Adam Stepien

The 2014 issue of the Arctic Yearbook focuses on human capital in the North, and thus, on local capacities and human development. This resonates well with a number of assessment projects currently carried out in the region. By the end of 2014, the Arctic Human Development Report II is scheduled to be published. Within the Arctic Council, projects such as the large scale Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic assessment or smaller activities dedicated for example to gender equality, take up a number of issues crucial for human capital in the North.

The “Strategic Assessment of Development of the Arctic” report – published in September 2014 – fits well to this increased attention to the human dimension. It is these human-centred aspects of the assessment that are here highlighted. The readers of this year’s Arctic Yearbook may find the “Strategic Assessment” chapters dedicated to mining, land use activities and socio-cultural changes particularly interesting.


The report focuses on the European Arctic (including Greenland and northwest Russia) and analyses development trends in the region, drivers and impacts of Arctic changes, and does so taking into account environmental, social, economic and political dimensions. Against this background the implications of the Arctic changes for the European Union and the role of the EU in shaping these changes are discussed.

The assessment was carried out for the European Commission as part of the preparatory action testing the feasibility of the EU Arctic Information Centre initiative (see The project was implemented by a network of 19 diverse European research, communication and information institutions under the lead of Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) in Rovaniemi. The authors of the report hope that it highlights the human dimension of Arctic change as well as paints for European audiences a less dramatic and more balanced picture of Arctic realities. The task was supported well by a broad engagement of stakeholders, who have greatly contributed to strengthening the message of moderate pace and scope of developments in the region.

This picture of a moderate outlook for economic developments departs from the hopes and fears associated with the vision of “Arctic boom”. Although these hopes and fears generated global interest in the Arctic, they cannot be considered good foundations for the much needed sustained, long-term policy responses. Clearly, the EU and any other actor present in the region should act appropriately to actual reality rather than imagined dramatic narratives. And the latter are still too often heard in Brussels. The report shows that while it is clear that Arctic environmental and socio-economic changes are driven primarily by the demand for Arctic resources and climate change, the crucial role of regulatory frameworks and policy choices should not be overlooked. For instance, it is often forgotten that current hydrocarbon exploration is not a result of retreating sea ice but of administrative and political decisions. Similarly, the perceived mining “boom” in Fennoscandia, while primarily driven by global demand for minerals, is facilitated to a great extent by industry-friendly and stable regulatory and political environment that Nordic national and local governments wish to create. These developments need to be seen against a variety of social trends in the North, including the interconnections of growing Arctic cities and thinning-out rural areas, gender and age imbalances, increasing tensions between various activities taking place in the Arctic landscape as well as environmental impacts.

Despite the often stated claims, it is far from certain that opportunities connected with climate change – in terms of maritime transport, fisheries or resource extraction – will balance out or even outweigh the climate impacts and risks. While climate change already adversely impacts Arctic environment and landscape, it has a restricted role in triggering Arctic economic developments.

The report accentuates that EU policies and actions play a major role in the Arctic, particularly in the European Arctic. It is often forgotten that the scope of the Arctic-relevant EU policies goes well beyond much discussed EU Arctic policy documents and includes both external and internal dimensions. EU regulatory framework is applicable to Finland and Sweden, but also partly to Norway and Iceland owing to the European Economic Area Agreement. Some Arctic actors seem to overlook the fact that the overwhelming influence the EU exercises in the European Arctic and the broad scope of Arctic-relevant internal policies makes its position in the region very different from that of powers such as China or India. Moreover, to appreciate fully the EU’s standing in the region, one needs to take into account numerous EU cooperation and research programmes, policies which shape the EU’s Arctic environmental and economic footprint as well as the EU’s influence on international processes of relevance for the Arctic (for example the Polar Code or CITES).

One must keep in mind that there is a comparatively limited interest in the Arctic affairs within the EU. Taking into account the EU’s role in the region, sustaining an ongoing long-term commitment of the EU to the Arctic affairs and sensitizing the EU policy-makers to Arctic particularities is in fact in the interest of Arctic communities, nations and stakeholders and should be encouraged rather than discouraged.

Building on ideas coming from stakeholders, the report offers a number of recommendations for the EU policy-makers. Many of these recommendations touch upon human dimension in regional development and enhancing human capital in the European North. For instance, the EU is urged to develop instruments specifically addressing the needs of Arctic cities. Although relatively small in size, northern towns play a role similar to that of major population centres in central Europe. The policy-makers should also continue to facilitate entrepreneurship and innovation (including social innovations) in the region, but with increasing focus on women and dynamic indigenous youth. A greater attention to intra-regional connectivity rather than only North-South links is needed, as it contributes to building northern knowledge- and entrepreneurship-based economies. A separate chapter in the report analyses various activities relevant for the land use in the European Arctic, highlighting cumulative impacts as well as both tensions and synergies between developments. In the light of these tensions, properly designed mechanisms for resolving conflicts are crucial, as the social capital is founded primarily on trust both within and between communities. Improved and integrated impact assessments, especially if they include a strong social dimension, as well as participatory mechanisms are among the key suggested responses.

The EU policy-makers need to take into account diversity within the Arctic region and pay special attention to the European Arctic, where the EU has the greatest leverage. It seems inevitable that the EU policy-makers will have to keep balance between the internal and external aspects and look for golden mean between the extremes of artificial coherence and failure to properly coordinate between numerous branches of EU Arctic policy. However, what is also important is that the EU communicates clearly – as it is not always the case in the EU policy documents – when its actions refer to EU’s internal or external affairs and to the European Arctic or circumpolar level.

Editors of the "Strategic Assessment of Development of the Arctic" report:

  • Adam Stepien
  • Timo Koivurova
  • Paula Kankaanpää (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland)

Lead authors:

  • Sigmar Arnarsson (UiT Arctic University of Norway)
  • Kim van Dam (Arctic Centre, University of Groningen, the Netherlands)
  • Debra Justus (Pierre and Marie Curie University, France)
  • Kirsi Latola (Thule Institute of the University of Oulu, Finland, University of the Arctic Thematic Networks)
  • Michał Łuszczuk (Committee of Polar Research – Polish Academy of Sciences)
  • Gunnar Sander (Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Norway)
  • Annette Scheepstra (Arctic Centre, University of Groningen, the Netherlands)
  • Adam Stepien (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland)
  • Mikko Strahlendorff (Finnish Meteorological Institute)

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