Andréa Finger-Stich is Researcher, Ecologie et Communauté, Switzerland, and Matthias Finger is Professor at
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL), Switzerland.
25 Years of Arctic Environmental Agency: Changing Issues
and Power Relations
Andréa Finger-Stich and Matthias Finger
This paper proposes a retrospective of the changes in environmental policies and the various actors’ positions and
strategies concerning the Arctic since Mikhaïl Gorbachev, then the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, visited
Murmansk and gave a ceremonial speech in October 1987 – a speech that triggered a new global outlook on the
Arctic. The Arctic environment, 25 years ago, was perceived mainly as a Far North affected by distant modern
civilization. Environmental concerns included Arctic haze, the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, the
accumulation of pollutants in Arctic mammals, sea acidification, concentration of radioactive pollution, and hazards
related to the presence of armament and military activities in the Arctic. But twenty-five years later, the Arctic has
moved to the fore, experiencing environmental changes, mainly due to climate warming, firsthand and at double the rate
of the world’s average. With climate warming, paradoxically, the Arctic is not only a victim of change but has become a
key actor in environmental change, with melting ice opening it up to intense fossil fuel and mineral resource exploitation.
Who are the actors who will decide whether, to what extent and how these resources will be exploited? This article
identifies the main periods and the main changes in the actors, their strategies and their power relations over the past 25
years in Arctic environmental agency. By doing so, it critically assesses these actors’ constraints and potentials for
mitigating and adapting to a rapidly warming climate.
"The North European countries could set an example to others by reaching an
agreement on establishing a system to monitor the state of the natural environment and
radiation safety in the region. We must hurry to protect the nature of the tundra, forest
tundra, and the northern forest areas."
Mikhaïl Gorbachev, 1987, Murmansk, Soviet Union
Agency in and Around the Arctic Environment
Gorbachev’s speech in Murmansk in 1987 placed the Arctic at the center of global political attention.
It became a common global concern for peace requiring the commitment of nation-states from the
North and beyond. Gorbachev spoke to a public opinion influenced by the vibrant peace and