24th Jul 2021


Who will look after the Arctic?

  • Arctic resources should be used in a sustainable manner that preserves biological diversity (Photo: Mats Holmström,

The vulnerable Arctic Region is vital to the global climate and environment, but its future is dependent on striking a delicate balance between conservation and use.

The geographical position of the Nordic countries entails a special responsibility for ensuring that national interests are not allowed to get in the way of the international community making a difference in the Arctic. The Nordic Region must take the lead in promoting sustainable development in the Arctic - and it is a matter of the greatest urgency.

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Since much of its territory, both on land and at sea, falls within the Arctic Circle, the Nordic Region is heavily committed to addressing the issues faced by this unique yet vulnerable area.

The Nordic countries already work together to support the Arctic population's social, economic and cultural development, however, as a political unit, the Nordic Region would also like to make sure that Arctic resources are used in a sustainable manner that preserves biological diversity.

It is equally clear, however, that the Nordic Region will not be able to achieve all of this on its own, and will require the help of the entire international community.

Many of the environmental threats facing the Arctic originate from far away. The build up of hazardous materials such as mercury and pesticides shows the impact on this area of production and consumption in Europe, the USA, Russia, China and India.

The globalised economy's demand for oil and gas resources, as well as its desire for shorter and faster transport routes through the Arctic, also contribute to the pressures upon this vulnerable place.

Although the global economy creates new challenges for the people of the Arctic, it also provides them with new opportunities. It is vital that we make the most of these opportunities to raise the standard of living in the area in a sustainable manner.

It is essential that the EU also assumes a high degree of responsibility for the Arctic Region. Under the Danish EU Presidency in 2001, the Arctic Window became part of the union's work on the Northern Dimension, which in turn received a further boost under the Finnish Presidency in 2007.

The Nordic Region still needs to draw greater attention to Arctic issues in the EU, however, especially those relevant to the integrated maritime policy and the EU's leadership role in international climate negotiations.

To this end, the Nordic Council of Ministers has just published a report on the impact on the Arctic Region, direct and indirect, of the EU's many policy areas. Its findings reveal that although the EU already exerts a major influence in the Arctic Region, it does not have a coherent policy for the area.

In order to involve the EU, its member states and other important stakeholders in Arctic questions, the Nordic Council of Ministers is organising a conference, "Common Concern for the Arctic," in Greenland, beginning on Tuesday (9 September).

One positive development is that the EU, under the current French Presidency, is working on an Arctic communiqué to be published in the autumn.

Sweden, which holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2008, the Presidency of the EU in autumn 2009 and the Presidency of the Arctic Council 2011–2012, has a key role to play in promoting international responses to the challenges facing the Arctic.

The Nordic Region has strong traditions of promoting sustainable development, but it is vitally important for the Arctic Region that the EU and the other Arctic states such as Russia, the USA and Canada also play an active role.

The Nordic environment ministers have also launched an initiative to improve the planning, management and protection of the marine environment in both the Nordic Region and the Arctic.

But active commitment to the Arctic is required from the EU and the rest of the international community – and it is a matter of the greatest urgency.

The Arctic's global significance must not and shall not be underestimated. The Nordic Region, along with the people of the Arctic, must lead the way and strike the right balance between conservation and use. We cannot do it on our own, however. We need to bring other stakeholders on board.

Cristina Husmark Pehrsson is Minister for Nordic Cooperation in Sweden and Halldor Asgrimsson is Secretary General of The Nordic Council of Ministers


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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