The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

30 March 2020
Interview with Sweden’s Senior Arctic Official Louise Calais

Louise Calais is the new Senior Arctic Official for Sweden and an expert on multilateral affairs. She started her position in January 2020 and was looking forward to a spring full of Arctic Council meetings and related events. The corona pandemic put a sudden halt to most of these gatherings. In the meantime, Louise Calais is working closely with the Swedish Arctic team to get up to speed on Arctic issues. While working for the Arctic Council feels like coming home to her, in more recent years she has worked in areas with a lot more sand than snow.

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

My background is mainly in security policy and EU affairs, working both in Stockholm, Brussels and New York. I have also been active in humanitarian affairs and worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for three years. Then, I have been stationed in Iraq, where I was the Deputy Head of Mission in Bagdad and the Head of our Section Office in Erbil – a lot more sand than snow at that point of my career. But if you ask me if this has prepared me for the Arctic, I think that my experience from multilateral affairs can help me in the multilateral forum that the Arctic Council is.

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

Two things come to my mind immediately: First of all, I am looking forward to working with all the people that are involved in Arctic affairs – not just in the Arctic Council but also in the Swedish Arctic team that engages a number of ministries and government agencies. I am starting this position during the corona pandemic, which means that I will not be going to the Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting that was scheduled to take place in Akureyri in March – and which I was very much looking forward to. While we were still hoping that we would be able to go to Iceland, we held a preparatory meeting here in Stockholm with the Swedish team and I am so impressed with all the expertise and knowledge that comes together from different areas.

I think together we can create some good results. I really enjoy working multilaterally with people from different backgrounds, it creates its own dynamic. In the end, you always get something more out of it – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The second thing that I am looking forward to is the close collaboration with the Working Groups. In the Swedish Arctic team, we have two of the Working Group Chairs: Anders Turesson from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and Mark Marissink from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna. The Working Groups are the core of the work of the Arctic Council and you have a very interesting link here between the science and research and the political level.

We need a strong knowledge base upon which we can take informed decisions and we need more global cooperation. Louise Calais, Senior Arctic Official for Sweden

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

At the moment, I am very carefully listening to the experts and veterans that have been involved in the Council’s work for a long time. One challenge that has come up in discussion is how we can strengthen the Arctic Council. So, I understand that this also means: how do we tighten the links between the different actors within the Council? The Senior Arctic Officials, the Working Groups, the Permanent Participants and the Observers.
I think in any organization that you want to strengthen, you have to focus on concrete actions and the results you want to achieve. From there, we can explore how can we achieve this. The upcoming 25th anniversary of the Arctic Council certainly is a good opportunity that we should leverage to send some strong messages about the Council and its role in governing the Arctic.

Then of course, climate change and environmental protection are issues that have never been more urgent. To tackle these challenges, we need a strong knowledge base upon which we can take informed decisions and we need more global cooperation. We have to live up to the Paris Agreement and ensure sustainable development for the Arctic and the people living in the Arctic.

What is one of your most memorable Arctic experiences?

Starting to work for the Arctic Council feels like coming home to me. When I was growing up, we would spend most of our holidays in the mountains of Sweden and Norway, but we also visited Finland – while my friends travelled to the Mediterranean. A number of years ago I took a couple of friends to climb the Kebnekaise. I love the outdoors but my friends were not really outdoor people. I told them that is was going to be fantastic. On the top of the mountain you can see ten percent of Sweden. But by the time we got up there – and they hated every step – it was so foggy, we could not even see our hands. So while my friends will never return to the Arctic, I am looking forward to discover other parts of the Arctic outside of the Nordic countries.