Eirik Sivertsen is a Labour Party member of Norway’s parliament and chair of the Standing Committee of Arctic Parliamentarians. This article originally appeared in The Circle 01.15.
Climate change means life change in the Arctic. Eric Sivertsen says the coming COP 21 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) meeting in Paris in 2015 will be an opportunity for the incoming US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council to send a strong message about the changes we are witnessing and the consequences of climate change in the Arctic.
Humankind faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities from climate and environmental change, shifting economic conditions, food and water security, energy and socioeconomic development, national security, and changes in population and demographics. While these trends are global in character, they disproportionally affect the Arctic region, which provides major challenges as well as new socioeconomic development opportunities. Climate change makes the Arctic more accessible and integrated within the global economy, with extensive socioeconomic implications.
As Arctic parliamentarians, we are committed to stay focused on the situation of people living in the Arctic, who are experiencing the changes first hand. In building on the knowledge and experiences of the people in the Arctic, we can shape a sustainable future both for them and the environment. We must develop diversified economies in the Arctic to build sustainable societies, and work together to develop better knowledge about the effects of climate change in the Arctic. We have to remember that the Arctic is not just one place. In the Arctic, each place differs a lot from the next.
Many communities in the Arctic struggle with increased costs of living and the high price of energy. The US Chairmanship should address how we can share and utilize existing technologies and affordable energy generation.
Governing the Arctic is not only an international or national concern – it is first and foremost a concern for the inhabitants of the north. We cannot, and do not wish to, dictate how the different countries in the Arctic govern their land. They are all sovereign nations. But we can promote the exchange of good practices. There are a lot of good examples. We will keep on encouraging governments, companies and others who operate in the Arctic to continue to explore new ways of involving local and regional stakeholders in all decision making processes.
Innovation and Education
Developing natural resources involves additional risks to the local environment and to the societies concerned. For the local people to accept this risk as worthwhile, they need to be able to see the benefits from the activity. Thus, strong partnerships between Arctic communities, business and governments are crucial.
We call for broader cooperation between the Arctic states to enable local residents to make use of new opportunities in the Arctic. As many of the challenges and opportunities facing the peoples of the Arctic are similar, we should address innovative capacity building and economic development together.
This is why the US should put innovation on the agenda for Arctic cooperation. The Arctic parliamentarians propose establishing an Arctic innovation system linking the scientific community, the business sector, political society and local populations, for instance through an Arctic mentorship and mobility program.
We strongly recommend strengthening and expanding student exchange programs as a way to increase knowledge sharing and build capacity. Student exchanges strengthen the Northern identity and shared community of the students, who share and learn new skills which are directly relevant for their further studies and work in their home community.
The innovation taking place in Arctic Indigenous societies to strengthen their adaptive capacity to change, are important contributions to added value. Initiatives such as the Arctic Indigenous Peoples´ Culinary Institute and the Arctic Council Indigenous Youth Engagement Leadership Program need to be supported and further developed. It is vital that capacity development is rooted in and relevant for the people living in the region itself.
Infrastructure and Energy
Increase in polar shipping, greater access to natural resources, shifting of fish stocks further north, and enhanced tourism opportunities all result in a need for considerable infrastructure investments in the Arctic. Increased maritime activities lead to increased demand for search and rescue services, ports, navigational aids, adequate charts, etc., which may come into place faster, better and less costly if all Arctic nations pull their resources together. Enhanced Arctic cooperation when developing infrastructure will also improve the possibilities for travelling east-west in the North, and not only north-south.
A connected topic is the cost of living in the Arctic. Many communities in the Arctic struggle with increased costs of living and the high price of energy. The US Chairmanship should address how we can share and utilize existing technologies and affordable energy generation. We should look at how deployment practices, particularly in remote communities, can reduce the cost of energy, reduce carbon emissions, support infrastructure development, and contribute to the well-being of residents of the Arctic. New innovative solutions in this area would be valuable contributions in the global effort to reduce black carbon emissions.
The 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region took place in Whitehorse 9-11 September 2014. The proposals presented in this article and more can be found in the Conference Statement.