Russia set to Chair Arctic Council

May 18, 2021

On 20 May 2021, Iceland will host the 12th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik and online.

The meeting marks the end of the two-year Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the beginning of the Russian Federation’s Chairmanship for the years 2021-2023.

Iceland will pass the Chairmanship gavel to the Russian Federation, which will highlight sustainable development throughout its Chairmanship. Russia is expected to maintain a strong focus on the people of the Arctic – including enhanced efforts towards promoting Indigenous cultures and languages, the Arctic environment and sustainable economic development.

The Arctic Council meeting is the first to be hosted since the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to gatherings in early 2020. The meeting will be held in reduced format, with Foreign Ministers from the eight Arctic States and representatives of the Indigenous Permanent Participants on site in Reykjavik and the majority of delegates joining the meeting through an online platform. Representatives of the Arctic Council Working Groups and Observers, as well as additional delegates of the Arctic States and Permanent Participants, will participate via an online conferencing platform.

The meeting will review and welcome around 80 deliverables compiled by the Council’s Working Groups during the Icelandic Chairmanship.

Arctic Ministers plan to sign a Reykjavik Declaration and mark the Council’s 25th anniversary by adopting the first-ever strategic plan of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council is the pre-eminent intergovernmental forum for cooperation on Arctic affairs. Its Ministerial meeting is held every two years, giving the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic States and the political leadership of the six Indigenous Permanent Participants the opportunity to strengthen international cooperation in the region, and review the quality work produced by the Council’s Working Groups. A preview of select key reports and other deliverables that will be released at the Ministerial meeting will be presented in four thematic briefings:

  • Climate change;
  • Arctic shipping;
  • Human health; and
  • Innovation in Arctic communities.

For the past two years, Iceland has chaired the Council under the heading “Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic”, which reflects not only the country’s strong commitment to the principle of sustainable development but the necessity of close cooperation in the region and beyond.

During its Chairmanship, Iceland highlighted four priority areas:

  • Arctic marine environment;
  • Climate and green energy solutions;
  • People and communities of the Arctic; and
  • A stronger Arctic Council.

Under Iceland’s leadership, the Council undertook significant initiatives focusing on marine cooperation, plastic pollution, gender equality, Covid-19 in the Arctic, meaningful engagement with youth, enhanced cooperation with the Council’s Observers, and more.

Outgoing Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, notes the success of the Arctic Council lies in its 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.” He went on to say “Iceland had an ambitious program for its Chairmanship at the outset. 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.”

The Arctic Council celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021. The 25-year collaboration between the 8 Arctic States and 6 Indigenous Permanent Participants remains unique in the world; a forum where Indigenous Permanent Participants, Foreign Ministers and State representatives sit together at the same table to jointly shape a prosperous future for the Arctic.