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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The Arctic Environment – From Low to High Politics
politics of scale refers to the fact that the appropriate scales for science, management, and decision-
making cannot be unambiguously derived from the physical characteristics of the environment, but
instead are joint products of social and biophysical processes and often influenced by politics (Lebel,
Garden, & Imamura, 2005). It places the emphasis on how different actors frame environmental
characteristics and what consequences this may have for responsibility, ownership and power. While
the Arctic environment has features that are relevant at a range of political scales – from local
management of resources to global climate politics – the emphasis of Arctic environmental politics
has shifted over time. This article highlights how some of these shifts follow more overarching
developments in international environmental politics, and discusses the possible consequences of
this for addressing the environmental challenges that face the region’s people. The article examines
three time periods, starting from 1987, and describes Arctic environmental politics in relation to two
central dimensions: security and sustainable development.
Security: Between Cooperation and Conflict
The security dimension aims to capture the tension between cooperation and conflict. This
dimension is relevant from a theoretical point of view based on the notion of securitization, which is
the process by which a certain issue is transformed by an actor into a matter of national security
(Buzan, Wæver, & Wilde, 1998). The issue thereby becomes subject to ‘high politics’, i.e. conceived
as vital to the very survival of the state. When an issue is securitized, the state tends to pay additional
attention to it. This could be positive when state intervention is needed to solve a problem, but for
international issues that involve conflicting interests between states, it also carries with it an increased
risk of conflict. High politics can be placed in contrast to ‘low politics’, which refers to issues that are
not conceived as prone to, or important enough to cause, major conflict between states. The analysis
addresses whether the Arctic environment is framed as low politics or high politics, and if there have
been any major shifts over time. In discussing securitization and high politics, by definition the
national scale is in focus. However, the national scale perspective can relate to global, pan-Arctic and
local scales in different ways.
Sustainable Development: Environmental, Economic or Social Concerns?
The second dimension is sustainable development. The concept – made popular by the Brundtland
Our Common Future
(World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) – includes
environmental, economic and social dimensions, and attempts to bridge the perceived conflicts