Iceland has assumed the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and will lead the Council for two years. This morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Guðlaugur Thór Thórdarson, received the gavel from his Finnish counterpart at the Rovaniemi Ministerial Meeting in Finland. This event also marked the end of Finland's two-year chairmanship of the Council.
Minister Thórdarson presented Iceland's Chairmanship programme titled "Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic", highlighting three priority areas: The Arctic Marine Environment, Climate and Green Energy Solutions, as well as People and Communities of the Arctic. The Chairmanship will also continue strengthening the internal work of the Arctic Council and promoting its work internationally while supporting its ongoing activities in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development.
In his statement, Minister Thórdarson emphasized the importance of sustainable development and the balance between environmental protection, economic development and community development. “Growing international interest in Arctic matters demonstrates a dramatic change in international priorities from what they were just 15 years ago. The geostrategic situation in the region has changed and this reality is also reflected in the Arctic Council’s international status and the attention that the work of the Council enjoys. It has evolved from being a peripheral regional venue to being a truly central body for co-operation in the region,” said in his statement.
During its chairmanship, Iceland will lead a project on the Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic, exploring opportunities to increase the value of marine products. Plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment will also feature high on the agenda. The Chairmanship further involves leading the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, which will be chaired by the Icelandic Coast Guard for the next two years.
Iceland also intends to extend projects on green energy solutions and gender equality in the Arctic and initiate a project on adolescent substance use prevention. Iceland also aims to further strengthen cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council during the Chairmanship period.
The Foreign Ministers of all eight members states of the Arctic Council attended the meeting, Canada, Russia, the United States and the five Nordic countries. The meeting was also attended by leaders of the six Permanent Participants and representatives of 39 observers, including China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
The Foreign Minister also had a number of bilateral meetings on the margins of the Rovaniemi Ministerial. At a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Timo Soini, the ministers discussed the outgoing and incoming Chairmanships of the Arctic Council and the Council of Europe, which Finland currently chairs. Yesterday, the Foreign Minister met with Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, discussing bilateral relations, Arctic issues, security in Europe and human rights. Foreign Minister Thórdarson also met with Sam Tan Chin Siong, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, discussing bilateral relations between the two countries and Arctic co-operation.