Reply To: Seminar reflections – Governance of the Arctic 30/3

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Peter # Posted on March 30, 2015 at 14:55

Reflections on governance of the Artic region

My reflections when reading Nilsson’s article are that environmental issues in the Arctic is moving away from the area of so-called ‘low’ politics and are increasingly embedded in a context of global economic development and a “race for resources”. Artic politics and cooperation now seems to be focused on national self-interests. Under the umbrella of global cooperation the national security agendas the benefits of ecosystem services, i.e. what nations can derive from the exploitation of natural capital in the region, seems to be the prevalent motivation for participation in Artic governance. Nilsson article reiterates decades of moving away from the environmental aspects of sustainable development and towards securing the natural capital of the Artic region. I believe this follows a continued trend, in focus since the start of the industrial revolution, of short-term economic gains prevailing in national governance. This despite the acknowledgement to the long-term catastrophic affects of such deliberate actions.

The Artic Resilience Interim Report (ARIR) I believe points out some useful theoretical tools for Artic governance. The generic and general nature of recommended theoretical approaches in ARIR also makes it useful for other sensitive regions around the world. A resilience approach, coupled with the use of adaptive and transformative capacity, is certainly relevant. However, in my opinion, the very fact that they are generic and general does not do enough to point out the practical direction of Artic governance. But to be fair this is probably somewhat beyond the scope of the ARIR.

The ARIR also points out that we need to accept some degree of uncertainty regarding social-ecological changes in the Artic, and that communication of these uncertainties is necessary because they contain risks that need to be addressed in coming decades. On reflection this I believe raises questions of concretely how and by whom this future communication of uncertainties should be transmitted? Again this is likely to be beyond the scope of the report. However, being as the environmental issues according to Nilsson are now in the realm of high politics, and that there is an increasing focus on national self-interest, I think the question urgently needs to be answered. Unfortunately, I think it will be difficult to find that answer as long as the situation of national self-interest persists, which puts the issue in a catch twenty-two mode.

So how can we move away from the national self-interests to the circumpolar interests that we all share? And what can be done to revert the path of governance in the Artic back towards environmental protection and away from economic development? Our seminar discussion I believe voiced very bleak prospects for successfully answering these questions. However, the consensus seems to be that we need to align economic interests with long-term environmental interests. Also, in a world equipped with increased awareness of global environmental issues, we can only do our respective bit to change incentives from self-interests to a more collective and long-term universal view of global environmental issues.


Nilsson, Annika E. (2012), The Artic Environment – From Low the High Politics, Artic Yearbook.

Artic Resilience Interim Report 2013 (2013), Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Institute.