Interview with Norway’s new Senior Arctic Official, Hilde Svartdal Lunde

25 August 2020
Hilde Svartdal Lunde is Norway’s new Senior Arctic Official and a seasoned Arctic expert. While she was still in her diplomatic training, she visited the Arctic for the first time, sparking an ongoing interest. Since those early days in Norway’s diplomatic service, Hilde Svartdal Lunde’s career has pivoted around Arctic affairs. Now, she is looking forward to cooperating closely with her colleagues in the Arctic States, the Permanent Participants and the Working Groups to maintain the Council’s status as the primary circumpolar political forum.

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

My first visit to the Arctic took place in 1994, travelling together with my fellow Foreign Service trainees in the Norwegian Diplomatic Academy. We visited Svalbard as well as a number of other Norwegian Arctic places and cities. Already at this point, my interests and work pointed heavily to the North. Soon afterwards, I was fortunate enough to visit the Russian Arctic cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and later to take part in a long standing bilateral cooperation with Russia on Arctic issues.

Arctic affairs has been a focal point of my career both at home and abroad. I was posted to Moscow as a junior diplomat and after that to Washington D.C. After a period of time in the Balkans, I headed back to Oslo and served as the Deputy Director for Russia/Eurasia Section in the Foreign Ministry. Later, I served as the Deputy Head of Mission at our Norwegian Embassy in Moscow for four years. Back in Norway again, I joined the Norwegian Defence College before taking up the position as Deputy Director General for Security Policy and the High North. Lastly, I have served as the Norwegian Ambassador to Iceland.

Throughout all these years, I have seen an impressive development of the invaluable circumpolar Arctic cooperation, not the least in the Arctic Council, which attracts increased attention also from partners outside of the Arctic region. This forum has managed to find common ground on a number of pressing issues concerning the protection of this unique environment, sustainable development, preparedness and not the least the people living in our region.

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

I look forward to working closely with all partners and hopefully to be able to visit all the Arctic States, to meet with the Permanent Participants, the Working Groups, the Observers and the Arctic Council Secretariat. I visited the secretariat briefly on my first week on the job and I think it plays a vital coordinating role in the Arctic Council. I felt highly energized by witnessing the pulsing international Arctic community in Tromsø with so many experts and organizations working together for a safe and prosperous future for the Arctic. I look forward to visiting again as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not easy to go abroad these days with the challenges due to the pandemic situation. Hopefully, this will change soon.

What are some of the challenges that you see for the Arctic Council that you are looking forward to tackling in your new position?

The Arctic Council enjoys the status of the primary circumpolar political forum and we have a shared responsibility to continue finding common solutions and practical actions based on extensive research cooperation on priority issues within this forum. With increased interest from other parts of the world, I think it is increasingly important to ensure a joint and fact-based communication on Arctic issues.

What is your most memorable Arctic experience?

There have been many memorable experiences from the Arctic, not least watching the Northern Lights!