Tuuli Ojala — an expert on the Arctic environment
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Tuuli Ojala — an expert on the Arctic environment

Senior Specialist Tuuli Ojala works as an assistant to the chair in the Arctic team of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and she is also Finland’s representative in the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council. In this interview, Ojala talks about her work.

Tuuli Ojala_Kuva_Teemu Aitamurto
Senior Specialist Tuuli Ojala. Photo: Teemu Aitamurto

How did you come to work with Arctic issues?

I became involved with Arctic issues when I was working in the International Barents Secretariat based in Kirkenes, Norway. I worked there as an environmental expert during Finland’s Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.

Given my previous experience, it felt only natural to begin working with issues concerning cooperation covering the whole Arctic region, especially when most of the Arctic Council’s work is about protecting the Arctic environment.

Before Kirkenes, I worked with issues concerning the protection of the Baltic Sea and ecological research.

What does your job in the Arctic team involve?

The Chairmanship of the Council includes planning the content of meetings of senior officials, making practical arrangements and actually conducting these meeting. The various practical tasks related to arranging these meetings, among other tasks, keep me busy during the day.

I keep in contact with national working groups, colleagues from Arctic countries and the Secretariat of the Arctic Council.

As for the Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group, I am responsible for coordinating Finland’s participation in the Group’s meetings and representing Finland in these meetings. When preparing meetings, we work closely with the chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group, who is part of our team.

In addition to the tasks related to the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, I monitor and produce material on issues related to my field of special expertise and participate in the evaluation of different Arctic projects.

What issues does Finland consider to be of particular importance in the Sustainable Development Working Group during its Chairmanship of the Arctic Council?

The work of the Sustainable Development Working Group is carried out within various projects. There was an explosive increase in the number of Finnish experts who became involved in the Group’s work just prior to Finland’s Chairmanship. Finland put forward three own initiatives and also became involved in many other projects of the Group.

Funding for Baltic Sea, Barents and Arctic region cooperation, which is coordinated by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, plays a central role in Finland’s involvement in practical projects.

The Sustainable Development Working Group has become very active particularly in the field of training, which is one of the priorities of our Chairmanship. In fact, three projects were launched recently to provide training and education related to the Arctic environment.  The University of Lapland initiated the project Teacher Education for   Diversity and Equality in the Arctic”.
Usvakoivikko-Kuva_MArkku Nikki
Most of the Arctic Council’s work is related to environmental issues. Photo: Markku Nikki

The Ministry of the Environment leads the project for environmental impact assessment in the Arctic environment. The Ministry follows the core principles of sustainable development. It continues to explore ways to minimalise the negative environmental and social impacts of wide-scale economic projects.

Arctic energy issues and climate change will be on the agenda when Finland hosts the fourth Arctic Energy Summit in September.

Finland also participates actively in the health projects launched by the previous chairs. The projects are implemented by experts from various ministries and institutions under these ministries and experts from higher education institutions. It is my job to monitor the progress of these projects, provide necessary guidance and coordinate project reports.

The Sustainable Development Working Group needs to adopt a more strategic approach to its work, in addition to implementing practical projects. Making the cross-cutting theme of Finland’s Chairmanship — the UN Agenda 2030 — more visible in the Group’s work is part of this approach. As Finland’s representative, I try to assist the Chair of the Group in achieving this.

What is your best experience related to the Arctic so far?

That has to be the time spent in Kirkenes. New work contacts, associates and good friends from different countries, excursions at weekends in the beautiful surroundings of Kirkenes, and my children learning to ski, although due to the weather conditions in Helsinki over the past few winters, they have not been able to put these skills into good use.

Kotzebue in Alaska also made a big impression on me with its barren landscape and the friendliness of its people.