The Arctic Council has recently welcomed three new Senior Arctic Officials: Hanne Eskjær (Kingdom of Denmark), Anniken Krutnes (Norway), and Alison LeClaire (Canada). In this interview, we speak with Hanne Eskjær about her background and about her thoughts on her upcoming work with the Council.
Q: What is your background, and how do you feel it has prepared you for your role as a Senior Arctic Official?
When I look at the important work of the Arctic Council and the priorities of the Kingdom of Denmark in the Arctic region, I recognize many of the topics I have focused on for the last 20 years working for Denmark - abroad and in Copenhagen. Just to mention a few examples: In the United Nations in New York I worked with international law, in particular human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. This is important to many people living in the Arctic and uniquely reflected in the construction of the Arctic Council. As ambassador to Bangladesh, I was engaged with the impact of climate change, not least the mitigation and adaption to climate change, and that is one of the most present challenges for the Arctic region as a whole. My broad experience with multilateral cooperation and regional development should also be useful. In the beginning of my career, I was working within the Council of the Baltic Sea States where I gained good experience with identifying regional solutions to regional challenges.
I look very much forward to tackling the key issues of our region within the unique framework created by the eight member states of the Arctic Council. I am happy to start my job as SAO by celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Arctic Council with all the Arctic States reaffirming their commitment to the principles of the Ottawa Declaration, working together with the Permanent Participants promoting sustainable development and environmental protection for the benefit of generations to come. As a newcomer to the Arctic family, I am of course also looking forward to good advice from all my new colleagues. I have met some of them already and look forward to my first SAO meeting in Portland.
Q: What elements of your work with the Arctic Council are you most looking forward to?
As the Kingdom of Denmark’s new Arctic Ambassador and SAO in the Arctic Council, I am looking forward to working with my Greenlandic and Faroese colleagues on Arctic issues together with the Arctic States and other stakeholders.
I am also looking forward to diving deeper into the whole Arctic agenda; exploring the beautiful region and getting to know all the people working on Arctic issues. The interaction and input from the Permanent Participants will also be very interesting and valuable for making the right decisions.
The Arctic is a high priority for the Kingdom of Denmark and our point of departure is our Arctic Strategy 2011-2020. My focus will be maintaining the Arctic as a peaceful, secure and safe region with an emphasis on striking the right balance between environmental protection and sustainable development. This means close cooperation with all our international partners and stakeholders. We see the Arctic Council as the primary forum for Arctic cooperation.The core topic of the Council is the emphasis on sustainable growth and development to the benefit of the people living in the Arctic. We also prioritize scientific cooperation and research. A new interesting development is telecommunications infrastructure which can be an important instrument in order to enhance infrastructure and realize some of economic development potential. Lastly, I would like to mention that we also prioritize the marine cooperation as there is a new ocean opening up which we need to relate to.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you see for the Arctic Council that you are looking forward to tackling in your new position?
As mentioned, the Arctic Council is the primary forum for Arctic cooperation. We need to make sure the Arctic Council continues to be the relevant place to meet and discuss the development of the region. We need to be able to make decisions on the development of the region while, at the same time, being open to other actors with legitimate interests in the region. The Arctic is changing at an unprecedented pace, and, as stewards of the region, it is our responsibility to make the right decisions – even the difficult ones – based on the best available information. Luckily, we are blessed with a broad range of experts, researchers, and civil-society organizations who are ensuring very valuable contributions to that work.