Sweden stands ready to take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council when the meeting of foreign ministers concludes in Nuuk, Greenland, this week. The five Nordic countries, together with the United States, Russia, Canada and representatives of indigenous peoples will discuss momentous changes in the climate and in the life of those who live in the region – and what to do if an environmental disaster occurs in the Arctic.

Gustav Lind, Sweden’s Arctic Ambassador, recently arrived in Nuuk, where preparatory negotiations have now begun ahead of the ministerial meeting.

What does Arctic cooperation mean in practice?

Climate and environment issues play a major role, as climate change has had a huge impact in the Arctic. It’s also about the people – one of the things that makes the Arctic Council unique is the fact that representatives of indigenous peoples take part at all levels. This makes it tremendously important to involve the different people living in the region.

What can we expect of the two-year Swedish Chairmanship?

We will be active and move the issues forward in a transparent way. We want to focus on environment and climate issues, which are tremendously important, but also on making life better for people living in the Arctic. And we have some new approaches. For example, as it is now, the Council does not act particularly fast if something of immediate concern happens. It works relatively slowly. We would like the Arctic Council to be able to react – for instance through Carl Bildt, who will chair the group of foreign ministers – if something urgent crops up. This would send an important signal that the Arctic countries are active and have a shared commitment.

How has greater focus on climate issues led to more attention being paid to the Arctic region?

Climate change is having a much greater impact in the Arctic. A global target of two degrees is talked about – limiting warming to a maximum of two degrees – but in the Arctic the temperature could rise by as much as six degrees. And if the Arctic icecap melts, that will obviously affect sea levels all over the world. What’s more, if the ice disappears this will open the way for shipping for more of the year and for exploitation of raw materials from the seabed.

So a balance needs to be struck between drilling for oil, for example, and good environmental sense?

Definitely. When it comes to oil, of course we in Sweden have no drilling activities, but coastal states like Norway and Russia are very active in that area. So it’s incredibly important to take preventive measures so as to avoid oil emissions. Having said that, if anything should happen – God forbid – environmental action has to be started tremendously quickly to stop oil leaks. If an accident like the Deep Water Horizon accident in the Mexican Gulf were to happen in the Arctic, it would be a great disaster.

You’re in Nuuk on Greenland this week for the Arctic ambassadors and foreign ministers meetings. How do you dress properly for spring in Greenland?

A warm jacket and sunglasses are a good idea. Roughly what you’d wear for skiing in Sweden.

Photo: Gustaf Lind