“The task is massive,” PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir tells Arctic Council

Arctic Circle

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience at the Arctic Circle conference yesterday. In her speech, Katrín warned that if sufficient action wasn’t taken today, the arctic could “become unrecognisable” in the future.

Facilitating dialogue between interested parties

The Arctic Circle is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organisation founded by former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former publisher Alice Rogoff, and former Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist, among others. The organisation aims to facilitate dialogue between governments, organisations, corporations, universities, think tanks, environmental associations, indigenous communities, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

During the opening of the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly yesterday, October 13, at the Harpa Conference Hall in Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience. Katrín began her speech on a note of positivity, acknowledging the “broad political determination” to protect the Arctic and capitalise on present opportunities:

“On the positive side, we see expanding scientific networks, greater knowledge with both the public and businesses and growing skills, there is more investment in green technology, and we are witnessing various green solutions emerging.” However, Katrín noted, the Arctic could become “unrecognisable in a few decades” if further decisive action was not taken.

“Everything is changing – we see more extreme weathers around the globe – only in the last two weeks we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost is melting, heat records are beaten and forests are burning. And all this is happening much faster in the Arctic – where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.”

Some of these resources, Katrín noted, should not be meddled with: “We see big business and big countries showing more and more interest in the Arctic – not least because of its rich resources which should not all be harnessed. I applaud the decision of the government of Greenland not to drill for oil – my government has also declared that we will not issue licences for oil exploration in Iceland’s exclusive economic zone and this will be put into legislation.”

Condemning the war in Ukraine

Alongside addressing climate-related issues in the Arctic, Katrín also turned her attention to the war in Ukraine and the exclusion of Russia from the Council: “Our region is directly affected as the aggressor is an important player in the Arctic with legitimate interests. But Russia’s illegitimate actions made it impossible for us not to respond and they were rightly excluded from the Arctic Council. From day one Iceland has condemned Russia’s aggression in the strongest possible way. Iceland has solidly supported Ukraine, and we will continue to do so, together with our Nordic, European, US, and Canadian friends.”

Katrín concluded her speech with a nod to the massiveness of the task lying ahead:

“This room is full of hope and concerns for the future of the Arctic. We represent different interests, different politics, different ideas. But we should all be united in the will to protect the Arctic and provide a sustainable future for the local populations in the area, as well as for our ecosystems. The task is massive, but the solutions exist, it is ours to get the job done.”

A New Arctic Centre to Rise on University of Iceland Campus

Former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Last week, the Reykjavík city council approved a declaration of intent between the city and the University of Iceland to allocate a plot on the University campus area for the Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Institute on the Arctic. The building will be the Arctic Circle’s future home.

The plot was originally intended for the Academy of the Arts, but a committee organised by the Prime Minister came to the conclusion to allot the plot to the Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson institute. The Arts Academy will instead be moving to the Tollhúsið building in Tryggvagata in the Reykjavík city centre.

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and Rector of the University of Iceland Jón Atli Benediktsson were to sign the declaration of intent in the nearby Gróska building today.

In May, the government passed Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s suggestion to allocate 10 million ISK to support the foundation of the Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Institute on the Arctic, based on recommendations from a preparatory committee appointed in February. The Arctic Circle intended to conduct a requirements analysis for a new building and promotional material for an international design competition and financial backers. The Institute will focus on international cooperation on Arctic issues, action against climate change, sustainability and other related factors. The building is to be the future home of the Arctic Circle, and the goal is to reiterate Iceland’s position as the centre for international debate o the arctic. Funding for the building will come from the Arctic Circle and the board of the new Institute.

Read More: Facing North  – On the 2021 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík (for subscribers)

Facing North

The Arctic Circle Assembly took place in Harpa last October. Dignitaries from all over the world attended the event, filling up the conference centre with important-looking people in suits, younger people in tighter-fitting suits handing them papers, and slightly-more-dishevelled people with backpacks poring over figures and data with a look of concern.

The doyen at the helm of this event, which even now, when a global pandemic is raging, brings more than 1,500 in-person participants from over 50 countries to Reykjavík, is Iceland’s former president for over two decades, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The Assembly was cancelled in 2020, but this year, Ólafur Ragnar sent out invites for a party.

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Arctic Circle Landmark Irks Locals

Grímsey’s wandering landmark, an eight-tonne [17,600-pound] concrete sphere that marks the point at which the Arctic Circle crosses the small island off the coast of North Iceland, has, since its installation in the fall of 2017, irked locals and tourists alike, mbl.is reports.

Known as “Hringur og kúla,” in Icelandic or “Orbis et Globus” (‘Circle and Sphere’) in Latin, the monumental artwork was installed on the island in 2017 and was specifically designed to move, as the Arctic Circle is not a fixed point, but, as smithsonianmag.com explains “…is defined by the tilt of the Earth toward or away from the sun, which is known to fluctuate up to 2.4 degrees every 40,000 years or so. Currently, the Arctic Circle is actually moving north from Iceland at a rate of about 48 feet per year.”

And so, every year, the giant sphere has to be moved to follow the circle. According to creator Kristinn E. Hrafnsson, this movement, which is “a direct reference to nature’s progress and perpetual motion,” is precisely what makes the work so affecting. Some locals, however, feel that it creates unmanageable expectations for tourists who only have a limited time on Grímsey. Some are suggesting that it be moved closer to town.

“What the sphere has primarily done is to draw all the tourists out of town,” remarked Guðrún Inga Hannesdóttir, who is a member of the Grímsey town council. “It’s a three-hour round-trip walk [to its location on Grímsey’s northern coast] from the port, which is really dubious when people come on flights and only have an hour and a half. Before, the [Arctic Circle] was right by the airport and everyone was really happy to cross it.”

Prime Minister Calls for Weapon-Free Arctic

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.