Lassi Heininen, Heather Exner-Pirot & Joël Plouffe

The year 2014 has been an uneasy one for the Arctic region in many ways. A ‘race’ for access and control over the North Pole (between Canada and Russia), though played by the UNCLOS rules, and the crisis, and warfare, in Ukraine has wrought tension between Russia and its Arctic neighbours, casting a shadow over Arctic affairs if not outright jeopardizing them. The Canadian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council has attracted attention, but not always the good kind, for its focus on economic development, as well as the (first ever) boycotting of Arctic Council meetings. Following several years of converging interests, cleavages have been exposed between West and East; between those advocating for development versus those for protection; and on whether, and how, to consolidate or expand regional cooperation.

Where unanimity exists is on the issue of enhancing human capital in the Arctic, and throughout the North, at both the local and regional levels. But there again the questions remain: capacity for whom, and for what? While this is not an issue particular to 2014 - the Arctic Human Development Report’s first edition, published in 2004, documented this a decade ago - it has definitely been a continued area of collaboration between state and non-governmental actors across the Arctic. At the local level, efforts to improve access to education and training have been accompanied by efforts to promote indigenous language use and transmit traditional knowledge, as well as to promote health and well-being. Regionally, the need for better understanding of the Arctic environment and the natural resources within it – a precondition for promoting best practices for sustainable development – have led to new investments in science and engineering, as well as new innovations in legal and political arrangements. The Arctic is a region where the needs and opportunities far outweigh the human capacity to address them. But for which needs, which opportunities, and by which processes, will capacity be built?

Conceptualizing Human Capital

The term ‘human capital’ is not a new one in the Arctic, and refers to the skills and competencies, especially those derived from education and other learning, of those who live and work in the region. Current attempts to improve human capacity often seek to address the real and perceived deficits of the region: the unemployment, low educational attainment, and poor health outcomes both in cities and small settlements; and the inability of large resource extraction projects to fill their workforce needs without resorting to imported or temporary labour. Others focus on maintaining and passing along traditional knowledge, from Nunavik’s indigenous language training in primary schools to the Sami Education Institute’s crafts and design program. Does a choice need to be made between an education that prepares Northerners for employment in the 21st century and one which passes on culture? Or can the globalized Arctic become a model for a third way, where modernity does not demand homogeneity?

There is legitimate concern that indigenous communities are being prepared to participate in the Arctic boom, but will be ill-prepared to cope with the bust. What will happen to these settlements and environments when the ‘bonanza’ of mass-scale exploitation is over? This is already the case in many non-indigenous northern regions across Russia, Canada and Scandinavia, set adrift following the rapid expansion and settlement of northern resource towns in the mid-20th century, which inevitably peaked and declined. Different strategies are needed to address human capacity in the aging, rural areas of the North compared to those in young, indigenous communities, but these are run-of-the-mill regional development problems and garner much less attention from policymakers. And no one is asking what will happen if the boom never comes at all.

There is also legitimate concern that due to the recent and regional crises, in which Arctic states are involved, the current era of high political stability, based on a keen international cooperation and much supported by non-state actors, may be lost. In this environment the human-built stability and peacefulness of the Arctic is an achievement and can, even should, be interpreted as a joint valuable asset by the eight Arctic states and a reserve for the future, the moment when it is, again, needed to calm down and to press reset (see Heininen, forthcoming). The situation might come sooner than later, when the international community, as well as the entire world order, is facing more serious and irrational warfare or brute violence, such as the threat by ISIS and the exploding middle East, real world-wide epidemic challenges and threats like Ebola, and the impacts of climate change and the Anthropocene. In this situation the Arctic region with its human capital could act as a test ground and a workshop to examine and test new and innovative ways of governance, decision-making and human security. This goes beyond state sovereignty and nationalistic ways of thinking, as do the existing and emerging challenges and threats.

The Arctic Yearbook 2014

The authors of this volume of the Arctic Yearbook address these and many more issues, with a critical pre-condition for inclusion in the volume being that articles are timely and relevant.

Human Capacity-Building

Post-secondary education is often seen as a key to building human capital, but achieving both accessibility and context-relevance is challenging in the North. Simpkins and Bonnycastle look at factors that improve success for female students in northern Manitoba, while Lipatov evaluates distance education in Alaska and Russia and Daitch explores how critical thinking is being fostered amongst students in Canada’s Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Christensen and Hendriksen further discuss the challenges of offering a traditional, western-style of education that northern economies demand in an environment that it is often culturally unsuited for, using the case of engineering education in Greenland.

A number of articles look at kinds of human capacity. Heleniak evaluates how migration flows, both internal and international, impact human capital in the Arctic both positively and negatively. Petrov looks at creative capital in the Arctic, based on the findings of the Creative Arctic Project and assesses its ability to foster economic development in the Arctic as an alternative or complement to resource-based development. Lahey, Svensson and Gunnarsson bring a critical gender perspective to human capital discourses, noting that in Arctic/northern contexts, the dominant industry sectors mainly occupy men, while often intensifying the social, economic, and political marginalization of women and Indigenous peoples. Following on that, Kotyrlo looks at labour outcomes of migrant women in two counties in northern Sweden, Västerbotten and Norrbotten. Grenoble and Olsen outline the Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative which is working to reverse language shift through active engagement and collaboration throughout the circumpolar region.

Regional Economy & Prosperity

The Canadian Arctic Council Chairmanship has highlighted local and regional economic development efforts, and the Arctic Yearbook provides several articles contextualizing these. The question of natural resource development looms large. Daitch et al assess the need and parameters of a heritage fund for the Northwest Territories, drawing on a recent Canadian habit to try to emulate Norway’s success in that regard. Hendriksen, Hoffman and Jørgensen look at how Greenland is engaging local workforce and planning flexible settlements in the context of its changing mineral industry, while Dingman focuses on the many barriers and cleavages arising with Greenland’s discussions on resource development. Suutarinen performs a similar evaluation of Murmansk, looking at the challenges of diversification in a resource-dominated economy. Further down the pathway of economic development, Smits, Bertelsen and Justinussen examine if and how micro-states can develop knowledge-based energy sectors, drawing on the experience of Iceland. Perhaps the resource and knowledge sectors need not be mutually exclusive in the Arctic.

Three articles look at tourism in the Arctic. The first, by Kristjánsdóttir, looks at sustainability practices using case studies from northern Sweden. The second is a product of collaboration between members of the University of the Arctic Thematic Network on Northern Tourism. It focuses on the realities and possibilities of tourism in the Arctic with an ambitious, fully circumpolar outlook. Finally, the contribution by Tommasini examines the varied experiences with tourism in three Greenlandic communities: Ukkusissat, Narasq and Qaanaaq

The section is rounded out by two articles examining the challenges of balancing environmental sustainability and economic interests. Sojka examines the gaps in management capacity needed to fulfill governance responsibilities in Canada’s integrated oceans management framework. Meanwhile Sarkki, Latola, Jokinen and Stepien introduce the concept of ‘socio-natural’ capital, or the ability of institutions and people to use natural capital in sustainable ways. They illustrate their conceptualisations with the example of reindeer herding and other land use in Fennoscandia.

Geopolitics and Security

Geopolitical factors are top-of-mind in the Arctic region, and a main preoccupation of the Arctic Yearbook itself. Coming on the heels of growing non-Arctic interest and engagement in the region, Bailes examines the United Kingdom’s 2013 Arctic Policy, the latest in a series of non-Arctic, or as some prefer, near-Arctic, national policy documents (see Heininen in Arctic Yearbook 2012). Coming from a national defence perspective, Rahbek-Clemmensen introduces the concept of ‘Arctic-vism’ for Danish political-military planners who are seeking to balance between a deterrence strategy for Greenland, continued cooperation in the region, and sustaining good relations between Greenland and Denmark. While Russian military build-ups in the Arctic continue to capture global attention, Padrtová argues that the Kremlin’s repeated announcements on increasing its military capabilities in the Arctic should be seen as misleading and financially impossible to materialize for the Russian Federation. It’s more about rhetoric and balancing power in international relations; a primary and recurring preoccupation in Arctic politics in 2014. From that perspective – and considering that military rhetoric and misperceptions of state intentions is not unique to Russia – Schaller suggests that there is a need for confidence-building measures in the Arctic to maintain long-term stability. In his view, policymakers could take a closer look at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as an inspiration for the Arctic states.

Commentaries and Briefing Notes

In addition to scholarly articles, the Arctic Yearbook 2014 boasts a collection of short commentaries from the region’s top thought-influencers, policy developers, and experts. These document many of the innovations, issues and developments which dominated discussion on the Arctic region in 2014: the Olympic Flame making its way to the North Pole, drones in the Northwest Passage, and continuing Polar Code negotiations for Arctic shipping; growing mining activities to controversies around food in/security in Canada; the role of the EU, Russian cross-border relations and Chinese Nordic interests; the impacts of the Ukraine crisis on Barents cooperation; and new challenges for the Arctic Council.

Finally, a series of briefing notes and updates of the UArctic and NRF’s joint Thematic Network on Geopolitics and Security (the publisher of the Arctic Yearbook) provide technical and instructive overviews of particular case studies that inform our understanding of the larger region. Here, readers will be briefed on the past shipping season in the Northern Sea Route; new broadband technologies for global communications via Arctic waters; particularities of seal hunting in Newfoundland; oil drilling, mining and environmental legislation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region (BEAR); tourism safety regulation, among others. Finally, ‘This Year in the Arctic’ prepared by Tom Fries is the Arctic Yearbook’s annual interactive timeline that offers an overview of selected major Arctic events that captured headlines (and our attention) throughout 2014.


The stakes are high in the Arctic. Some groups are fighting for their culture, their history and their identity in this world; others are fighting to save the Arctic from would-be exploiters and believe nothing less than the future of the planet is at risk. At the same time, investors in multi-billion dollar capital projects will not be dismissed, nor will the sub-state and national governments that rely upon them to fill the coffers that pay for public education, health care and infrastructure. All stakeholders are intent on building the human capital that will further their interests, and none will be ignored. It is difficult in 2014 to imagine them peacefully co-existing. We will soon enter a situation where it is necessary to ask: what is the future development we want in, and for, the Arctic? Is there an ‘ultimate’ price that we will accept as the societal cost of further development? That is the challenge ahead of us; the region will need to further improve its human capital if it is to find the answers.

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