Arctic Yearbook 2012
25 Years of Arctic Environmental Agency: Changing Issues and Power Relations
The Arctic of the Early 21
Century: Transnational Corporations and National
In the beginning of the 21
century, environmental agency in the Arctic changed again, mainly as a
result of the newly emerging issue of climate change and the possibilities for resource exploitation
resulting from climate change. Transnational Corporations (TNCs), and especially State-Owned
Enterprises (SOEs) have been the main agents of such resource exploitation, given their financial
means, their expertise, as well as some unsettled land or sea claims (in the open Arctic Ocean).
Nation-states have become simply regulators of such activities. Environmental NGOs are pushing
for limitations to such exploitation, but sometimes lack credibility because of their perceived
complicity with governments, international organizations, private and state enterprises, sometimes at
the expense of local communities and indigenous peoples.
The issue of climate change was not yet at the forefront in the process leading to the creation of the
Arctic Council in Ottawa in 1996. Climate change became a top issue of global environmental
concerns only by the end of the 20
century, and is now at a point where there is a consensus among
scientists working on the Arctic that climate change is “the most far reaching and significant stressor
on Arctic biodiversity” (CAFF, 2010: 3).
As the first decade of the 21
century proceeded, interest in the Arctic as a homeland was also
increasingly emphasized. This perspective was influenced by the Arctic Human Development Report
(AHDR) (AHDR, 2004). The recognition of “the human dimensions and concerns of local and
Indigenous Peoples and engaged Arctic residents” was explicit in the Washington Ministerial
Declaration which took place during the International Polar Year in 2009.
Thus far, military, environmental and climatic issues were considered mainly in terms of national
security. They were addressed primarily in international relations because the threat was portrayed as
coming to a large extent from outside or beyond the national borders. The new trend of the past
decade has been that policy-makers have been moving from (largely ineffective) global mitigation
policies to regional and local adaptation objectives, as issues of climate change-induced impacts on
health and food security have become obvious. An indicator of this shifting focus was the
constitution of an Arctic Human Health Experts Group as a subsidiary to the Sustainable
Development Working Group within the Arctic council in 2009 (Tromsø Declaration, 2009).
Further, during the Danish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2009- 2011), the 7
meeting of the Arctic Council recognized “the need to improve the physical and mental health and