Chris Southcott

As the world economy continues to expand, demand for energy and other natural resources is increasing. Reserves of some resources are becoming more difficult to replace. Natural resource industries are increasingly interested in new sources of supply in non-traditional yet politically stable regions such as the Arctic. This is not necessarily good news for Arctic communities. Past experience has showed that many Arctic communities have benefited little from resource exploitation. Indeed, a large number of northern communities have experienced enormous social, economic, and environmental challenges over the past half century and these challenges can be closely linked to impacts of past resource exploitation. Communities are disrupted to serve the interests of a type of resource development where few jobs go to local peoples and the arrival and departure of migrant workers creates great social problems. Resource dependence is seen as one of the most important challenges facing the region.

Yet there is some hope that this can change. There is some indication that the worst aspects of the resource dependence can be countered through the introduction of new policies and models of development that increase local control of development and ensure a higher share of resource rents and other benefits are passed on to northern communities. In certain areas of the Arctic new land claims agreements, impact-benefit agreements, and co-management boards offer the potential for the development of natural resources in a manner that increases the benefits of these developments for local communities and helps ensure that development is done in an environmental sound manner. New relationships between governments, communities, and industry are increasing the possibility that more benefits from resource development can be passed on to communities – including in the areas of human capital and increased capacity.


Finding answers to these questions is the reason behind the formation of the Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic (ReSDA) project. Funded from 2011to 2018 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as a Major Collaborative Research Initiative, ReSDA is a partnership of Arctic communities and over 50 researchers from 29 institutions and all eight circumpolar nations. As the Arctic is increasingly the site of extractive industry interest, the ReSDA network is looking for ways to increase the benefits of extractive industry developments to communities and to mitigate negative impacts.

The initial research conducted by ReSDA is contained in a series of 14 gap analyses reports (available at covering a number of areas where the potential exists for natural resource developments to increase the capacity of Arctic communities. These include the increased ability of communities to adequately measure and thereby control impacts, new impact benefit arrangements between communities and industries, new regulations that allow communities the ability ensure more sustainable environmental and social development, new fiscal mechanisms to increase revenues flowing to communities, new education and training programs that provide more long-term capacity building, new mitigation tools, and increased integration of traditional knowledge into development and monitoring programs.

These gap analyses have led to a new series of research subprojects where ReSDA researchers are currently trying to answer such questions as:

  • how can we develop better, community controlled, indicators of change linked to resource development;
  • how can we maximize the amount of money that stays in a region;
  • what are the various ways that funding is distributed within communities and what are the impacts of these;
  • what are the best ways to mitigate the main social impacts of resource development on communities;
  • what are the best options for Arctic communities in dealing with long distance commuting;
  • how can we deal with the differing gender impacts of resource development;
  • what are the best ways to deal with negative impacts arising from current Impact Benefit Agreements;
  • what can be done to ensure that resource development does not negatively impact the subsistence economy of northern communities;
  • what are the best examples of employment, training, and education programs associated with resource development in the north;
  • what are the best examples of the use of traditional knowledge in the planning and monitoring of resource development;
  • and what are the best practices in developing relationships between industry and communities and how do these relationships influence success.

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