Morten Høglund Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials

Norway's Chairship has been termed the most significant in Arctic Council history given the current unique geopolitical situation. In an interview published on the Arctic Council website Morten Høglund, the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, discusses the progress made and challenges in the Council's work over the past three months.

One of Norway’s main priorities that you outlined in May is to steer the Arctic Council safely through the challenging times it is facing. Which course has the work of the Council taken since?

Our primary focus of these first months was on finding a way forward that would allow the Working Groups to resume their important work. As I mentioned in May: without functioning Working Groups, we don’t have a Council. This task was therefore quintessential for restarting the engine and taking a course forward.

At the same time, it was absolutely critical for us that these discussions would be inclusive and take everyone’s needs and concerns into account. We therefore initiated close consultations with all States and Permanent Participants. On 11 May all Arctic States and Permanent Participants reaffirmed their commitment to safeguard and strengthen the Arctic Council (see statement issued at the 13th meeting of the Arctic Council) and over the past weeks, we saw them put these words to action. On 29 August the States reached consensus, in consultation with the Permanent Participants, on a first set of modalities for the resumption of work at the Working Group level. The Norwegian Chairship views the approval of these guidelines as a critical step forward for the Council, and I’m encouraged to see this productive cooperation continue.

Could you speak more about the level of activity that is now resuming in the Working Groups?

The new guidelines allow the Working Groups to resume their important efforts to advance project activities. This includes taking decisions on the way forward for their work, such as proposing new projects that address continued and emerging issues in the Arctic. They are also able to resume their collaboration with Observers and external experts that provide vital contributions to the Council’s project work.

I think we have been able to address some of the primary needs of the Working Groups and Expert Group to allow them to hit the ground running. It has proven to be very valuable to build a strong relationship with the Council’s subsidiary bodies early on during our Chairship. In June, we hosted a meeting with all the Working Group Chairs and Executive Secretaries in Tromsø, which allowed us to gain a solid understanding of the status of projects and what was needed to advance the work. With the guidelines in place, I’m looking forward to continuing discussions on the further resumption of Arctic Council activities in the coming months.

With this important development, where will Norway’s priorities lie during the coming months?

Reaching consensus on resuming Working Group level activities was a first step, but the guidelines will continue to evolve as the work advances. We will therefore continue our dialogue with our colleagues from the Arctic States, Permanent Participants, Working Groups and Expert Group to ensure that the Council is well equipped to advance its work.

This spring and summer were marked by extreme climate events, including unprecedented heat waves across the globe and raging wildland fires in large areas of the Arctic. This was a stark reminder that the Arctic States and Permanent Participants have a collective responsibility to lead on changes in the Arctic that affect the environment and the well-being of people living in the Arctic and beyond. The Arctic Council offers the premiere forum to facilitate knowledge production and information exchange on a multitude of Arctic issues, and to provide knowledge-based advice to address these urgent matters.

It therefore remains Norway’s main ambition to ensure that the Arctic Council continues to play this unique role. In practice, we will remain flexible and innovative in our approaches while leading this important work together with our colleagues in the Arctic Council family.

Source: Arctic Council

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