Together Toward a Sustainable Arctic

| Spring 2021

The Arctic Initiative's Earth Day Dialogue with Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson

The future of the Arctic is critical not only for its four-million inhabitants and the unique ecosystems found in this northernmost region of Earth. A sustainable Arctic is key for global stability. Physical changes in the Arctic have globally significant climatic, environmental, and geopolitical implications, and successful collaboration through the Arctic Council has kept the Arctic peaceful and stable since its establishment twenty-five years ago. 

Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson
Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson

In honor of Earth Day the Arctic Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, for a dialogue about Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the role the Arctic Council can continue to play in maintaining stability as the region rapidly transforms due to a changing climate. 

Minister Thórdarson noted in his opening remarks, “With temperature in the Arctic rising at more than twice the global average, climate change is already affecting the 4 million Arctic inhabitants.  It is important that we recognize the science and react before it's too late.”

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. 

Since 2019 Iceland has chaired the Arctic Council with a focus on the theme of “Together towards a sustainable Arctic." Now in 2021 the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council transitions to the Russian Federation, and Minister Thórdarson is optimistic that this spirit of collaboration and commitment to sustainability will continue.

Mike Sfraga, founding director of the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center who moderated the dialogue, noted, “We live in a big neighborhood but a small community." While the territory of the Arctic is vast, and tensions arise between the eight Arctic nations, the challenges are shared as these nations work to adapt to a changing climate. The Arctic Council offers a venue for collaboration and diplomacy by working across borders on these common challenges. 

This kind of science diplomacy offers a promising path forward, and the Arctic Council provides a counter to the great power competition narrative that has often emerged when speaking about the Arctic region. In his closing remarks Minister Thórdarson offered his prediction for the importance of the Arctic Council over the next few years, “Because of the work of the Arctic Council we will see more international agreements, managed tensions, and continue collaborations because none of the Arctic countries will solve this alone.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Together Toward a Sustainable Arctic." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. (Spring 2021)