© Hugi Olafsson

Iceland’s final Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting marks a successful Chairmanship and hits record participation

18 March 2021
As the Icelandic Chairmanship comes to a close, preparations for the Ministerial meeting show the progress the Arctic Council has made towards Iceland’s Chairmanship priorities.

The final Senior Arctic Officials’ (SAO) plenary meeting during the Icelandic Chairmanship has just concluded in Reykjavik and on screens across Arctic States and Observer countries. During its third and last plenary meeting, Iceland virtually hosted a record number of close to 200 registered delegates from the eight Arctic States and six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations, as well as the Arctic Council’s six Working Groups and over thirty Observers. The three-day meeting reviewed finalized projects and explored ways forward for new initiatives introduced by the Icelandic Chairmanship.

The Chair of the Arctic Council, Icelandic Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, opened the meeting and reflected back on the past year: “Covid-19 has affected our Chairmanship, but despite some delays in projects and postponed events and meetings, we were able to adapt quickly. We have carried out most of our plans, including a virtual version of the Plastics Symposium and we launched an online format of the Council’s new marine cooperation initiative.” Minister Þórðarson thanked all delegates for their cooperation throughout the Icelandic Chairmanship. “The collaborative efforts demonstrate that the Arctic Council is adaptable, solutions-oriented and open minded when faced with a crisis,” said Minister Þórðarson.

The Chair of the Arctic Council, Icelandic Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson (top, second from the right) gave an opening address.

The Minister also promised a successful albeit different Ministerial meeting. The Chairmanship shared its plans for a Ministerial, which is scheduled to take place in Reykjavik on 20th May. The Ministers of the eight Arctic States and representatives of the Indigenous Permanent Participants have been invited to attend in person. With worldwide travel restrictions still in effect, Iceland is preparing for minimum in-person attendance and an extensive virtual platform that will allow a broad audience to participate remotely.

At the center of the preparations for the Ministerial meeting lies the finalization of the more than 50 deliverables that the Council’s Working Groups have prepared over the past two years. The second day of the SAO meeting therefore was fully dedicated to review the reports, tools, guidelines and plans that have furthered the Council’s knowledge-base and ensured progress made towards achieving the Icelandic Chairmanship priorities – on climate and green energy solutions, the Arctic marine environment, people and communities of the Arctic and a stronger Arctic Council. (Selected deliverables are listed at the end of this release.)

“We started off with an ambitious program – even without a global pandemic – but reviewing the Working Groups’ deliverables of the past two years, more than anything demonstrates the tremendous resilience, adaptability and dedication of the Arctic Council and the Working Groups especially. We can look forward to presenting the results to our Ministers on 20th May,” says Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

While Iceland’s two-year Chairmanship term will conclude with the Ministerial meeting, many of its priorities and initiatives will be carried on. During the meeting just adjourned, Arctic Council delegates discussed youth issues, modalities of the continuation of the SAO based Marine Mechanism, and the Council’s efforts towards tackling issues related to the pandemic in the Arctic.

These topics were also reflected in the presentation on the incoming Russian Chairmanship program by the Russian SAO, Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs Nikolay Korchunov. The Russian Federation will, as he outlined, maintain a strong focus on the Arctic environment, the human dimension – including enhanced efforts towards Indigenous cultures and languages – and sustainable economic development. The incoming Russian Chairmanship team is planning numerous engagements during its two-year Chairmanship.

The Russian Federation will assume the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council at the Reykjavik Ministerial meeting in May 2021.

Selected deliverables for the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting

From the Arctic Contaminants and Action Program (ACAP)

  • Report on Mitigation of Black Carbon and Methane Emissions from APG Flaring in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation
  • Report on the Kola Waste Project

From the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP)

  • Results of scientific assessments of Arctic Climate Change Update, Climate Change Influences on Contaminants, and Short-lived Climate Forcers
  • Results of scientific assessments of Human Health and a Litter and Microplastic Monitoring Plan

From the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)

  • Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands: Key Findings and Recommendations
  • CAFF Arctic Youth Engagement Strategy: 2021-2026

From the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (EPPR)

  • Arctic Marine Risk Assessment Guideline
  • Prevention, Preparedness and Response in Small Communities Phase III – Educational videos concerning oil spills in small communities

From the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)

  • Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic
  • Arctic Marine Tourism: Development in the Arctic and enabling real change

From the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG)

  • Gender Equality in the Arctic
  • Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic

From the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM)

  • Summary Of Progress And Recommendations 2021

Title image: Hugi Ólafsson