Mayors Want A Voice in the Arctic Debate

During the Arctic Circle last Friday, Ásthildur Sturludottir, Mayor of Akureyri, Iceland; Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, Canada; Charlotte Ludvigsen, Mayor of Sermersooq, Greenland; Ethan Berkowitz, Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska; and Kristin Røymo, Mayor of Tromsø, Norway presented their arguments for why they should have more of a voice in the Arctic debate. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke

Arctic Mayors want a clearer presence on the arenas in which major questions are asked and important decisions made. They now gather with one goal in mind; Being seen, heard and listened to.

No formalized opportunities exist for involving local communities in Arctic political decision-making processes. As a result, decisions affecting Arctic communities are often made hundres of miles away. Mayors from all over the Arctic now want to do something about that.

Last Friday, 11 of them founded the Arctic Mayors’ Forum, an organization that has as its expressed goal to provide local authorities with a bigger say when it comes to the development of the Arctic.

Decision are made far away

Charlotte Ludvigsen, Mayor of Sermersooq, Greenland, read in The Guardian that Donald Trump wanted to buy her country.

- That is an extreme case, however, not a very surprising one. The discussions about the Arctic take place increasingly far away from the local authorities. We have to unite and make sure our voice is heard, that we are included in the decision-making process. Political and social issues should be managed as close to the  inhabitants as possible, she said.

Ludvigsen hopes the establishing of an Arctic Mayors’ Forum will contribute to their being included in decisions that affect the inhabitants of their respective cities.

- That is the only way in which we can make sure they are heard, facilitate good lives and sustainable communities in the Arctic.

The Sermersooq mayor further says that although the various local communities differ in many ways, there are also many common denominators.

- Climate changes and tourism, for instance. Through more dialogue, we can hopefully strengthen the ties between us, not just in the public sector but also in business across borders. This is what we need to attract more people and new industries, she says.

“Nothing about us, without us”

- We have to think globally, but act locally and here we, as mayors, have a unique opportunity to contribute to making local communities outposts.

Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, Canada, and Ásthildur Sturludóttir, Mayor of Akureyri, Iceland. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke

She believes that the public as well as the private sector play an important role in Arctic issues, though she wants this role to be strengthened and gain more prominence.

- The agreement we signed yesterday is an important step towards giving 13 cities a voice in issues affecting us, she says and says in closing:

- Nothing about us, without us.

Security is more than defense

Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, Canada wants local authorities to be included in both national and international fora.

- Through sharing our experiences, we bring our realities onto the international stage. Realities such as e.g. the fact that less permafrost makes the pillars on which our houses are built smolder, which will cost billions of dollars.

Redferd also argues that the concept of security should be expanded to cover more than just defense.

- Security for us is about having enough food, education opportunities, stability and good health, she says.

She hopes that the new mayors’ forum will be about more than just exchange of experiences and networking.

- We have to make sure that what happens “on the ground” is heard up where decisions are made. And that those “up there” never forget who we are and what our role is in the development of sustainable communities.

Must be on the same arena

Kristin Røymo, Mayor of Tromsø, Norway appreciates that the tone and discussions amongst Arctic mayors are characterized by understanding and trust in issues important for both people and the nature. Unlike the tone of the international debate.

- It is not just about survival, it is about the quality of life and security for people who live under the same conditions as yourself, she says.

Kristin Røymo, Mayor of Tromsø, Norway. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke

Just like many other, Røymo is well acquainted with the feeling of being few and far away from both each other as well as the forums in which decisions are made.

- However, today we are fortunate that the physical distance is no longer an obstacle to talking with one another. And I have learned that what we struggle with in Tromsø is what they struggle with in Anchorage too: Lack of educated professionals on the one hand, and dropout rates in schools on the other hand, she says and continues:

- We need people to live in the Arctic too, under changed circumstances. And the world needs people to live here. At the same time, we know that it is next to impossible for an international politician or a Chinese business man to understand what needs that need to be met in order for people to want to stay. We are the only ones who can answer that question. And in order to do that, we must be present on the arenas where these questions are asked, she says in summary.


Ethan Berkowitz, Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska also experiences that the mayors are closely tied together despite the long distances.

- Another thing we share is that we are optimists and pragmataic.

The Anchorage Mayor argues that many look to the North with only one object in mind – profits, quite without thinking about the potential consequences for the people living there.

- We struggle with access to food, fuel and communication. And we are waiting for the private sector to assist us as our authorities don’t. If we want to visit one another, we first have to fly south before we can head north again. And then there is the strategic importance of our location; a stupid example of which came when Trump wanted to buy Greenland. We have to make sure the people is heard. And with the Arctic Mayors’ Forum, we have established that opportunity, he said in closing.

Ethan Berkowitz, Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke


This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.