Higher ambitions, more cooperation and more action in collaboration with those who live and work in the arctic were some of the conclusions when the Swedish crown princess Victoria, Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde, EU foreign service and the European Commission hosted the EU Arctic Forum and the EU Indigenous peoples' dialogue in Umeå during the 3-4 October. The EU Arctic Forum is the result of North Sweden’s and the network for the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas work to put the EU:s own arctic regions in focus of the EU:s ambitions to contribute to sustainable development within the arctic region.
Continued dialogue with the EU: s own arctic regions
Close to 500 participants gathered at the Aula Nordica at Umeå University to discuss arctic issues, exchange ideas and make new connections. The more tangible climate changes in combination with a rising geopolitical pressure to get more actors interested and engaged with the development in the Arctic, both within and outside of the artic states. This was shown by the broad spectrum of foreign ministers attending, representing countries from India, Malta and beyond.
Ann Linde declared that the Swedish goal with the arctic is clear; the area should be characterized with sustainable development, peace, stability and international cooperation. Much in line with the EU:s integrated politics for the Arctic that has since 2016 remained a basis of EU cooperation with actors on different levels within the European Arctic, in which North Sweden mostly through the Norther Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network has lead an active dialogue on how challenges and opportunities of sustainable regional development can permeate the EU:s politics for the Arctic.
Foreign ministers from a number of countries participated at the arctic forum.
Åsa Larsson Blind, President of the Saami Council, welcomed the participants to Sápmi and launched the new Saami arctic strategy. The new strategy document shows knowledge gaps and research needs. The strategy highlights goals and actions to reach them.
The EU: s arctic ambassador Marie-Anne Coninsx also highlighted the importance of a continued dialogue from the EU’s side with the people in the Arctic. Coninsx, together with the Swedish Arctic ambassador Björn Lyrvall also participated at a dinner for the steering group for the NSPA the night before, where she emphasized the importance of the work done by the regional offices in Brussels have had for the EU:s engagement within their respective arctic regions.
Northern Sparsely Populated Areas within the discussions
Before the forum the 14 northernmost sparsely populated regions within the Norther Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) with common points on how to continue developing politics together with the regions in the European arctic.
Niklas Nordström, municipal government President of Luleå partook in a panel on more cooperation within the arctic and emphasized a number of possibilities within the industry to change and answer to calls regarding climate challenges with more innovation and smarter technology. Which in turn demands more dialogue of how investments best can come to use to reach the potential within northern Sweden.
The need of investments in the Arctic was also the theme of the panel Johannes Lith, project manager for the Artic Investment Platform participated in. The project is an initiative taken by several regions within the NSPA-network after the common OECD-study, where a plethora of common challenges and strengths were identified. The purpose is to better understand and connect investment opportunities within the region with small and medium sized enterprises in northern Sweden, northern Finland and northern Norway.
Umeå University with its arctic research center (Arcum) as well as the cooperation Arctic Five, in which Luleå Technical University is a part of, was mentioned a number of times as good examples and important prerequisites to be able to use the knowledge and research that takes place within the European Arctic.
Professor Peter Sköld, Director of Arcum and Chairman of the University of the Artic that connects 200 universities and research institutes from all over the world, spoke on the panel Connecting the Arctic, on the importance of creating bonds between people within artic research, exchange programs and in education.
Indigenous peoples' dialogue with a focus on sustainability.
On day two the only recognized indigenous people in Europe, the Saami, were in focus.
Minister for rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson stated the event with the Sami Parliament Chairman of the Board and President of the Sami Parliament Per Olof Nutti, followed by two panels with amongst others Chris McDonald from the OECD presented the study “Linking Indigenous Communities with Regional Development. Case studies from Australia, Canada and Sweden states the need of increased institutional capacity and greater clarity on indigenous people´s rights and the obligations of states. The OECD also clarified that the Saami people, as well as other indigenous people contribute to economic activity and business practices that benefit regional development, and the regional development should in a greater capacity support the prerequisites of Saami businesses. There is a lack of data and funding of Saami research and therefore more is needed.
This was already stated on the first day of the forum by Peter Winsor, World Wildlife Fund, on the question of what sustainable development really means, there is a need for a deeper strategical thinking around sustainable investments. The permafrost can for example destroy investments for arctic infrastructure today, if one does not think sustainably.
David Mair manager of the EU-commission research center pointed out that the EU needs traditional knowledge possessed by indigenous peoples if EU and the Word are to be also to cope with the challenges related to the current climate changes. Traditional knowledge and livelihoods cannot be separated we need to increase the communication of knowledge between work groups and sectors at a large scale in order to facilitate sustainable research that builds communities, for example in the arctic, where people actually live and work.
Panel discussion lead by Chris McDonalds, OECD, on the challenges and opportunities for indigenous peoples.
New start for Arctic platforms
The EU arctic forum was held in connection to the Barents Council Foreign Minister meeting and was manifested partially the end of different political initiatives of sustainable development in the arctic, but also the start of new cooperation. The EU has a new parliament and in November a new EU-commission will pick up the torch, it remains to be seen where the responsibility of arctic issues will lie.
At the Barents meeting Sweden gave the Chairmanship over to Norway, at the same time the regional chairmanship was passed on from Finnmark Fylkeskommune to länsstyrelsen in Västerbotten that during the coming two years will focus on environment and climate, equality and predators and telehealth.
Read more about the EU:s arctic politics and the runup to the EU Arctic Forum, here.
Read the NSPA:s position before the arctic forum, here.
Read more about the OECD:s indiginous peoples study with focus on regional development, here.
Read the Sami Councils new saami arctic strategy, here.
Read more about the Barents cooperation, here.