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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The Arctic Environment – From Low to High Politics
change and resource demands are not likely to remain only a local or national issue, or even a matter
only for Arctic states. China is already calling itself a “near-Arctic state” (SIPRI, 2012). As pointed
out by Andrews-Speed et al., markets now transmit effects between different types of resources and
between regions in an unprecedented way. With its riches of fossil fuels, minerals and marine fishery
resources, the Arctic is also part of this development. While previous Arctic politics have been
affected by global international affairs mainly via those states with territory in the region and which
are part of Arctic cooperation, it is now increasingly likely that it will also be affected by global
resource politics. Examples includes China’s increasing demand for resources to maintain its
transition from an agrarian society to a key player in the global economy (Burgos Caceres and Ear,
2012), and the interest expressed by several Asian actors to use previously ice-covered waters to
connect Asia to European markets. The latter includes interest in the Northern Sea Route, and how
it intersects with Russia’s Arctic ambitions. Because the politics of resources and trade are usually
linked to national interest, it should come as no surprise that Arctic politics are becoming a part of
global high politics.
The new developments outlined above have two key implications for environmental politics in the
Arctic. The first is that increasing exploitation of resources and shipping have direct impacts in the
form of emissions, spills from accidents and land use changes. The second is that different actors are
increasingly using environmental politics as an arena to address much broader issues, including
security, resource politics and trade. The more that the Arctic environment is framed as a global
issue, the more it is likely to be drawn into broader geopolitics. And indeed, since the 1980s scientific
developments together with Arctic political cooperation have in fact strengthened the framing of the
Arctic environment as a global issue.
If we compare the situation when Arctic cooperation began 25 years ago with the Murmansk speech,
and 2012, it is clear that the environment is moving away from being an area of low politics. Rather,
with the Arctic increasingly embedded in a context of global development that places emphasis on
access to scarce natural resources, the Arctic environment is being linked more and more to high
politics and national security concerns. With respect to sustainable development, states that want to
position themselves in the ‘race for resources’ can use the elasticity of the sustainable development
concept to shift emphasis to economic development and away from environmental protection. The
social development dimension of the concept can also easily be framed in economic terms, for