Official meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies have been on pause since March 2022. Could you give a summary of where the Arctic Council stands now at the onset of the Norwegian Chairship?
The 13th meeting of the Arctic Council last Thursday was a milestone. The eight Arctic States and the six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations met and issued a joint statement where they reiterated their commitment to work to safeguard and strengthen the Arctic Council. This was an important signal, not least for us as the new Chair. However, a return to business as usual is not possible at this stage, and it will take time before the Council is fully up and running. For example, meetings at the political level won’t be happening anytime soon. But we hope to get as much of the important work of the Arctic Council going again, and Norway will do its utmost to make sure that will happen as soon as practically possible.
The pause was difficult for everyone. From Norway’s perspective, it was absolutely necessary, but it has no doubt impacted the work of the Council. When determining how we will organize the future work of the Council, Norway will consult with all Arctic States and Indigenous Permanent Participants. It is important that the process is inclusive, and to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the way forward. We are ambitious, we are eager, and we want to see work started as soon as possible.
In mid-June 2023, the Norwegian Chairship team will meet with all Working Group Chairs and Executive Secretaries to coordinate and plan for the work ahead. In these challenging circumstances, we believe it’s important to have close coordination so that we are all on the same page in finding a way forward.
Norway assumed the Chairship of the Arctic Council on 11 May during the 13th meeting of the Arctic Council. Could you share what the format of the meeting was like, who took part and what the outcomes were?
The 13th meeting of the Arctic Council took place in Salekhard, Russia and online. The meeting was attended by Senior Arctic Officials for each Arctic State and Heads of Delegations from the six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations. The 13th meeting was notably not referred to as a Ministerial meeting, which is natural given that Senior Arctic Officials were representing their Ministers this time.
One major outcome was the Arctic Council statement. The fact we agreed on a statement, I believe, is something remarkable in this situation. It took a lot of hard work and effort from everyone involved. The Arctic Council Statement is an excellent starting point for the Norwegian Chairship and the work we intend to do over the next two years.
I want to thank everyone involved in making the 13th Arctic Council meeting happen. And for good, constructive cooperation from all sides to make the meeting a success, which secured the transition to Norway as Chair.
How will the Norwegian Chairship operate? To what extent do you expect it to be different to past Chairmanships?
How we organize our Chairship is something we need to be flexible on and adjust as needed, depending on modalities that we agree on moving forward. We have a good team in place. We feel we have the best support possible from the Arctic Council Secretariat in Tromsø as well as the Working Group secretariats. In that sense, everything is in place to get things moving again. But it will require work and close interaction with every Arctic State and Permanent Participant in the Arctic Council.
It's my clear understanding that everyone wants the Arctic Council to continue as the main body for Arctic issues and that’s a good starting point for the upcoming years.
The project work in the Council’s Working Groups has been limited during the pause. What will their work look like during the Norwegian Chairship?
Working Groups are key to the work of the Arctic Council. Without functioning Working Groups, we don’t have a Council.
It’s too early to say what Working Group work will look like, but we will consult with everyone in the Arctic Council, and we hope we can shortly announce effective operational guidelines. In the meantime, Working Groups Chairs and secretariats are preparing so that they are ready to go once modalities are clear.
What are Norway’s main ambitions during its Chairship?
Our main ambition, and measurement for success, is how we manage to steer the Arctic Council safely through these challenging times. Will the Arctic Council be the same Council as we know it at the end of our Chairship in 2025? I believe it will.
We have clear ambitions during our Chairship under our four priority focus areas: the oceans, climate and environment, sustainable economic development and people in the North. We also have ambitions to give youth a stronger role within the Council and ensure that youth in the Arctic are given a voice. Strengthening cooperation with Arctic Indigenous Peoples is another cross-cutting theme of ours.
What are some initiatives to look forward to during your Chairship?
Given we are just coming out of a pause, we are working closely with partners to deliver activities and hopefully new projects and initiatives in our Chairship priority areas. We look forward to sharing more information on these activities once we can. I think it will be an exciting two years, and we look forward to bringing Arctic stakeholders to Northern Norway, which is in our view, the best place to meet for Arctic discussions.
We are calling your leadership the Norwegian Chairship – why the change in terminology?
Chairship is a gender-neutral term, and it underlines gender equality – and inclusion more broadly – as an important feature of making Arctic communities attractive and comfortable places to live in, for everyone. In Norwegian we use the term “lederskap”, which is also gender neutral. The Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group has done great work on gender equality in the Arctic, and we intend to follow up on that work.
The use of the term Chairship may be symbolic, but it’s a way to pave the way for something new and to transform. For Norway, using the gender-neutral term came naturally and we hope it will catch on in the future.
What are you looking forward to most as SAOC?
I really look forward to continuing to meet all the great people involved in Arctic issues, both within the Arctic Council and outside. I have met some of the most amazing, dedicated people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I feel privileged to be SAOC. It’s a responsibility, but mostly it’s something that gives me energy and I look forward to the next two years.
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