Event: ‘Estonia as an Aspiring Arctic Council Observer State’

This month, the Government of Estonia submitted its application to become a formal observer [pdf] in the Arctic Council, with that organisation planning on holding its next Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavík during May 2021.

In conjunction with the application, a webinar, entitled ‘Estonia as an Aspiring Arctic Council Observer State: Promoting Smart Solutions‘, will be held [pdf] on 30 November at 1500-1700 CET (0900-1100 EST).

The speakers for this online event will include Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, as well as specialists in Estonia’s foreign policy and Arctic interests. Marc Lanteigne, OtC editor, will also be speaking at the event. The webinar will be streamed via the Estonian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page and on Youtube.

Arctic News Roundup: 16-22 November

Laugavegur street, in central Reykjavík [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) Icelandic news service Morgunblaðið featured a series of photographs of empty and (temporarily) closed shops in downtown Reykjavík, including those commonly popular with tourists on Laugavegur. This main shopping street in Reykjavík had been a major beneficiary of growing numbers of foreign visitors, (with figures surpassing two million per year, starting in 2016), as well as locals. However, many properties have had to close their doors this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and sharply fallen tourism numbers.

2) As the High North News revealed, the British Parliament has become the first to establish a task force group specialising in Greenland affairs. The purpose of the new assembly is to better promote the understanding of Greenland, and to continue the strengthening of the relationship between London and Nuuk. The announcement came at a time when UK concerns were raised about access to seafood from Greenland, especially for the United Kingdom’s trademark fish and chips, after the Brexit process is completed.

3) The HNN also reported on the downturn of the oil and gas sectors in Alaska during 2020, which was caused by the pandemic which intensified the reduction of global fossil fuel prices over the past five years. The outgoing Donald Trump government has been pushing for an eleventh-hour opening up of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, but that plan has faced serious opposition, including from the office of President-Elect Joe Biden. The coronavirus outbreak has also greatly damaged the US state’s tourism and hospitality industries this year.

Arctic News Roundup: 9-15 November

[Photo by Mingming Shi] From raw ingredients to cuisine. This beautiful chicken feet dish was prepared by Mingming, which took her hours to clean and remove feathers, clip the nails and to remove skin. The last step is to add water and other herbs and cook until it is ready.

by Mingming Shi

1) Estonia submitted its official application to the Arctic Council this week to be an observer in that organisation, according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a brief application statement [pdf] the Estonian government emphasized the impact of climate change on the country, and the potential contributions Estonia could make to emerging policy-making in the circumpolar north. If the bid is successful, Estonia would be the fourteenth observer government within the Arctic Council, (Switzerland was the most recent country to attain Council observer status, in 2017).

2) The Polar Connection published an article which detailed recommendations for US Arctic policy, in light of the incoming administration under President-Elect Joe Biden. Dwayne Ryan Menezes, the author of the piece, put forward twenty major points that Washington should consider, ranging from addressing climate change, to strengthening security cooperation with other Arctic states, as well as further respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and participating more directly in local communities.

3) Three experts from different disciplines were interviewed by Country Reports (Newsweek) on the topic of Iceland’s chairing of the Arctic Council for the past two years, (this position will be assumed to Russia in early 2021). The speakers shared their viewpoints on various issues, including Iceland’s achievements as Chair, academic projects related to the Arctic spearheaded in Iceland, and other relevant areas.

4) As CBC reported, young students at a primary school in Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, were taught how to prepare traditional food from the region, including filleting fish and drying meat.

Arctic News Roundup: 2-8 November

[Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) KNR reported a story about members of a family [in Danish] living in Tasiilaq, southeastern Greenland, who are suffering from poverty. Without stable jobs, Jeremias Nuko and his girlfriend have been struggling to maintain daily life for them and their kids, even though they are receiving regular governmental subsidies. The case is not unique, since regional development imbalances still exist in Greenland.

2) Guðni Th. Jó­hann­es­son, the President of Iceland, used Facebook to congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who were just elected as the next President and Vice President of the United States, as reported in Morgunblaðið. The message was in both Icelandic and English. Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir also sent her congratulations to the US President- and Vice-President-Elect.

3) The Norwegian government, according to the Barents Observer, confirmed that it has been considering a ban on heavy fuel oil for vessels operating in the waters around the Svalbard archipelago due to the environmental risks from spills. No further details or a potential enforcement date have been announced by Oslo as of yet.

4) Although global oil prices remain uncertain, the Government of Greenland has announced the creation of three new offshore regions for oil drilling off the country’s west coast, as Rigzone revealed. With Arctic ice in the region receding, there had been much speculation as to when Greenland would be in a position to begin exploration for fossil fuels. According to the project plans, other offshore blocks are to be opened for surveying in 2021-2.

Arctic News Roundup: 26 October-1 November

[Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) The President of Iceland (Forseti Íslands), Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, and his spouse, (forsetafrú in Icelandic, the equivalent of a ‘First Lady’), Eliza Jean Reid, delivered a joint speech to express their gratitude to health care workers around the country who have been securing the health of citizens, especially in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic, as well as calling for greater social solidarity during difficult times for the country. The speech was given in Icelandic and English, respectively, by the presidential couple.

2) In light of Halloween, a video on Greenlandic mythical stories was produced by Visit Greenland, a site administered by the Government of Greenland, and created to promote local tourism. The video explains that long Arctic nights and spectacular, albeit untamed, nature had inspired the mythologies and subsequent stories.   

3) A commentary was published by the Barents Observer on the latest Arctic strategy introduced by the Kremlin. The article argues that the Russian government has not paid enough attention to the environmental protection of the country’s Arctic regions. Moscow will be assuming the chair position of the Arctic Council from Iceland in 2021, and there has been much discussion as to what new regional policies will be proposed within the organisation during Russia’s tenure.

4) The Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR), a British military affairs think tank, published a briefing entitled ‘Greenland: Security, Trade, Competition’ in October. The publication outlines the major interests and activities of China, the United States and United Kingdom in relation to Greenland, with a special focus on the natural resources extraction sector. The paper also notes that Greenland is significantly important to British interests in terms of trade policies, security, foreign relations and other related areas.