“Y” Secretary Kerry Is Going to Norway

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Svalbard landscape ©Billy Lindblom. Creative commons license.

It’s great to be in Oslo this week and I am looking forward to welcoming Secretary John Kerry to Norway on Wednesday. He plans to visit Oslo and the archipelago of Svalbard.

Secretary Kerry’s visit is timely, as President Obama just hosted the Nordic leaders in May.

“Sometimes we have a tendency to take our best friends for granted, and it’s important that we not do so,” said President Obama during the U.S.-Nordic Summit.

One thing I know for sure is that Secretary Kerry never takes Norway for granted. Quite the contrary.

“Y” the Strong Relationship Between Kerry and Norway?

Not sure if you know this, but Secretary Kerry lived in Oslo as a teenager while his father was posted to the U.S. Embassy. Kerry has fond memories of life in the city and the trips he and his family made across the country. He likes to mention that the only proper thing he knows how to say in Norwegian is “Jeg elsker deg,” which means “I love you.” I think Secretary Kerry will notice that the people of Norway will love having him back!

His Majesty King Harald, Prime Minister Solberg and Foreign Minister Brende all look forward to meeting with Secretary Kerry in Norway. The close relations between our nations’ two foreign ministers is something extraordinary.

Secretary Kerry will take part in the Oslo Forum, the annual conference on mediation, peace and reconciliation. This conference stands out as one of the most significant forums in the world for behind-the-scenes discussions and frank conversations about some of the world’s most conflict-ridden areas. Having Secretary Kerry as a keynote speaker this year will be a definite highlight in the history of the Oslo Forum.

Secretary Kerry will also address the Oslo REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Exchange 2016, a key forum convening REDD stakeholders from civil society, governments, private sector and academia. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is vital if we are to reach the 2-degree target and implement the Paris Agreement. Norway is a huge contributor to the UN REDD program.

I am particularly excited about the secretary’s visit to Svalbard. The largest of the archipelago’s islands is Spitsbergen – it’s an unforgettable experience. This is as far north as you can possibly go on land before you reach the North Pole.

In Longyearbyen, you find a vibrant community. Children go to school. University students and scientists from all over the world do groundbreaking research on climate change, geology and biology. There are tourists and adventurers, hotels, bars and a world-class gourmet restaurant. I am sure Secretary Kerry will enjoy an excellent meal, made from local ingredients by the former chef from my residence in D.C.

Still, the main reason for his visit is to witness climate change firsthand. Nowhere on this planet can you see the changes happen faster and with more impact.

If the weather permits, Secretary Kerry will also visit Ny-Ålesund, at 78 degrees north the northernmost civilian settlement in the world. The tiny research town has a permanent year-round population of 30-35, which swells to as much as 120 in summer. Scientists from 10 countries work out of small research institutes in the settlement, which hosts a cafe, shop, museum and post office!

From his boat, Secretary Kerry will watch the glaciers cracking and huge chunks falling off as he sails by. The changing climate has a profound impact on the flora and fauna of one of the most pristine parts of the world. Svalbard is a showcase, a magnifying glass to what is happening not just in the Arctic, but also across the globe.

I am thankful Secretary Kerry has found the time to come back to Norway. His hands full with numerous crises around the world, the secretary has no time for vacation. He travels only where he needs to travel. Going north with a clear focus on oceans, the world’s forests, the Arctic and peace and reconciliation sends a strong signal.

I am sure Secretary Kerry will make use of his Norwegian background when he comes to visit. “I love you” takes you a long way up north. Another phrase I am sure he will learn is this: “Velkommen tilbake!” — welcome back!

-K.R.A.

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