The Arctic Region
Arctic issues have in recent years become ever more prominent internationally as well as domestically. The discussion on the changing Arctic and it´s relationship with climatic change, discussions on the utilisation and protection of natural resources, continental shelf and sovereignty demands, societal changes and the opening of new seaways is an will be of interest today and in the future.
It is clear that few states have a greater interest in the sustainable development of the area than Iceland, since all of the country and a large part of its territorial waters lie within the boundaries of the Arctic region. This is unique among the member states of the Arctic Council. Arctic issues touch nearly every aspect of Icelandic society and are a key foreign policy priority in Iceland.
Iceland’s policy in Arctic issues is anchored in a parliamentary resolution adopted unanimously by Althingi in the spring of 2011 which outlines 12 priority areas. They cover e.g. Iceland’s position in the region, the importance of the Arctic Council and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, climate change, sustainable use of natural resources and security and commercial interests. Emphasis is furthermore placed on neighbour-state collaboration with the Faroe Islands and Greenland as well as the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Arctic Council, since it´s establishment in 1996, has become the most important multinational forum for Arctic issues. In addition to the eight founding members, six organisations of indigenous peoples have permanent seats on the Council and 39 parties have observer status: 13 states, 13 intergovernmental organisations and 13 Non-governmental organisations. Decisions are made unanimously in the Council.
Three legally binding agreements have been negotiated under the auspices of the Council, on search and rescue, on prevention of oil pollution and the third one on enhancing scientific cooperation in the Arctic.
The large majority of the work of the Arctic Council takes place in six working groups whose contributions to the increased knowledge of the environment, biota and societies of the Arctic region have proven invaluable.
Two of those working groups, the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) are located in Akureyri but in conformity with Iceland's Arctic policy an emphasis is placed on hosting a part of the operations of the Arctic Council in Iceland.
Iceland will assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2019 and hold it until 2021. The chairmanship will clearly be among the biggest projects Iceland has undertaken internationally and will require careful and elaborate preparations. Iceland’s position as one of eight member states of the Arctic Council is strong, and gives Icelanders the opportunity of having their voices heard and influence felt.