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.
Andréa Finger-Stich is Researcher, Ecologie et Communauté, Switzerland, and Matthias Finger is Professor at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL), Switzerland.