This year, the Arctic Futures Symposium was organized for the eleventh year in a row by the International Polar Foundation and its partners. The conference was held online and lasted for three days. Thomas Norvoll, next Chairman of Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) between 2021-2023 and Chair of the Board at North Norway European Office, participated as a speaker on the third day.
Arctic Futures Symposium
The Arctic Futures Symposium gathers local and national decision-makers, academics, Arctic residents, and representatives of industries and organizations. The conference is organized annually by the International Polar Foundation in collaboration with the following partners: The regional Brussels offices North Sweden, North Norway, and East & North Finland. The national representations of Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Quebec, the Faroe Islands, and Finland. Including the interest groups Arctic Consensus, Blue Action, Polar Institute, and European Climate Research Alliance.
This year's virtual Arctic Futures Symposium was divided into three parts and took place between November 30 and December 2. With over ten sessions and about forty speakers, the conference discussed both opportunities and challenges in the Arctic.
The EU´s work for a sustainable and peaceful Arctic
On the first day of the conference, the EU Arctic Ambassador Michael Mann emphasized that changes in the Arctic region affect the whole world, not only the Arctic and its inhabitants. In order to promote sustainable development in the Arctic, Mann stressed that an increased understanding of both territorial challenges and green transition at a local and regional level in the Arctic is required.
Furthermore, Mann thanked for the 140 responses received during the public consultation on EU Arctic policy, which closed on the 10th of November 2020. The consultation aimed to gather opinions on how to best formulate the updated version on EU policy for the Arctic. Two growing challenges that the EU has to deal with in the future are climate change and geopolitical tensions. A priority for the European Commission is to develop European solutions aiming to eliminate geopolitical tensions, as well as promoting peaceful cooperation in the region.
The Northern Sparsely Populated Areas
Thomas Norvoll, next chairman of NSPA and Chair of the Board at North Norway European Office, began by introducing the NSPA network and the importance of cross-border cooperation. The NSPA regions, North Norway, North & East Finland, and North Sweden are unique in their own way, however, they share the same interests and challenges.
Among other things, the NSPA would like to underline that the Arctic is not that remote as some may believe. Norvoll highlighted that both European industries and Chinese construction companies are investing in the European Arctic, for example in hydropower. However, it is of great importance for the work of NSPA to ensure that the Arctic is not just an area of production. Norvoll stressed the importance of the Arctic to be a place for development and a region where people would like to live in. It is a balance, in which the NSPA strive to take both parts into account.
The Saami Council's Arctic Strategy
Tonje Margrete Winsnes Johansen, Advisor at the Saami Council Arctic and Environmental Unit, presented the Saami Council's Arctic strategy, which emphasizes their interests in the Arctic. A central point in the strategy aims to strengthen the Sami's right to decide over their land.
Elle Merete Omma, head of the Saami Council's EU Unit, emphasized that the Saami Council is positive to the European Commission´s work regarding a green transition in the EU. On the other hand, Omma believes that the lack of Saami participation in the Green Deal remains as a big challenge. She pointed out that the Arctic population possesses experience and knowledge that could be of great value for the European Commission and other actors.
Challenges and opportunities for small Arctic communities
Doris Carson, PhD and Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography at Umeå University, moderated a discussion on local entrepreneurship in smaller Arctic municipalities. Carson highlighted how local knowledge, in combination with new research, could be used to promote entrepreneurship and investment in Arctic communities.
The Mayor of Arjeplog in Sweden, Isak Utsi, expressed his concern about the declining population in Arjeplog. Young people are leaving the municipality in favour of a wider range of both education and job opportunities. According to Utsi, an investment in the younger generation is required to attract and ensure that they have the opportunity to stay, such as offering higher-level education.
OECD study on the mining industry in Norrbotten and Västerbotten, Sweden
Andres Sanabria and Lisanne Raderschall from the OECD's unit for regional development presented parts of the upcoming report on the mining industry in Upper Norrland in Sweden. The OECD emphasized that the mining industry is an important source of income for several Arctic regions. There is a great need to promote sustainable mining, but also to ensure that it benefits local needs. The study recommends an effective framework that enables a strategic dialogue on land use and economic development between local, regional, and national levels. It also requires a long-term vision to support and promote environmentally friendly mining while at the same time highlights Sweden's world-leading ecosystem for sustainable mining and mining industry in the international arena.
Read more about the Arctic Futures Symposium here.