Icelandic Chairmanship

Together towards a sustainable Arctic

The theme of the Arctic Council Chairmanship program for 2019-2021 reflects Iceland’s commitment to the principle of sustainable development and refers to the necessity of close cooperation between the states and peoples of the region and beyond. With sustainable development as an overarching theme, Iceland will highlight four priorities: The Arctic Marine Environment, Climate and Green Energy Solutions, People and Communities of the Arctic, and a Stronger Arctic Council.

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Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Working closely with all partners, inside as well as outside the region, is of utmost importance for both prosperity and security in the Arctic region. The conflictual elements that may result from the opening-up of the Arctic make the Council’s contribution to sustainable development in the region increasingly relevant. I truly believe that an active dialogue, based on state-of-the-art scientific research, conducted through dynamic collaboration between our countries and organizations, is the best way forward for a constructive development of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic marine environment

During its Chairmanship, Iceland will highlight plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment, drawing on the findings of the first desktop study on marine litter in the Arctic. The Arctic Council will work on the development of a Regional Action Plan to reduce marine litter, including micro-plastics, along with other efforts to monitor and limit its impacts.

Innovative methods to improve the utilization of living marine resources may have considerable potential for driving sustainable economic growth in coastal communities. Iceland is leading the development of a project on the Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic, exploring opportunities to increase the value of marine products.

Iceland will continue to promote safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic. With increasing marine traffic and activities, it is essential to maintain close and effective cooperation among the Arctic States on search and rescue, as well as emergency prevention, preparedness and response. Circumpolar meteorological and oceanographic cooperation also serves to improve safety at sea and should be developed further, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization.

Climate and green energy solutions

The importance of basing climate policies on solid scientific foundations cannot be overstated. The Arctic Council will continue observing and assessing climate impacts on Arctic marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, and an update report on Arctic climate change will be prepared for the 2021 Ministerial meeting in Reykjavík.

Building on the work of the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, efforts to identify opportunities to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants will continue. Progress in this area could help slow the current pace of change in the Arctic while work is underway to reduce longer-term impacts.

The development and application of practical green energy solutions in the Arctic region should be encouraged, enabling communities to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Projects that promote knowledge exchange and aim to support small and remote Arctic communities in transitioning to sustainable energy will continue running in 2019-2021.

People and communities of the Arctic

Initiatives that aim to promote the wellbeing of the roughly four million people living in the region will remain central to the Arctic Council’s work. Northern communities are already facing challenges that result from the impacts of climate change, demonstrating the need for action to strengthen resilience and facilitate adaptation.

New economic opportunities, including in shipping and tourism, can contribute to growth and prosperity of Arctic communities, if they are carried out sustainably. Environmental protection and social inclusion must always go hand in hand with economic development.

Reliable and affordable telecommunications are essential for Arctic inhabitants in order to access services and participate in the digital economy. Iceland’s Chairmanship wishes to maintain a focus on improving connectivity, in close cooperation with the Arctic Economic Council, building on previous mapping of needs, gaps and solutions.

Gender equality is an important element for achieving sustainable development. Iceland will continue to lead a project that aims to promote dialogue on gender equality in the Arctic and strengthen a network of experts and stakeholders in the field.

Stronger Arctic Council

Iceland’s Chairmanship will strive to enhance the constructive cooperation that has always been a key strength of the Arctic Council. Close consultations between the Member States and the Permanent Participants must continue, and further opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration with Observers should be explored.

Iceland wishes to strengthen cooperation between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council, on the basis of a new Memorandum of Understanding, with the shared objective of promoting responsible economic development.

Meet the Icelandic Chairmanship Team

Einar Gunnarsson
Einar Gunnarsson
Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials; Ambassador Arctic Affairs

Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson has been working with MFA's Arctic Affairs Division since August 2018 preparing for Iceland's Chairmanship. Prior to that he served as Iceland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2015 where he, amongst other responsibilities, chaired the Third Committee of the General Assembly during its 72nd session.

Mr. Gunnarsson was the Permanent Secretary of State of the MFA from 2009 until 2014, dealing with the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008. Before serving as Permanent Secretary of State Mr. Gunnarsson held various positions in the Icelandic Foreign Service, such as Director of International Trade Negotiations, Director of Personnel, Deputy Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Geneva, Counsellor at the Mission of Iceland to the EU in Brussels, Counsellor in the External Trade Department and Legal Advisor in the Defence Department in the MFA.

After finishing his law studies from the University of Iceland in 1992 Mr. Gunnarsson worked as a lawyer and a District Court Advocate at a private law firm in Reykjavik until he joined the Foreign Service in 1996.

Friðrik Jónsson
Friðrik Jónsson
Senior Arctic Official, Arctic Affairs
Aðalheiður Inga Þorsteinsdóttir
Aðalheiður Inga Þorsteinsdóttir
Counsellor, Arctic Affairs; Deputy SAO & SDWG Head of Delegation
Sólrún Svandal
Sólrún Svandal
Senior Adviser, Arctic Affairs
Selma Sif Ísfeld Óskarsdóttir
Selma Sif Ísfeld Óskarsdóttir
Senior Adviser, Arctic Affairs
Stefán Skjaldarson
Stefán Skjaldarson
Ambassador; Chair of the Arctic Council SDWG
Magnús Jóhannesson
Magnús Jóhannesson
Special Adviser for Arctic Affairs
Hafþór Reinhardsson
Hafþór Reinhardsson
Specialist, Communications and Public Diplomacy
Sóley Margrét Rafnsdóttir
Sóley Margrét Rafnsdóttir
Administrative Officer, Arctic Affairs