Press Release - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

HKS Arctic Initiative Response: Priorities for Norway’s Chairship of the Arctic Council

| Mar. 31, 2023

On March 31 at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska, the government of Norway presented its program for Norway’s upcoming Chairship of the Arctic Council. Norway will take over the Chairship from Russia on May 11 and will hold that role until 2025.

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the eight Arctic states and six Arctic Indigenous Peoples Organizations. Since March 2022, however, all official activities of the Council have been paused in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The program released by the Norwegian government today for its Chairship of the Council under these difficult circumstances identified four priority topics under an overall objective of promoting “stability and constructive cooperation” in the Arctic: oceans; climate and environment; sustainable economic development; and people in the North.

During the presentation, Norway’s incoming Senior Arctic Official Morten Høglund emphasized Norway’s commitment to preserving the Arctic Council as a forum for cooperation on the most pressing shared Arctic challenges, including, conspicuously, the impacts of climate change. The Arctic region is warming three to four times faster than the global average rate, with severe consequences for Arctic communities and the global climate.

In response, John Holdren, Co-Director of the Arctic Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, issued the following statement.

"Today, we heard firsthand from the Norwegian government about its commitment to use its Chairship of the Arctic Council to promote stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic. We in the Kennedy School’s Arctic Initiative applaud Norway for charting a path forward to advance the Arctic Council Strategic Plan and address a set of issues important not only for the Arctic region but also for the globe.

We enthusiastically share Norway’s commitment to including youth and Indigenous Peoples in every aspect of this work, and we look forward to continuing collaboration with this critically important inclusion effort. 

We are also encouraged to see a major focus on ocean management among the Norwegian Chairship’s priorities. The pressure on the Arctic Ocean and its vulnerable ecosystems has been increasing rapidly, and it is crucial that the management efforts of the Arctic Council keep up with the growth of these pressures. Norway’s intention to take stock of the progress on implementing ecosystem-based ocean management in the Arctic is particularly commendable.

We applaud Norway, as well, for its program’s attention to a number of the other pressing challenges connected with the impact of climate change on the people and ecosystems of the Arctic; bringing traditional knowledge into assessment of how climate change, pollution, and biodiversity are interacting; dealing with the interplay of climate change and the environmental impacts of expanding human activity in the Arctic; improving environmental monitoring and the incorporation of environmental data in decision-making; and calling the attention of the world’s policymakers to the reduction in emissions of short-lived climate forcers—most notably, black carbon and methane—that will be needed everywhere to moderate the pace of Arctic warming in the current decade.

After the end of the Cold War, the Arctic Council played a critical role in establishing the region as a place of peace and cooperation, creating an innovative governance space that brings together states, Arctic Indigenous Peoples, researchers, and other knowledge holders. 

Today, ensuring a productive future for Arctic cooperation has been made much more challenging by Russia’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine. What will matter in this environment is not only Norway’s priorities for its Chairship, but gaining the enthusiastic participation in those priorities of all who understand the importance of international and cross-cultural collaboration in shaping the Arctic future.  This will require re-animating widely inclusive discussions about the issues and about the Arctic’s place in the world.

We in the Arctic Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government wish Norway every success in this effort."

For Media Inquiries:
Elizabeth Hanlon

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:HKS Arctic Initiative Response: Priorities for Norway’s Chairship of the Arctic Council.” Press Release, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 31, 2023.

The Author

John P. Holdren