In a panel held at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, several speakers highlighted the unique model of the Arctic Council in supporting science diplomacy, bringing governments, indigenous peoples, and the scientific community together in support of sustainable development in the region.

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The Arctic Council held its first ever presentation at UN headquarters in New York last week as part of the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLFP). The presentation focused on the rapid change ongoing in the Arctic and on the value of collaboration for sustainable development both inside and outside the region. Speakers from the Arctic States, Permanent Participants, Working Groups, and Observers talked about their own experiences, concerns, and visions for the Arctic, as well as their hopes that the Arctic can provide inspiration to the rest of the world.

The Arctic is experiencing rapid environmental and social change because of globalization and climate change. The region is one of the most important bellwethers of our changing climate around the globe, and the warming that we see elsewhere is taking place roughly twice as fast in the Arctic. These changes call for urgent actions by different actors.

In the event in New York, several speakers highlighted the unique model of the Arctic Council in supporting science diplomacy, bringing governments, indigenous peoples, and the scientific community together in support of sustainable development in the region. Gunn-Britt Retter of the Saami Council pointed out that “the Arctic Council could serve as a model for other regions in the world of how States, indigenous peoples, and scientists can work together to shape policies.”

Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen, representing the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, stressed the continuity of the Council’s work from the U.S. Chairmanship to the current Finnish Chairmanship and onward to Iceland (2019-2021) and Russia (2021-2023). Thinking of the need for sustainable and resilient societies, he asked “how should we combine economic development with protection of ecosystems? These challenges also unite states, private businesses and consumers.”

"We must find new and innovative ways to create economic development which is truly sustainable. An innovative circular economy with new sustainable production and consumption patterns could provide guidance for that. These are common challenges inside and outside the Arctic, as we’ve seen at different events here at the HLPF”, said Pekka Shemeikka, current Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).

Dr. Wenjian Zhang, assistant secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, highlighted some of the mechanisms by which a warmer Arctic can mean more unstable, unpredictable weather further south. At the same time, Gunn-Britt Retter of the Saami Council focused on the Arctic itself, saying “What if the average temperature in the Arctic increases by eight degrees in the next three decades? We can expect an Arctic that we will no longer recognize.”

Leadership in organizing the event was provided by the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN, and by the Sustainable Development Working Group together with other Arctic Council Working Groups. Their work (scientific monitoring, biodiversity, pollutants, marine issues, preparedness and rescue, human development) for sustainable development were highlighted in the event. Many thanks to those who contributed their time and expertise.

The speakers:

Finland: H.E. Mr. Kimmo Tiilikainen, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing

Canada: Mr. Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

The Russian Federation: Mr. Sergey Kononuchenko, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

The Arctic Athabaskan Council: Mr. Bill Erasmus, International Chair

Singapore: Mr. Albert Chua, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

SDWG: Mr. Pekka Shemeikka, Chair

The Saami Council: Ms. Gunn-Britt Retter, Head of Arctic and Environmental Unit

The World Meteorological Organization: Mr. Wenjian Zhang, Assistant Secretary-General

Moderator: Mr. Mike Sfraga, Director of the Polar Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center

For inquiries about this event or about the Arctic Council’s work, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call +47 911 20 370.

 

Resources and references (Click any link below)

Arctic Council backgrounder
Finnish Chairmanship information
Images for media use
The Arctic Council on Facebook
The Arctic Council on Twitter
The Arctic Council Working Groups: ACAPAMAPCAFFEPPRPAME and SDWG.