Northern lights
Northern lights
© iStock

Interview with Eric Carlson, the United States' Senior Arctic Official

Eric Carlson has close to 30 years of experience with the U.S. Foreign Service and got to know the Norwegian Arctic well when he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. Learn more about Eric, his background and what he looks forward to most as he begins his new role as Senior Arctic Official.

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

I am a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who joined the U.S. State Department in 1994. During my professional career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of international issues, including while posted abroad at seven U.S. embassies, which has given me broad experience in multilateral negotiations and working with U.S. allies and partners to address shared challenges. From 2015 to 2018, I had the good fortune to be assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, where I served as the Political-Economic Affairs Counselor in addition to spending considerable time as the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. I made eight trips up to Norway’s “High North” while living in Oslo, observing the region first-hand as I engaged with Norwegians, not only in the government, but also in the business and scientific communities, on Arctic issues including subjects such as energy supply, climate change, and sustainable development. I developed a deep interest in the Arctic from this experience, which was a primary reason that I jumped at the chance to become the U.S. Senior Arctic Official.

U.S. SAO Eric Carlson
© State Department

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

The United States is a proud Arctic State and takes seriously its role as one of the region’s stewards. I can assure you that the U.S. Administration is fully committed to this vital and changing part of the globe – one whose importance will only grow in the coming years. And that, of course, includes our commitment to the Arctic Council as the preeminent, high-level, inter-governmental forum for Arctic cooperation, in particular on sustainable development and environmental protection.

I am looking forward to working with Norway as the current Chair to advance its robust and ambitious set of priorities. Norway has made Arctic youth and Arctic Indigenous Peoples two cross-cutting priorities for its Chairship, and I could not be more eager to engage on these themes as the U.S. Senior Arctic Official. No one knows the Arctic better than those who call it home. I am thus pleased that the Arctic Council continues to facilitate the robust engagement of the Permanent Participants. Their expertise and perspectives help make the Council uniquely effective at understanding the region. Meanwhile, it is more important than ever that we elevate and champion the voices of the region’s young people. I am excited to work with the Chair and the Arctic Council Secretariat to explore opportunities for youth to engage meaningfully in the Council’s work shaping and safeguarding the Arctic’s future.

A family trip to Alta, Norway
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What is one of your most memorable Arctic experiences?

I’ll share two great memories that reflect the beauty, unique environment, and distinctive cultures that the Arctic Council is working so hard to preserve. The first took place in Hammerfest during the winter, when I saw a vivid display of the Northern Lights for the first time. Standing on a snow-covered hill overlooking the city, watching the multi-colored lights dance throughout the sky, was magical. The second was a family trip to Alta, also during the winter, where my wife, kids and I were able to pilot dog sleds through frozen fields and woods before going to an ice hotel that had the most amazing ice sculptures. These experiences, in addition to being unforgettable, truly impressed upon me just how special the Arctic region is. And I’m very much looking forward to adding to these memories as the U.S. Senior Arctic Official.

Ice hotel in Alta
© private