Arctic Circle Assembly will cancel 2020 gathering because of COVID-19

The announcement comes as Iceland sees a growth in coronavirus infections.

By Krestia DeGeorge - August 10, 2020
Reykjavik’s iconic concert hall and convention center, Harpa, has hosted the Arctic Circle Assembly since 2013. The 2020 event has been canceled because of concerns about COVID-19. (Krestia DeGeorge)

One of the world’s biggest Arctic forums announced Monday that it was canceling its signature event, an annual gathering in Reykjavik, Iceland, that’s taken place every October since 2013.

The move comes as Iceland has seen a small but steady rise in coronavirus infections in recent days, and enacted new restrictions, including reducing the size of gatherings from 1,000 to 100. The Arctic Circle Assembly has routinely drawn more than 2,000 participants over the course of several days.

Former Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced the decision to cancel this year’s assembly in a tweet Monday, while also touting the next four of the Arctic Circle’s regional forums.

The regional forums — which in the past have been held in such places as Greenland, Quebec, China, Faroe Islands, Singapore, and South Korea — have helped position Arctic Circle as a key space for international Arctic dialogue. (Disclosure: ArcticToday publisher Alice Rogoff was a co-founder of Arctic Circle and remains a member of its advisory board.)

An email message from the organization, also sent on Monday, included more details about the upcoming forums: Berlin (originally scheduled for this summer and already postponed by the pandemic), which focuses on Europe’s role in the Arctic; Japan, timed to coincide with the third Arctic science ministerial meeting; Greenland (which would become the first place to host a second Arctic Circle regional forum); and Abu Dhabi, with a focus on the Himalayan Plateau, or so-called “Third Pole.” Organizers did not include dates for the upcoming forums, however.

The Arctic Circle Assembly is the biggest Arctic event to cancel so far, but not the first.

Earlier this year several events, including an Arctic Council-sponsored health conference in Fairbanks, a marine plastic symposium in Iceland and the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Seattle, were canceled, along with sporting events and even a military exercise.

Meanwhile, Arctic Frontiers, the other major international Arctic forum, which takes place in Tromsø, Norway in late January or early February, recently polled previous participants about the possibility of holding some sessions online rather than in-person.