Iceland, Estonia talk Arctic at Tallinn meeting

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson shakes hands with Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu in Tallinn on Wednesday. (Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
The foreign ministers of Iceland and Estonia met on Wednesday to talk everything from Nordic-Baltic relations to Arctic cooperation.

“We support the position that the Arctic must remain a region of low tensions,” Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia’s foreign minister said in a news release. “As a country close to the Arctic, it is Estonia’s interest and responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the Arctic.” 

Estonia has become increasingly vocal on Arctic affairs since announcing its intention to apply for observer status on the Arctic Council last year.

The Arctic Council is an international forum made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States; and six Arctic Indigenous groups; the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.

Observers’ role

The council was established in 1996 to work on sustainable development and environmental protection in the North.

Currently there are 13 non-Arctic states, and 13 intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary organizations with approved Arctic Council observer status. The designation allows observation of the international forum’s work and allows the ability to contribute to the forum’s working groups.

But all decisions remain with the eight Arctic countries with the participation of the six Indigenous organizations.

Estonian engagement in Arctic

In his statement on Wednesday, Reinsalu talked up Estonia’s Arctic engagement saying Estonian polar researchers had been studying the Arctic “for years” and could make important contributions to the Arctic Council’s working groups.

Arctic Council - Quick Facts

The Arctic Council ministerial at the Lappi Areena in Rovaniemi, Finland in May 2019 when Finland passed the forum’s rotating two-year chairmanship to Iceland. (Mandel Ngan/Reuters)

Year formed: 1996

Current Chair: Iceland

Arctic Council Members: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, United States

Permanent Participants: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council

When Estonia announced its intention to apply for observer status in November it outlined its main interests as science, economy and security.

“Ensuring the sustainable development of the Arctic requires cooperation between states and extensive political support, and this should not be a task of Arctic states alone, instead, it should also include countries and international organisations close to the Arctic,” Reinsalu said at the time. 

“As the northernmost non-Arctic country and due to its location, Estonia is directly affected by the geopolitical developments in the Arctic, and this is why we should be included in discussions and problem-solving.” 

Iceland’s chairmanship

On Wednesday, Reinsalu also voiced Estonia’s support for Iceland, which currently holds the Arctic Council’s rotating two-year chairmanship, citing its efforts on highlighting the working groups’ projects and observers’ contributions to them. 

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Better wildfire & agriculture management among recommendations from Arctic Council black carbon expert group, Eye on the Arctic

Estonia: Estonia to apply for observer status within Arctic Council, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Did Finland fail as Chair of the Arctic Council?, Blog – Timo Koivurova

Iceland: Arctic Council group lobs GPS-bugged capsules into Atlantic to track litter trajectories in the North, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway to focus on civil society, press freedom as chair of Barents Euro-Arctic Council, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Putin, Modi work on Arctic cooperation during Russia meeting, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s FM calls for more EU involvement in Arctic as country hosts EU Arctic Forum, Radio Sweden

United States: Finnish and US Presidents agree on Arctic security policies, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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