The APPG for Polar Regions was delighted to meet a delegation of Icelandic parliamentarians for the group’s first meeting on the Arctic since it was re-launched under the chairmanship of James Gray MP.
The discussion about the UK and Iceland’s interests in the Arctic was wide-ranging, covering economic opportunities (including the latest on the UK-Iceland interconnector), military activity in the High North, the future of the Arctic Council and environmental issues.
The main points to emerge from the meeting were:
- Future shipping and resource development could benefit Iceland’s economy but is not critical;
- Plans for an interconnector between the UK and Iceland continue to be explored but require Icelanders to make difficult decisions about whether to increase development of the wilderness areas on which its booming tourism industry also relies;
- Uncertainty remains over whether China will commit to developing its interests in the North Atlantic, with Iceland serving as a stepping stone for China to engage in mining operations in Greenland;
- Russia is not the only country militarising its Arctic region;
- Recent discussions about the possibility of the US returning to its military base in Keflavik suggest the US is seeking a ‘persistent’ rather than a ‘permanent’ presence in Iceland;
- The Arctic Council is still a young organisation which needs strengthening;
- Huge uncertainty remains about the implications of climate change for Iceland. The risk of the Greenland ice sheet melting and changes in the Gulf Stream are of particular concern.
In conclusion, the Icelandic delegation repeatedly emphasised that over the last decade the Arctic has become a key pillar of Icelandic foreign policy. Continued dialogue about the Arctic could therefore become an important part of UK-Iceland relations in the coming years.