focus on the Arctic marine environment.