The Importance of the Arctic in the 21st Century, with President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

There are two reasons why President Grímsson considers the Arctic the next major environmental, political, and economic playing field: climate change and the region's untapped natural resources.


For eighteen years, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has served as President of Iceland. In the following clip from his Big Think interview, President Grímsson calls international cooperation in the Arctic "one of the most crucial issues of the 21st-century":

There are two reasons why Grímsson considers the Arctic the next major environmental, political, and economic playing field. The first has to do with climate change:

"The aggressive melting of the ice in the Arctic will have consequences all over the world. If only a quarter of the Greenland ice sheet melts this will lead to two meters rising sea levels everywhere in the world. And already we are seeing that the present melting of the Arctic sea ice is causing extreme weather events in the United States, in Asia and in other parts of the world."

The second reason is that the far upper regions of the Northern Hemisphere are rife with untapped natural resources. As climate change shifts the region's topography, access to these resources will be opened to additional competitors:

"With the continuous melting of the Arctic sea ice there will be new shipping lines linking Asia to America and Europe in a revolutionary way like the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal did in it's time."

In 2015, the United States will take on a two-year term as chair of the Arctic Council. Grímsson explains that the U.S. will possess the unique opportunity and responsibility "to provide a vision, policy agenda and direction towards the future," something that should be of interest to American citizens passionate about climate change. For those who wish to participate yet find themselves outside the realm of government, Grímsson offers a solution:

"Although the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental body, there is a role for activists, environmentalist, experts, scientist, ordinary people in this process. And in order to facilitate that, together with many other partners from the Arctic I established last year what's called the Arctic Circle, which is a kind of an international assembly where everybody, whether it's an individual or citizen or a government or a corporation or a scientific institute or a university or an activist group, can come together where everybody has the same role, the same right to speak and discuss."

For those Americans who wish to take action against climate change, Grímsson has two suggestions. The first is to look into Arctic Circle. The second is simply to be aware that the United States will be hold leadership over all Arctic region decision-makers over the next 2 to 3 years. Grímsson references the People's Climate March that took place a few weeks ago in New York. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the event:

"I'm not sure if many of them realized that in the early months of next year it will be the U.S. who will chair the international cooperation on that part of Mother Earth where climate change is most aggressively taking place."

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is the 5th President of Iceland and has served in that capacity since 1996.

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