Iceland will follow Finland as Chair of the Arctic Council in 2019 and has already begun consultations on its programme. For Iceland, the Arctic is a key foreign policy priority but it is also important in the domestic realm. ARNI THOR SIGURDSSON notes that development there will have great impact on the health and well-being of its communities and inhabitants.
ICELAND’S ARCTIC POLICY was unanimously adopted by its Parliament in 2011 and encompasses twelve wideranging principles. These include promoting and strengthening the Arctic Council as the premier forum for Arctic cooperation and the importance of and respect for international law – most notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In addition, science and knowledge are considered fundamental to policy and decision making in the Arctic. The policy states that Iceland will adhere to principles of sustainability and protection of the environment, regarded as seminal when discussing the future of economic development. Further, the policy emphasises cooperation between the Arctic states, but also with non-Arctic states, intergovernmental organisations, academia, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), etc. Here, the active participation and contribution of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Arctic Council is of utmost significance. Moreover, the policy underscores domestic consultation and cooperation on Arctic issues as a means to ensure increased knowledge, democratic debate, and consensus on the implementation of the policy in the society at large.
As an Arctic coastal State and a founding member of the Arctic Council, Iceland has great interests at stake in the Arctic, shaped strongly by its geographical position and the importance of access to natural resources and their sustainability. Therefore it is a welcome opportunity for Iceland to assume the rotating chairmanship in the Arctic Council in 2019, following Finland. The United States will pass the torch to Finland at the upcoming Ministerial in Fairbanks, Alaska in May, thereby concluding a successful leadership of the Arctic Council, which has included an emphasis on Arctic Ocean safety and stewardship, improving economic and living conditions in the Arctic, as well as addressing the impacts of climate change. Finland will inevitably build on the accomplishments of the Arctic Council so far. However, it is important that each chair country shape its own priorities, develop the already broad collaboration within the Council, and even extend it into new areas. Iceland looks forward to working with Finland on its defined priorities, such as climate change, meteorology and education, while preparing our own chairmanship programme.
In line with our policy of inclusiveness and participation, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs launched its preparations for the Icelandic chairmanship by inviting stakeholders to a brainstorming meeting in Reykjavik in mid-January. More than one hundred people from ministries, government agencies, academia, business, politics, NGOs etc. gathered to discuss Arctic issues and Iceland’s chairmanship in 2019. This was a very important first step to involve relevant stakeholders in Iceland in the Ministry’s work, ensuring broad ownership and commitment to the approaching task. During Iceland’s first chairmanship in 2002-2004, a particular emphasis was placed on the social, economic, and cultural aspects of sustainable development, resulting in the first comprehensive attempt to document and compare systematically the welfare of Arctic residents on a circumpolar basis (the Arctic Human Development Report I). Regarding the 2019-2021 chairmanship it would be premature to make any statements at this stage about potential priorities. However, in defining our chairmanship, we will presumably look to issues that Iceland normally emphasizes: international cooperation regarding the environment, particularly the marine environment; sustainable resource management; renewable energy and socioeconomic conditions in the Arctic. In this important work, Iceland will be guided by the commitments in the Paris Climate Change Agreement as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Exciting times lie ahead of us with both opportunities and challenges. Only through extensive and all-embracing cooperation will we be successful in our goals. The Arctic Council is the most befitting forum for Arctic cooperation and Iceland looks forward to duly shouldering its responsibility as Chair.
ARNI THOR SIGURDSSON is the Senior Arctic Official in Iceland‘s Ministry for Foreign Affairs