Two hikers are descending the glacier toward Longyearbyen.
Two hikers are descending the glacier toward Longyearbyen.
© Tom Yulsman / Arctic Council Secretariat (Pathways photo contest)
People living in the Arctic are top of mind for Inga Nyhamar, the new Chair of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). While we can all admire the some of the barren, vast landscapes in the Arctic, the Arctic is also a region where millions of people have their home. It is for them, and the Arctic at large, that Inga puts all her efforts as Chair, as the Arctic Council seeks to resume some of SDWG’s important project work that directly impacts people living and working in the region. Learn more about Inga’s background, her ambitions and how SDWG’s work aligns with the priorities of the Norwegian Chairship in this interview.

What is your background, and how do you feel it has prepared you for your role as SDWG Chair?

My background is in political science and diplomacy, I joined the Norwegian Foreign Service more than 30 years ago, in 1991. Over the years, I have held a number of different positions, mostly working with security policy while in Norway. I have served aboard in Prague, Washington D.C., twice in Tokyo and in Paris. I think that this variety of cultures that I have been invited to get to know, and to adapt to, has prepared me very well for my current role. The Arctic is on top of the world and points in very many different directions – and I like that very much.

Already as a student back in the 1980s, I touched upon an Arctic issue as I analyzed the negotiations leading up to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987), which is very relevant for the polar regions, including the Arctic.

Inga Nyhamar
© private

Can you share a memorable Arctic experience with us?

Even though I grew up in Norway, I cannot really say that I grew up in the Arctic. My hometown is Trondheim, latitude-wise two thirds of Norway are north of that. But, when I joined the Foreign Service, as trainees we went for a long excursion to Northern Norway, and we visited Finnmark and Svalbard. It was a very striking Arctic experience for me to see a seaside landscape without trees, and even more so when we continued on to Svalbard. These wide, open spaces made me understand why many people think of the Arctic as an empty space – but of course it is not.

My family and I went to Iceland a couple of years ago and there, too, you find these wide, open spaces, a harsh and naked landscape, but it is not empty. There’s lots of wildlife in highly specialized biotopes. And, in that nature, there are people with their own history, culture, society, living their daily lives. This is always at the top of my mind – especially when working on SDWG related matters.

What inspires you about SDWG’s work?

What inspires me is that SDWG focusses on how people’s lives are impacted by the consequences of a changing Arctic, this of course includes the impacts on Arctic Indigenous Peoples. SDWG deals with the interactions between the environment and the people living in it, and how we can manage this in a cooperative manner in the best possible way.

What are your ambitions as new SDWG Chair?

I’m formally leading this Working Group, but it really comes down to the people who contribute to SDWG’s work. My ambition is to get the work going in the different projects, as far as this is possible under current circumstances. The work has been paused for a while, and we have to see what projects can resume and how. We are currently working on getting a better overview of the various projects’ statuses, identifying where work can easily be revived and where it has to change.

Norway is chairing both the Council and SDWG, how do you feel SDWG's work aligns with Norway's overarching priorities?

The priorities of the Norwegian Chairship align extremely well with SDWG’s work. Two of Norway’s Chairship priorities are right in the middle of SDWG’s mandate. One of them is the priority given to sustainable economic development, but also several other relevant aspects ranging from the green energy transition to shipping and food systems. All of this is at the core of SDWG’s work and emphasizes the need to get the cooperation going again.

Another priority of the Norwegian Chairship is People in the North, including topics such as youth, gender equality, health, and culture. In addition, I would say that some of the more enviornmental oriented priorities of this Chairship are relevant to SDWG, such as oceans, including ocean management, marine litter and sustainable use, as well as the priority on climate and the environment, which encompasses aspects such as biodiversity, black carbon and methane emissions. All of this has great consequences for people living in the North.

Could you provide us with an outlook on what SDWG will work on during the next two years?

My ambition is to get the work going again, as far as possible under the current constraints, because this work is important for the peoples of the Arctic and the Arctic States. I think we have already shown that we are willing to dive into the resumption of project-level work and I will do my best while I am in this position to contribute to that.