Arctic Council settles into new digs June 3

First permanent secretariat office to open in Tromsø, Norway


The Fram building — -the center of polar research in Norway — will also house the new Arctic Council secretariat. (PHOTO BY ALEX BOYD)

The Fram building — -the center of polar research in Norway — will also house the new Arctic Council secretariat. (PHOTO BY ALEX BOYD)


TROMSØ, NORWAY — The Arctic Council is finally getting its own digs, with a spectacular Arctic view.

The Arctic Council’s permanent secretariat officially opens its doors in Tromsø, Norway, June 3.

Canada may lead the Arctic Council until 2015, guiding its decisions, but its new secretariat in Tromsø will serve as the council’s administrative heart.

The new secretariat will be in charge of all the unseen tasks that accompany the Arctic Council’s actions, such as organizing meetings, keeping track of members and acting as an archive for the now 16-year-old organization.

There is a need for more support, says Magnus Johannesson, the secretariat’s new director.

For example, he said that in the early days of the Arctic Council, a working group meeting could expect to draw about a dozen people.

Now, a typical meeting accomodates upwards of 50 people.

And Johannesson would know.

Formerly the Secretary-General for the Icelandic Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, Johannesson has a long history with the Arctic Council, as among other things, chair of the Arctic Marine Environment working group.

The Arctic Council’s secretariat will also focus on communication, Johannesson said.

“There is a great willingness to increase knowledge of the Arctic Council,” he said, “what the challenges are, and what the Arctic Council is doing.”

Administrative tasks used to be handled by the current chairmanship, meaning that records from the first decade of Arctic Council meetings remain scattered across the circumpolar region.

But six years ago, Denmark, Sweden and Norway created a temporary secretariat that only lasted as long as those three countries held the chairmanship.

In 2011 the council members agreed that the role of the secretariat needed to be made more permanent.

The expanded secretariat is now a formal part of the Arctic Council and will work to support the work of all members.

It’s taking over the temporary secretariat’s office, tucked in the back of the High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment, or Fram Centre for short.

It’s a big, modern building that sits right on the edge of fiord that encircles the Arctic city of Tromsø, population 68,000.

The centre is also an apt location for the organization charged with coordinating the affairs of the Arctic Council.

That’s because reaching the secretariat offices requires walking past dozens of offices full of maps and scientific instruments and pictures of ice and snow, which belong to many of the world’s leading experts in polar research..

“It’s a stimulating environment with all the research in the Arctic region and the people working on Arctic issues, so that helps,” Johannesson saif.

The choice of Tromsø was no coincidence either. Some initially wanted the secretariat located in a more central location, even in a capital city somewhere in the circumpolar region.

But Norway’s argument — one which secretariat staff say Canadian chair Leona Aglukkaq identified with — was that the secretariat needed to be in the region it represented: the Arctic.

And Tromsø, the second biggest city north of the 66th parallel, is center of Norwegian polar research. Now, it’s going to be a city that some Canadian officials will get to know a lot better.

The first country to work closely with the new secretariat is, of course, Canada.

Patrick Borbey, Canada’s senior Arctic officials chair, arrives in Tromsø June 11 for the first round of meetings.

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