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News, 11/1/2017
Exploring Common Solutions_banneri

The Arctic Council met in Oulu

The first Senior Arctic Officials’ (SAO) plenary meeting during Finland’s Arctic Chairmanship gathered in Oulu on 25–26 October. An extensive discussion was held on pollution prevention and on education in the Arctic region. Nina Buvang Vaaja was appointed as the new Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS)

SAO_Oulu_FIN-delegation_Kuva_Arctic Council Sekretariat
 Senior Arctic Official René Söderman and Senior Ministerial Adviser Satu Paasilehto at the Arctic Council meeting in Oulu.Arctic Council Sekretariat/Linnea Nordström

Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council started officially on 11 May at the Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, where US Secretary of State Tillerson handed over the Chair’s gavel to Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Soini. Since then, rapid progress has been made in the Arctic cooperation. The Arctic Energy Summit, preparations for the Working Groups’ meetings, speeches for various events, briefings, and Arctic communications have filled the Arctic Team’s calendars this autumn.

Last week, high-level representatives from all the Arctic States gathered in Oulu for the first SAO Pleanary during Finland’s Arctic Chairmanship. The norterly wind brought an Arctic note to the meeting.

Pollution prevention and education

The Chairmanship prioritises environmental protection, meteorological cooperation, connectivity, and education in the Arctic. Chaired by Aleksi Härkönen, the meeting in Oulu focused on two themes, pollution prevention and teacher education in the Arctic.

Finland’s delegation was led by Senior Arctic Official René Söderman. The delegation had representatives from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Sámi Education Institute.

SAO Oulu_kuva_Artctic Council Sekretariat
140 participants from different parts of the world attended the SAO meeting. Photo: Arctic Council Sekretariat/Linnea Nordström

Mercury, persistent organic pollutants, black carbon, and plastic waste are examples of pollutants that travel to the Arctic region mainly from other parts of the world. In the Arctic region, pollutants form a risk to both human health and biodiversity. The Arctic Council aims to work for the reduction of harmful emissions.

During its Chairmanship, Finland seeks to strengthen teacher education in the Arctic region in cooperation with the University of the Arctic (UArctic). Ensuring the provision of equal opportunities for education in the sparsely populated regions is an essential question from the point of view of sustainable development and Arctic communities’ capacity. Teachers working in the Arctic and northern communities play a key role in the provision of high-quality basic education.

Arctic expertise and sustainable meetings

The meetings of the Arctic Council offer an excellent opportunity for presenting Finland’s Arctic expertise to foreign visitors. Finnish expertise is not limited to icebreakers and winter tourism. Oulu is a hub of extensive knowledge and skills in Arctic technology. The meeting provided a platform for BusinessOulu to showcase technology companies based in Oulu.

Tero Vauraste, President & CEO of Arctia, told about the activities of the Arctic Economic Council and discussed business opportunities in the Arctic.

SAO Oulu_greenmeeting lunch
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and WWF Finland were acknowledged for their jointly developed #greenmeeting concept. Local and organic food was served. Photo Arctic Council Sekretariat/Linnea Nordström

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs aims to organise meetings during the Finnish Chairmanship in as sustainable a manner as possible. Local and organic food will be served, meeting materials will be distributed electronically, and public transport will be recommended. Umbrellas made of natural or recycled material will be available for meeting participants on raily days. The #greenmeeting concept, jointly developed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and WWF Finland, was commended.

New Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat

The SAO appointed Nina Buvang Vaaja to serve as the new Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat for the next four years.

Nina Buvang Vaaja ja Aleksi Härkönen_kuva_Arctic Council Sekretariat
Nina Buvang Vaaja, Director of the ACS, next to Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen, who chaired the meeting. Photo:Arctic Council Sekretariat/Linnea Nordström

The ACS supports the country holding the Chairmanship in the management of the Arctic Council. The majority of the Arctic Council's work is carried out in the six Working Groups, which focus on monitoring the status of the Arctic environment, identification of contamination risks, prevention of environmental disasters, promotion of sustainable development, preservation of biological diversity, and special questions concerning the Arctic marine environments.

René Söderman

Senior Arctic Official

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