From strategic plan to deliverables, Iceland gears up for Arctic Council ministerial

Harpa, the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, in Iceland. The next Arctic Council ministerial will take place here, and online, on May 20. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Iceland, the current chair of the Arctic Council, is getting ready to hand the gavel over to Russia next week, as it prepares for the international forum’s ministerial.

The Arctic Council is an international forum made up of the world’s eight northern circumpolar countries, and six Arctic Indigenous groups. The forum was set up in 1996 to allow the Arctic countries to work together on environmental protection and sustainable development in the North.

The chairmanship of the body rotates every two years between the countries.

The biennial ministerial meeting is where the leadership is officially handed over, and when updates are given on projects from the forum’s six working groups. The working groups are made up of experts from around the world and examine issues ranging Arctic contaminants to emergency response in the Arctic.

In a news release on Monday, the council said approximately 80 deliverables were expected, in addition to an Arctic Council strategic plan marking the forum’s 25th anniversary.

It also said the ministers intended to sign a joint declaration this year, seemingly a nod to reassure after the chaos of the 2019 ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland, where, during the Trump administration, the U.S. refused to sign a joint declaration, for the first time in the body’s history, over the inclusion of climate language in the document.

Arctic Council - Quick Facts
The 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting on May 7 in Rovaniemi, Finland.  (Jouni Porsanger / Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)

Year formed: 1996

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

Current Chair:  Iceland (2019-2021)

Upcoming Chair:  Russia (2021-2023)

Iceland’s four priorities under its chairmanship was the Arctic marine environment, climate and green energy solutions, people and communities of the Arctic, and a stronger Arctic Council. And despite some delays because of the pandemic, the majority of the body’s work was able to continue as planned, the forum said.

“Iceland had an ambitious program for its chairmanship at the outset,” said ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, outgoing chair of the senior arctic officials, in the news release. 

“We’ve had to work around some unexpected challenges, and that makes me even more pleased that we are on track to conclude the chairmanship with a strong Ministerial declaration and a strategic plan that reaffirm the Council’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Arctic region.”

Icelandic ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, chair of the senior Arctic officials at the senior Arctic officials’ plenary meeting in Hveragerdi, Iceland in 2019. (Kristina Baer/Arctic Council Secretariat)
Modified arrangements due to pandemic

With countries around the the world still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ministerial will be a hybrid format, with ministers and permanent participants attending the Reykjavik meeting in person, and working group participants, observer states and organizations, and additional delegates, from the Arctic states and Indigenous groups, attending virtually.

“The Arctic Council’s success lies in the Arctic Council family’s ability and willingness to work together. This past year is a proof of that. I’m incredibly proud of the Working Groups. Their reports, assessments and action plans are crucial for informed decision making, and the fact that they are successfully delivering numerous quality products despite being hindered by the pandemic, shows their swift adaptability and dedication to their work.”

The ministerial meeting will take place on May 20.  

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic Council finalizes plans for largely virtual ministerial in May, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finnish PM stresses importance of Arctic Council for region’s stability amidst climate change, Yle News

Iceland: Arctic Council’s work on track despite pandemic, now gearing up for 2021 ministerial, says ambassador & SAO, Eye on the Arctic

India: Pole to Pole: India’s Arctic White Paper, Blog by Marc Lanteigne

Ireland: Ireland ready to bring marine and scientific expertise to Arctic Council as observer, says Department of Foreign Affairs, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway’s FM confirms participation in upcoming Arctic Council ministerial, The Independent Barents Observer

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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