October 13, 2022

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, and Fellow Participants, 

It is a great pleasure for me and my wife to be here in this beautiful country with its warm and welcoming people—and a great honor to be here with all of you who care deeply about a healthy and sustainable future for the Arctic and for the world.

I am grateful to President Grímsson for his invitation to participate in this Arctic Circle Assembly. I am so impressed by the vision and passion that motivate President Grímsson and all of you who have developed and fostered the Arctic Circle, including my friend Alice Rogoff, who was pivotal in the establishment of this Assembly and of Harvard’s Arctic Initiative.

The Arctic Circle Assembly is more vital each year as the effects of a changing climate become increasingly apparent and as the challenges of climate change become increasingly intertwined with the challenges of economic development, social inequities, and geopolitics. I am excited to be here at this remarkable gathering and to have the chance to learn from you. 

The Arctic Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was launched five years ago. Its creators were our faculty members John Holdren and Henry Lee—and Halla Logadóttir, who is an alumna of our School and is now the director-general of Iceland’s National Energy Authority. I am grateful for Henry’s and John’s commitment to this initiative and especially grateful to Halla. I remember well when she came into my office the first time to say that an Arctic initiative at Harvard was necessary if Harvard was to serve the world in the way we could and should—and since it was necessary, she would make sure it happened. And she did.

Our Arctic Initiative explores the complexities of the changing Arctic, to understand the changes and to help develop the best ways to respond. The Initiative involves our faculty members, visiting Arctic experts, Harvard students, and—most importantly—a diverse set of leaders from the Arctic region with an emphasis on building knowledge and developing solutions together.

Young people everywhere understand the existential threat that climate change poses to them and future generations. That is why they are demanding more education on climate change—and especially on regions that will be most changed, such as the Arctic. Through our Arctic Initiative, we launched a new course called “Policy and Social Innovation for the Changing Arctic,” which emphasizes innovative solutions to pressing issues. In the course, students are mentored by Arctic experts as they research a policy area of interest and develop their own approaches. When the pandemic hit, the course was redesigned and traveled virtually to Greenland. Through a partnership with scholars, policymakers, and students in Greenland, the Greenland Policy Challenge now exists as a wonderful experiential learning opportunity. Beyond the course, our Arctic Initiative supports dozens of student research assistants who work with our faculty and others to study crucial issues facing the Arctic, including the impacts of permafrost thaw; ocean pollution; resilience, infrastructure, and public health in Arctic communities; Arctic governance and diplomacy; and the implications of increased shipping across the northeast and northwest passages due to melting sea ice.

These opportunities inspire students, and I will offer just one example. An alumna of the Kennedy School recently emailed me to say: “While at the Kennedy School, I really fell in love with Arctic studies, and this newfound interest surprised me as much as anyone—I live in Los Angeles and previously had minimal experience working on climate-related issues.” Then she said that, driven by this newfound interest, she will be leading a new center for climate journalism and communication at the University of Southern California.

I want to emphasize that the work of our Arctic Initiative depends heavily on our collaboration with people from the Arctic region, drawing on their expertise and perspectives to advance rigorous research and training with an important focus on equity. For example, as part of the James J. McCarthy Arctic Indigenous Youth Leaders program, we have partnered with the Association of World Reindeer Herders, the International Center for Reindeer Husbandry, the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, and the UArctic EALÁT Institute to co-create a workshop for Indigenous youth leaders. And, of course, we bring Harvard people to the Arctic Circle Assembly each year to interact with people from the Arctic region. A highlight for our students is the Arctic Innovation Lab, where young leaders from the Arctic states—and beyond—to collaborate in pitching ideas for policy innovations. This year, we are scaling new heights with this project by partnering with colleagues at the University of Iceland, University of Greenland, and UiT The Arctic University of Norway. 

Harvard’s engagement on Arctic issues is part of our broader commitment to address climate change and sustainable development around the world. In addition to our research and teaching, we are striving to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” on sustainability, with specific goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and investments.

In conclusion, the Arctic Circle Assembly is a wonderful and important example of the hard, creative, and collaborative work we must do to achieve peace, prosperity, and sustainability for all people. I am honored to be included in this year’s Assembly and delighted to have this chance to interact with experts, leaders, and students who are passionate about the future of the Arctic and the future of our planet. Thank you very much.