Senior Arctic Official René Söderman and Director for Northern Europe Kalle Kankaanpää of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland reflect on the Arctic Council chairmanship.
On 11 May 2017, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson passed the Arctic Council gavel to Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini in Fairbanks in a ceremony marking the passage of the chairmanship of the council from the United States to Finland.
Finland set environmental protection, meteorological cooperation, connectivity and education as its chairmanship priorities. During the first year, meteorological cooperation has already taken quite a leap forward.
In March, the first ever Arctic Meteorology Summit took place in Levi in the presence of the President and the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization as well as the Directors-General of the national meteorological services of all eight Arctic Council member countries. They decided to initiate cooperation with the Arctic Council and its Working Groups.
“The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme AMAP for its part decided to include meteorological cooperation as a permanent part of their work. This way, one of our chairmanship priorities is already a reality and the cooperation will continue in the future”, René Söderman rejoices.
”I am happy that Finland chairs the Arctic Council at this moment in time, because Arctic questions are on the rise on all agendas internationally. Finland has Arctic know-how in the fields of science, technology as well as the environment, and now we can show leadership in these important issues”, Kalle Kankaanpää notes.
“Arctic cooperation can open doors to other international cooperation that a small country would not necessarily be invited to otherwise. This way we get the opportunity to have a say in decisions concerning us all.”
Much of the work of the Arctic Council takes place in working groups and task forces and results in recommendations for the Arctic countries. In addition to the member countries, indigenous peoples are actively involved in the work of the council with Permanent Participant status. The Saami Council represents the Saami people.
“Climate change has taken a more central role on the Arctic cooperation agenda. We need to spread the word of how global warming affects the nature, the animals and the people living in the Arctic region”, René Söderman declares.
The Senior Arctic Officials have already had two meetings in Finland, the first in Oulu and the second in Levi. Oulu is a strong conference city, and according to René Söderman, Levi was a great place for the meeting at peak ski season, so the participants could also enjoy the tourism services in Lapland.
Kalle Kankaanpää agrees.
“We were proud to show that it is possible to have a functioning infrastructure, good travel connections and a wide range of services available up in the north. This is not the case everywhere in the Arctic.”
When there is an Arctic Council meeting, the organizers also arrange outreach events for the locals to learn about council and the themes discussed at meetings.
“We try to explain in clear and simple terms what the work of the Arctic Council is about. At the outreach events we can bring Arctic cooperation closer to local people”, René Söderman says.
More meetings will follow in the year to come, culminating in the ministerial meeting in May next year. Arctic issues on Finland’s agenda are also discussed in other international forums.
“Arctic questions are a part of the EU agenda, and Finland can contribute with its topical Arctic know-how”, Kalle Kankaanpää affirms.
Finland’s chairmanship in the Arctic Council ends in May 2019, and on July 1, Finland will take on the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
“There is a natural continuity - we can carry on with the work on Arctic questions also in the EU”, René Söderman concludes.
Kalle Kankaanpää (left) and René Söderman behind Laura Ranta's work Transition at Valo Gallery in Rovaniemi. Photo: (c) Kaisa Sirén.