Black carbon in the Arctic – so what?

(Source: Getty Image) (Source: Getty Image) In November 2004, a short article titled “A canary in the coal mine” appeared in The Economist magazine profiling the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) with the tagline: “The Arctic seems to be getting warmer. So what?” Published three years before scientists observed the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record, the article begins with a well-known scientist and champion of the Arctic saying:

“Climate change in the Arctic is a reality now!” So insists Robert Corell, an oceanographer with the American Meteorological Society. Wild-eyed proclamations are all too common when it comes to global warming, but in this case his assertion seems well founded.”

The Economist article highlighted a number of the key findings of the ACIA, but also raised the possibility that observed changes could be explained by “natural variability” rather than climate change. Evidence for climate-driven Arctic ice loss came faster than expected, when in 2007, record loss surpassed even the “worst-case” model projections for decreased sea ice extent according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR4 assessment, released in 2007. The trend for decreasing ice extent continues, with the most recent IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) projecting that the summer Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free before 2050 under the high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

With the recent increase in rapid Arctic ice loss, the “so what” part of the question is also being answered much more quickly than expected. The circumpolar region holds vast natural resources, and numerous stakeholders are eager to look closely at increased opportunities for fisheries, shipping, and oil and gas exploration. To address these issues and potential conflicts, in 2008, through the EU-funded Arctic TRANSFORM project, expert working groups from Europe and the United States were formed to identify potential policy options within various sectors. The Arctic TRANSFORM dialogue formed the basis for the EU Arctic Footprint project, which was funded in 2010 to assess the European environmental impact on the Arctic. The assessment evaluated Europe’s impact with respect to a wide range of Arctic-related issues, including biodiversity, chemical transport and transboundary pollution, climate change, energy, fisheries, forestry, tourism, transport, and indigenous people. An important finding was that the European continent contributes approximately 59% of black carbon emissions in the Arctic; therefore, one of the key policy measures identified was the EU’s potential for reducing black carbon emissions in relation to slowing and mitigating the rate of ice melt.

Black carbon is classified as a “short-lived” climate pollutant that persists in the atmosphere from several days to weeks. Particles travel shorter distances than globally distributed well-mixed greenhouse gases, and so Europe‘s geographic proximity to the Arctic is important. Despite the short lifetime of black carbon, it has major impacts on near-term climate and human health. In the Arctic, black carbon contributes to increased rates of ice melt by changing the albedo to absorb more sunlight and increasing surface temperature of the cryosphere. With regard to human health, in March 2014 the World Health Organization released figures showing that air pollution is the greatest global environmental health risk, resulting in seven million deaths from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012.

The other side of the “so what” story is the actions that societies can make to steer economic systems away from high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Black carbon is a small particle created during incomplete combustion of fossil and biomass fuels – and key sources affecting the Arctic are from land-based transportation (particularly diesel engines), open biomass burning (including agricultural burning, prescribed forest burning, and wildfires), and residential heating (from wood combustion in stoves and boilers). Black carbon emissions are also expected to increase with rising shipping activities via Arctic routes and from gas flaring from offshore oil and gas development, activities that are intensifying as a result of sea ice loss.

In 2012, in response to the growing body of scientific evidence on the importance of reducing short-lived climate pollutants, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants was formed by seven countries and the UN Environment Program to reduce black carbon, methane and some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Like black carbon, methane and some HFCs are also short-lived in the atmosphere. Methane “lives” for approximately 12 years, and has a global warming potential more than 20 times higher than carbon dioxide over 100 years. The Coalition, hosted by the Secretariat at UNEP, now includes more than 80 partners, is complimentary and supplementary to the global effort to reduce carbon dioxide.

The Coalition activities to reduce short-lived climate pollutants are guided by the UNEP/WMO 2011 report “Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone” which identified 16 low-cost measures that if implemented, could reduce warming in the near-term, save lives, and reduce crop losses. A 2013 report from the World Bank and International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) “On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution Can Slow Warming and Save Lives” uses updated underlying emissions data to further fine-tune available measures and methods to reduce black carbon, as well as methane gases, building on the 2011 UNEP/WMO report. If implemented together, the black carbon and methane measures are expected to contribute key benefits for the Arctic cryosphere as shown in the figure below.

This figure from the 2013 World Bank/ICCI report shows the percentage change in Arctic summer ice (a) and boreal spring snow (b) in 2050 due to full implementation of black carbon and methane measures by 2030 (The report notes the figures are not scaled for additional forcing over cryosphere; with scaling, modeling conservatively indicates two times greater reduction in snow/ice loss.)This figure from the 2013 World Bank/ICCI report shows the percentage change in Arctic summer ice (a) and boreal spring snow (b) in 2050 due to full implementation of black carbon and methane measures by 2030 (The report notes the figures are not scaled for additional forcing over cryosphere; with scaling, modeling conservatively indicates two times greater reduction in snow/ice loss.) 

Key measures from the 2013 World Bank/ICCI report to reduce black carbon include:

  • Diesel road vehicles comply to Euro 6/VI standards (includes particle filters)
  • Diesel off-road vehicles comply to Euro 6/VI standards (includes particle filters)
  • Replacing current residential wood-burning technologies with wood pellet stoves and boilers
  • Replacing chunk coal fuel with coal briquettes for residential household heating
  • Replacing current biofuel cookstoves with forced draft (fan-assisted) stoves
  • Replacing current solid biofuel cookstoves with stoves using biogas (50%) or LPG (50%) reduction of all open burning worldwide by 50 percent
  • Reduction of open burning in northern Eurasia to EU levels
  • Reduction of BC emissions from gas flaring at oil fields to best practice levels

Key measures from the 2013 World Bank/ICCI report to reduce methane include (% show emission reductions globally per measure):

  • Capture of methane or degasification prior to the mining process (31.1%)
  • Capture or reinjection of fugitive methane emissions, where feasible, with reuse for oil and gas production (30.3%)
  • Reduced leakage of oil and gas pipelines through improved monitoring and repair (4.9%)
  • Recycling, composting, and anaerobic digestion and capture for reuse in landfills (20%)
  • Upgrade of wastewater treatment to include gas capture and overflow control (2.7%)
  • Anaerobic digestion and capture of methane for livestock (4.4%)
  • Intermittent aeration of rice paddies: fields remain continuously flooded with only occasional exposure to air (6.6%)

Ten years after the publication of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the Arctic is indeed getting warmer. The scientific evidence is clear that unless human actions are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, irreversible losses in Arctic ice extent will become permanent. There are a diverse range of mitigation activities, such as those outlined by the UNEP/WMO and World Bank/ICCI reports and addressed by the Coalition, which can be implemented now to slow near-term warming that at the same time have benefits for human health and agriculture. The EU is a strong proponent for action as a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate pollutants. As the international community comes together to determine the “so what” – there is hope that the EU and other nations will fully commit to implementing the tangible, available “triple win” policy options to protect the planet.


Sandra Cavalieri is Advisor for Partnerships and Communications at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC)



Cavalieri, S. et al. (2010) EU Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment, Final Report Available online at:

Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (2013) Time to Act to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Stroeve, J., et al. (2007) Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster than Forecast, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol 34, Issue 9.

Tedsen, E., S. Cavalieri, and R.A. Kraemer, Eds. (2013) Arctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation, Springer.

The Economist (2004) “A Canary in the Coal Mine” Available online at:

The World Bank and International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (2013) On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution Can Slow Warming and Save Lives Available online at:



The paradox of reindeer pasture management in Finnmark, Norway


Government officials and reindeer herders have in general very different perspectives on how to ensure a sustainable reindeer husbandry in Finnmark, northern Norway. While officials stress the need for reducing the numbers of reindeer as the most important measure to conserve the reindeer pastures, herders emphasize encroachment by competing land-use interests such as mining companies and windmill parks as the largest threat to pastures and the sustainable development of reindeer husbandry.

This short essay presents the paradox of the state's dual role as both a protector of traditional reindeer pastures from overgrazing and as a promoter of exploitation of natural resources in the same grazing land. The text is based on interviews and research conducted as part of my PhD study on land-use conflicts and reindeer management in Finnmark. The work is part of a larger project called Dávggas[1]  The economics and land-use conflicts in Sámi reindeer herding in Finnmark: Exploring the alternative.Exchanging knowledge: Reindeer herder and assistant professor, Mikkel Nils Sara, explains the herders' land-use and the impacts of encroachment to researchers from the Dávggas project. Photo: Kathrine I. JohnsenExchanging knowledge: Reindeer herder and assistant professor, Mikkel Nils Sara, explains the herders' land-use and the impacts of encroachment to researchers from the Dávggas project. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen






Introduction to reindeer management

In Norway, approximately 250,000 semi-domesticated reindeer are currently herded on land covering about 40 per cent of the mainland area of the country (Reindriftsforvaltningen, 2013). Only people of Sámi ethnicity may own reindeer in Norway, with the exception of a few concession areas in southern parts of the country. The reindeer are dependent on access to huge and undisturbed grazing areas (Jernsletten & Klokov, 2002). Approximately 73 per cent of the total number of reindeer is found in Finnmark, the northern-most county in Norway. More or less all of Finnmark is part of the reindeer herding area; the interior south is used as winter pastures, while the coastal area is used as spring, summer and autumn pastures. Most herds cross a number of municipalities on their migration between winter and summer grazing areas.

Since 1992, ecological, economic and cultural sustainability has become the main objectives of the Norwegian reindeer husbandry policy (LD, 1992). The change in policy was the result of a growing concern in the late 1980s that a large number of reindeer was leading to overgrazing, land-use conflicts and inefficient meat production. New regulations and economic incentives were implemented to motivate herders to restructure and reduce the size of their herds – with little success in Finnmark. The general trend was that the reindeer numbers continued to increase. The Reindeer Husbandry Act of 2007 was designed to improve the efficiency of the reindeer husbandry policies and ensure a sustainable reindeer industry by decentralizing responsibility to herders on a local level (Reindriftsforvaltningen, 2009). However, the reindeer number in Finnmark has grown in recent years despite new legislation and management tools supporting a bottom-up approach to reindeer management.

Conflicting perspectives on sustainable reindeer husbandry

The state management of reindeer husbandry is vested with Ministry of Food and Agriculture (LMD). While LMD claims that the growing number of reindeer can be explained by the notion of the 'tragedy of the commons' (see Hardin, 1968), herders suggest a combination of alternative explanations for the increasing herd sizes; for example, the state incentives for calve production; unreliable access to slaughter houses; and low meat prices (personal communication with employees in LMD and herders, 2012). The state-led modernization of reindeer husbandry was intensified in 1976 with the introduction of public investments to maximize meat production and herders’ income (Hausner et al., 2011). Herders interviewed admit that a large number of reindeer in Finnmark makes it more challenging to manage the herds, but they do not agree that overgrazing is a current treat. Among the multiple challenges, herders identify encroachment of pastures by competing land-use interests as the largest threat to sustainable reindeer husbandry.

Though LMD has recognized loss of grazing land as a threat to reindeer husbandry, they emphasize the need for reducing reindeer numbers as the number one priority for ensuring a sustainable reindeer husbandry(LMD, 2011). Government officials argue that an ecologically sustainable reindeer number will protect pastures and increase the efficiency of meat production, and safeguard the Sámi traditional livelihood for the next generations. In February 2013, reduction plans were decided on behalf of most herding districts in Finnmark. Herders are worried that the state overruling of their arguments will also make reindeer husbandry more vulnerable in conflicts with competing land-use interests. (See Johnsen et al, forthcoming, for an analysis of the conflicting perspectives on the governance of Sámi reindeer husbandry in Finnmark.)

Mineral extraction in reindeer land

While LMD is in a process of enforcing reindeer reductions to conserve the pastures of Finnmark, another ministry, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (KMD, named Ministry of Trade and Industry until end of 2013), promotes the same region as a treasury of natural resources; oil, gas, wind and minerals. In March 2013, the government presented its Strategy for the Mineral Industry, which sets out the aim to increase profitability and growth in the Norwegian mineral industry (NHD, 2013). During the period 2010-2014 the government allocated 100 million kroner (approximately 12 million euro) for mapping mineral resources in northern Norway. It is estimated that the profitable mineral resources of the country amounts to around 1.4 billion kroner, with the greatest potential in the north (UD, 2013). The government encourages the northern municipalities to facilitate for extraction of minerals to help the economic development and the demand for jobs (NRK Sámpi, 2012). The mineral strategy says that mineral activities will be operated in a sustainable and 'environmentally responsible manner and in balanced coexistence with reindeer husbandry and other Sámi interests' (NHD, 2013, p. 67, my emphasis). The solutions for coexistence will be 'based on good dialogue and a shared understanding of the challenges to be met' (NHD, 2013, p. 12, my emphasis).

In March 2014, KMD approved – with the support of LMD – the plan for copper extraction within traditional reindeer pasture in Kvalsund Municipality in Finnmark, as the first extraction plan to be approved after the adoption of the mineral strategy. The plan was approved on the condition that the mining company (Nussir ASA) and the two affected herding groups (Fiettar and Fálá) come to an agreement on remedial measures (KMD, 2014). Though there are still important decisions to be made before Nussir ASA can start their operation[2], it useful to take a brief look at the Nussir project to find out how the concepts of good dialogue, shared understanding and balanced coexistence have been followed up.Area of conflict: Undermining copper extraction is planned in these traditional reindeer pastures. Herders argue that the extraction activities, transport of waste from the mine and the new infrastructure will threat their calving grounds and migration route. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen Area of conflict: Undermining copper extraction is planned in these traditional reindeer pastures. Herders argue that the extraction activities, transport of waste from the mine and the new infrastructure will threat their calving grounds and migration route. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen



Coexistence between reindeer herding and mineral extraction

Both the CEO of Nussir ASA and the herders refer to a number of meetings where they have discussed concerns and remedial measures. The CEO describes the dialogue as frequent and good, and the herders agree that there have been many opportunities to discuss with the company. Still, this has not changed the herders' attitude towards the copper mine. They explain that they see no solution to the challenges to coexistence between reindeer husbandry and the planned extraction activities. While the herders commend Nussir ASA for their efforts to create a dialogue, they criticize the municipality and ministry for not facilitating real consultations in accordance with the Procedures for Consultations between the State Authorities and Sámi Parliament (see AID, 2006).

Kvalsund municipal council has approved the land-use plan (reguleringsplan) for the extraction and dumping sites. They regard the plans as a way to improve the economy of the municipality. The herders who have objected to the plans are seen as obstacles for economic development. The local politicians see few benefits of the herders apart from being 'exotic' with the potential to attract tourists (personal communication with the mayor of Kvalsund, 16 July 2012). The herders do not hold political power in Kvalsund as most herders of Fiettar and Fálá are registered in Kautokeino municipality further south, and this is were they pay their taxes and vote for local government.

The local herders have repeatedly insisted that coexistence with the planned copper mine is impossible as the extraction activities will cut off their migration routes and disturb vital calving land. The impact assessment on reindeer husbandry concluded that the planned activities 'are likely to have major impacts on reindeer husbandry and may even reduce the number of livelihoods in herding' (Nellemann & Vistnes, 2011, p. 11). The herders have objected to the approved land-use plan claiming that the plan violates their rights according to the ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

In September 2012, the County Governor mediated negotiations between Kvalsund Municipality and the advocates of the herders' interests. The Governor concluded that 'the facilitation of good coexistence is the responsibility of all parties concerned', but the 'objecting parties have shown little willingness to identify agreeable mitigation measures, which can form the basis for coexistence between the reindeer husbandry and the mineral industry' (letter to the Ministry of Environment dated 30 November 2012). He forwarded the case to the government for a final decision with a recommendation to approve the planned copper mine. In March 2014, KMD announced that they had approved the municipal land-use plans for mineral extraction in Kvalsund. The announcement recognized that the planned activities would occupy and impact key grazing areas and migration routes, but the KMD argued that  the benefits of economic growth and development in Kvalsund outweigh such costs (letter to the County Governor of Finnmark 20 March 2014).Official inspection: In March 2013, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Ellen Øseth (left), and other government officials came to Kvalsund to learn more about the land-use conflict. The CEO of Nussir ASA, Øystein Rushfeldt, points to the area of the planned mining activities. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen Official inspection: In March 2013, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Ellen Øseth (left), and other government officials came to Kvalsund to learn more about the land-use conflict. The CEO of Nussir ASA, Øystein Rushfeldt, points to the area of the planned mining activities. Photo: Kathrine I. Johnsen



Concluding remarks

While the state argues for a reduction in reindeer numbers in order to protect the pastures and secure a future for Sami reindeer husbandry in Finnmark, the same state promotes infrastructure development and land-use activities competing for the same pastures. Herders point to the paradox in that the number of reindeer in Finnmark has to go down in order to preserve the pastures, while at the same time the authorities are encouraging mineral extraction and windmill parks in the middle of their grazing land. For example, LMD has decided that Fiettar has to reduce their reindeer number by 37.5 per cent by 2015, while KMD has accepted mining activities that will result in Fiettar losing land used for calving. This paradox is given little attention in the public debate about sustainable reindeer husbandry. And the herders' trust in that the government is acting in the herders' best interests is diminishing.

Herders all over Finnmark face increasing pressure from infrastructure development on grazing land. They spend a considerable amount of time reviewing and commenting on planned infrastructure development affecting their pastures. Many have hired professional lawyers to assist them in the struggle for protecting their traditional grazing lands from encroachment from mining, windmill parks, hydro power plants and leisure cabins. It is not clear how local and national government will facilitate the conflicting needs and interests of the mineral industry and reindeer husbandry. In the case of the copper mining plans in Kvalsund, the responsibility for ensuring good dialogue, shared understanding and balanced coexistence, is left to a private company and the herders – two parties with opposing interests and very different access to resources to advocate for these interests.

Kathrine Ivsett Johnsen is a PhD research fellow at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

[1] In northern Sámi, dávggas means elastic, resilient, flexible, tough.

[2]The company is also awaiting a permit to discharge waste from the extraction activities in the fjord, a scenario which has created an opposition alliance between fishermen, the tourist industry, environmental organisations and reindeer herders.



AID. (2006). Veileder for statlige myndigheters konsultasjoner med Sametinget og eventuelle øvrige samiske interesser. Arbeids- og Inkluderingsdepartementet Retrieved from veileder_for_konsultasjoner.pdf.

Hardin, Garett. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.

Hausner, V. H., Fauchald, P., Tveraa, T., Pedersen, E., Jernsletten, J. L., Ulvevadet, B., Brathen, K. A. (2011). The Ghost of Development Past: the Impact of Economic Security Policies on Saami Pastoral Ecosystems. Ecology and Society, 16(3). doi: 10.5751/es-04193-160304

Jernsletten, J. L., & Klokov, A. (2002). Sustainable Reindeer Husbandry. Arctic Council 2000-2002. University of Tromsø, Norway.

KMD. (2014, 20 March). Reguleringsplan for Nussir og Ulveryggen er godkjent. Kommunal­ og moderniseringsdepartementet (Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation).  Retrieved 3 April, 2014, from

LD. (1992). Melding til Stortinget 28 (1991-1992) En bærekraftig reindrift. Landbruksdepartementet (Ministry of Agriculture).

LMD. (2011). Melding til Stortinget 9 (2011-2012) Landbruks- og Matpolitikken: Velkommen til Bords. Landbruks- og matdepartementet Retrieved from

Nellemann, C., & Vistnes, I. (2011). Foreslått utbygging av Nussir gruver i reinbeitedistrikt 22 Fiettar - konsekvenser for reindriften i 22 Fiettar og 20 Fálá (Vol. 2011:2): Norut Alta – Áltá.

NHD. (2013). Strategy for the Mineral Industry. Nærings- og handelsdepartementet (Ministry of Trade and Industry) Retrieved from

NRK Sámpi. (2012, 4 September). Skattekammeret i nord. NRK Sápmi.  Retrieved 4 April, 2014, from

Reindriftsforvaltningen. (2009). Veileder for utarbeidelse av bruksregler.  Retrieved from

Reindriftsforvaltningen. (2013). Ressursregnskap for reindriftsnæringen for reindriftsåret 1. april 2011 - 31. mars 2012.

UD. (2013, 11 September). New growth in the North. Utenriksdepartementet (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).  Retrieved 3 April, 2014, from



A Responsible Approach to Arctic Operations

Northernmost LNG plant, situated in Hammerfest, Norway (Photo: Statoil)Northernmost LNG plant, situated in Hammerfest, Norway (Photo: Statoil)The Arctic presents attractive resource potential for the oil and gas industry. Estimates by the United States Geological Survey indicate that as much as 22% of the remaining yet-to-find oil and gas can be found north of the 66th parallel.

The last few years seen increased interest in the region, not only by our industry, but in the areas of mining, shipping and tourism to name just a few. However, activity in this region is nothing new.

Explorers and adventurers have for more than a hundred years crossed the region, whilst gathering data and helping increase the understanding of the sometimes very hostile environment.

The oil and gas industry made its first steps into the Arctic region in the 1920s.

For Statoil the Arctic journey started over 30 years ago, with the opening of the Norwegian Barents Sea for exploration. In fact, the second office Statoil set up was in Harstad, Norway in 1976, north of the Arctic Circle, and Statoil's current operations in the Northern Norway are run from this office.

Safe operations

Since 1980 Statoil has safely drilled more than 100 wells in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Statoil has moved step by step further north increasing competence, experience and technology. In recent years a dedicated research and development department has been set up to focus on Arctic-specific technology development. This is in addition to collaboration with industry, academia and governments on technology development to face the needs of the future.

Statoil's current Arctic and sub-Arctic producing assets include the operated Snøhvit LNG facility in Hammerfest and partner roles in the Terra Nova and Hibernia fields offshore Newfoundland, Canada. Development projects include the Statoil-operated Johan Castberg-project (former Skrugard) and the partner-operated Goliat field in the Norwegian Barents Sea and Hebron offshore Newfoundland. In 2013 a significant oil discovery was made in the Bay du Nord well offshore Newfound and efforts are ongoing to appraise this discovery.  In addition there are comprehensive exploration portfolios in both these basins.

Exploration acreage in the rest of the Arctic includes licences offshore Alaska and and three partner-operated in addition to one Statoil-operated licence in Greenland.

In May 2012 Statoil and Rosneft signed a cooperation agreement to jointly explore offshore frontier areas of Russia and Norway. The partners will jointly explore the Perseevsky licence in in the Russian part of the Central Barents Sea and three licences - the Kashevarovsky, Lisyansky and Magadan-1 - north of Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk.Extreme conditions in the Arctic (Photo:Yvind Hagen, Statoil) Extreme conditions in the Arctic (Photo:Yvind Hagen, Statoil)

Not just one Arctic

Overall Statoil is present in most of the key Arctic basins. These basins offer very different challenges and opportunities. It is imperative to note that there is more than one Arctic environment, and it is useful for our discussion to distinguish between what we identify as the three different operational categories.

First we have the workable Arctic. Here solutions can be based on known technologies, and any remaining technology needs are within reach in the short to medium term. Workable arctic is typically areas with little or no sea ice and/or limited icebergs, or alternatively very shallow areas where ice resistant platforms are feasible.  Examples are the opened parts of the Norwegian Barents Sea and offshore Newfoundland, Canada.

Secondly we have the stretch Arctic. Solutions in this category require major innovation, but could be achievable with focused investment in the medium to long term. This means that we can visualise how exploration and development is likely to take place, but are some way from finalising key technologies or capabilities needed for commercial feasibility. Stretch Arctic is typically areas with significant ice that inhibits operations from floating structures, or very cold and remote areas that are ice bound for much of the year. The Barents Sea north east is a good example of this category.

Our last category is the extreme Arctic, where solutions are hard to visualize and need long term focus and investment in technology. This means that the environment is so challenging that it is difficult to envisage solutions within the foreseeable technology future. Extreme Arctic is typically areas with near continuous heavy ice coverage from the Arctic Ocean, likely containing old or glacial ice. An example of this is East Greenland, where Statoil recently was awarded a licence.

Statoil has over 30 years of experience working in Arctic conditions (Photo:Statoil)Statoil has over 30 years of experience working in Arctic conditions (Photo:Statoil)Future energy supply

When Statoil and our industry are taking positions in the Arctic region this is done with both a short and long term perspective in mind. In the workable Arctic we have production today, whilst in the extreme Arctic it is difficult to see production occurring within the next decade or two.

As mentioned, the areas north of the Arctic Circle are estimated to contain one fifth of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in the world, and therefore have the potential to be major contributors to the energy supply for decades to come. Access to new exploration acreage, including areas in the Arctic, is fundamental to the company's ambition beyond 2020.

This is important also for the secure and long-term energy supply to Europe. As mature fields are experiencing declining production, new resources will have to be found, and we have a firm belief that the Arctic will be an important contributor in this picture.

A stepwise approach

The strategy of a stepwise approach to exploration and development in the Arctic relates to all aspects of Statoil's activity. Active dialogue with communities and governments remains a cornerstone for Statoil in the Arctic and the company has an ambition to create value for host communities and the company.

Activity in the Arctic, in the same way as in other parts of the world, needs to be of mutual benefit to all partners. We strive to engage with our stakeholders.

The full potential of the Arctic can only be unlocked through innovation—more collaborative business models and more joint technology programs.  We believe that Statoil’s approach will make us a strong partner for communities, governments, and our peers.

There is no margin for error. A spill in the Arctic could harm the environment, close the region for development for decades and deny the world an important source of energy.

For centuries, the history of the Arctic has been characterized by a cycle of boom and bust—fishing, fur trading, mineral extraction, oil, gas—but this time, it’s different. This time, the emergence of the Arctic has the potential to be one of the defining economic and political issues of the 21st century. Our industry is at the very centre of this issue.

The Arctic is a natural arena for collaboration, between nations, industries and peoples. Arctic nations are actively collaborating - on boundaries, on environmental research, and on regulations. We are encouraging this and doing our part.


The Arctic is Changing

Hans Meltofte, Henry Huntington and Tom Barry

Figure 1. Map of the top of the northern hemisphere with the high and low Arctic zones delineated according to the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (CAVM Team 2003), together with a tentative demarcation of the sub-Arctic. Lines indicating similar marine zones are sketched (Source:CAVM Team 2003)Figure 1. Map of the top of the northern hemisphere with the high and low Arctic zones delineated according to the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (CAVM Team 2003), together with a tentative demarcation of the sub-Arctic. Lines indicating similar marine zones are sketched (Source:CAVM Team 2003)


The Arctic is made up of the world’s smallest ocean surrounded by a relatively narrow fringe of island and continental tundra north of the tree line (Fig. 1). Extreme seasonality and permafrost determine the hydrology, biodiversity and general features of the Arctic’s terrestrial ecosystems. Similarly, seasonal and permanent sea ice is the defining feature of the Arctic’s marine ecosystems.

The Arctic holds some of the most extreme habitats on Earth, with species and peoples that have adapted through biological and cultural evolution to its unique conditions. A homeland to some, and a harsh if not hostile environment to others, the Arctic is home to iconic animals such as polar bears, narwhal, caribou/reindeer, muskoxen, Arctic foxes, ivory gulls and snowy owls, as well as numerous microbes and invertebrates capable of living in extreme cold. The Arctic also holds large intact landscapes and seascapes with little or no obvious sign of direct degradation from human activity. In addition to flora and fauna, the Arctic is known for the knowledge and ingenuity of Arctic peoples, who thanks to great adaptability and ingenuity have thrived amid ice, snow and winter darkness.

With these features in mind, the purpose of the recently published Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), is to Synthesize and assess the status and trends of biological diversity in the Arctic … as a major contribution to international conventions and agreements in regard to biodiversity conservation; providing policymakers with comprehensive information on the status and trends of Arctic biodiversity. The intent is to provide a much-needed description of the current state and recent trends in the Arctic’s ecosystems and biodiversity, create a baseline for use in global and regional assessments of Arctic biodiversity and a basis to inform and guide future Arctic Council work. The ABA provides up-to-date knowledge, identifies gaps in the data record, describes key mechanisms driving change and presents suggestions for measures to secure Arctic biodiversity.

The ABA comes in three publications: the Full Scientific Report, a stand-alone Synthesis and a Summary report for policy makers. The assessment focuses on the species and ecosystems characteristic of the Arctic region, including ecosystem services and indigenous languages, and draws together information from a variety of sources to discuss the cumulative changes occurring as a result of multiple factors. The ABA identifies current status together with historical trends in abundance and distribution where available, and includes projections of future change informed by scientific literature. It draws on a vast number of scientific publications, supplemented by ‘eye witness’ observations from indigenous peoples. The ABA has been through comprehensive peer review to ensure the highest standard of analysis and unbiased interpretation. The results are a benchmark against which to help measure and understand the significance of future change, without which the scope and gravity of future changes will be less clearly identifiable, undermining our ability to reduce harm.

Today, Arctic biodiversity is changing, perhaps irreversibly. Change in the Arctic comes in many forms and from a variety of sources. Several of these stressors have been the subject of intense research and assessments documenting the effects and impacts of human activity regionally and globally, and seeking ways to conserve the biological and cultural wealth of the Arctic in the face of considerable pressures to develop its resources. These assessments have focused primarily on effects and impacts from a range of present and future stressors, such as global warming (ACIA 2005, AMAP 2009a, AMAP 2011a), oil and gas activities (AMAP 2009b), social change (AHDR 2004), marine shipping (AMSA 2009) and environmental contaminants (AMAP 1998, 2004, 2010, 2011b). The ABA, in contrast, looks not at the stressors but at the biodiversity being stressed.

A key challenge for conservation in the Arctic is to shorten the gap between data collection and policy response. The Arctic Council has recognized this challenge and in recent years, through the working group for Conservation of Flora and Fauna (CAFF), has been developing a solution. This approach has focused on not just developing a classical assessment but also addressing the collection, processing and analysis of data on a continuous basis. The ABA is not just a one-time, static assessment, but rather provides a baseline of current knowledge, closely linked to the development of CAFF’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) as the engine for ongoing work.

Conservation action based on the findings of the ABA will not happen in a vacuum. All Arctic Council states have made commitments that, directly or indirectly, help protect biodiversity and ecosystems through a number of conventions as well as bi- and multilateral agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), Bonn Convention (CMS), Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Heritage Convention (WHC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Each Arctic Council country is a party to at least one of these conventions and has, thereby, made commitments that have the intention toprotect and restore biodiversity.

Furthermore, based on the ABA, the Arctic Council agreed on and approved a set of key findings and recommendations at the meeting of ministers in Kiruna, Sweden in May 2013 (CAFF 2013).

Main findings of the ABA

Arctic biodiversity – the multitude of species and ecosystems in the land north of the tree line together with the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas – is an irreplaceable cultural, aesthetic, scientific, ecological, economic and spiritual asset. For Arctic peoples, biodiversity has been the very basis for their ways of life through millennia, and is still a vital part of their material and spiritual existence. Arctic fisheries and tourism are also of particularly high value for the rest of the world, and so are the millions of Arctic birds and mammals migrating to virtually all parts of the globe during winter.

The Arctic is home to more than 21,000 species of often highly cold-adapted mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, plants and fungi (including lichens) – together with large numbers of undescribed endoparasites and microbes. Arctic biodiversity includes charismatic and iconic species together with marine and terrestrial ecosystems such as vast areas of lowland tundra, wetlands, mountains, extensive shallow ocean shelves, millennia-old ice shelves and huge seabird cliffs.

The functional significance of different groups of organisms in maintaining the integrity, structure, services and health of Arctic ecosystems, however, is generally greatest among those we understand least. Microorganisms are key elements of Arctic ecosystems, yet they have been little studied.

Anthropogenically driven climate change is by far the most serious threat to biodiversity in the Arctic, and there is an immediate need to implement actions to reduce this stressor. Due to a range of feedback mechanisms, the 2 °C upper limit of human-induced warming, chosen by world leaders, is projected to result in an air temperature increase of between 2.8 and 7.8 °C in the Arctic, likely resulting in severe disruptions to Arctic biodiversity.


Figure 2. Trends in terrestrial June snow cover 1967-2012 based on averages for the North American and Eurasian continents, virtually all of it in the Arctic. Values are standardized anomalies with respect to the 1988-2007 mean. Solid lines are five-year running means. The combined influence of the timing of snow melt and the length of the growing season is of major importance for the functioning and feedback dynamics of Arctic Ecosystems.( Source: adapted from Derksen & Brown, Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008-2012 period exceeding climate model projections. Geophysical Research Letters, 2012)Figure 2. Trends in terrestrial June snow cover 1967-2012 based on averages for the North American and Eurasian continents, virtually all of it in the Arctic. Values are standardized anomalies with respect to the 1988-2007 mean. Solid lines are five-year running means. The combined influence of the timing of snow melt and the length of the growing season is of major importance for the functioning and feedback dynamics of Arctic Ecosystems.( Source: adapted from Derksen & Brown, Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008-2012 period exceeding climate model projections. Geophysical Research Letters, 2012)


Climate change is the most likely explanation for shifts already visible in several parts of the Arctic, as documented by both scientists and Arctic residents. These include northward range expansions of many species and changes in ecosystems likely resulting from habitat warming and/or drying of the substrate associated with warming and earlier snow melt (Fig. 2), together with development of new oceanic current patterns. 

Future global warming will result in further northward shifts in the distribution of a great many species. This will include boreal species and ecosystems encroaching on areas currently characterized as the low Arctic, and low Arctic species and ecosystems encroaching on areas currently characterized as the high Arctic.

Northward movement of boreal species may increase the number of species found in the Arctic, but this does not represent a net gain in global biodiversity. The additions will primarily be species that are already common in southern habitats, some of which may outcompete or displace unique assemblages of Arctic species with the risk of severe range reductions and possible extinctions.

Terrestrial habitats in the Arctic are bounded to the north by marine ecosystems. Therefore, northward ecosystem shifts are expected to reduce the overall geographic extent of terrestrial Arctic habitats – in particular for high Arctic habitats. Arctic terrestrial ecosystems may disappear in many places, or only survive in alpine or island ‘refugia’.

Arctic freshwater ecosystems are undergoing rapid change in response to the influence of both environmental and anthropogenic stressors. The distribution and number of lakes, ponds, wetlands and riverine networks are being altered with significant implications to the structure, function and diversity of associated biological communities.


Figure 3. The loss in summer extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice has occurred much faster than the initial projections had anticipated, so that the total ice cover at the summer minimum reached an all time low in September 2012 with only half the extend as compared with the 1979-2000 average. Similarly, the loss in monthly averaged Arctic Ocean ice volume for August 2013 was 76% lower than the maximum in 1979 (Polar Science Center 2013). (Source: modified from Stroeve et al.". Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast" 2007) Figure 3. The loss in summer extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice has occurred much faster than the initial projections had anticipated, so that the total ice cover at the summer minimum reached an all time low in September 2012 with only half the extend as compared with the 1979-2000 average. Similarly, the loss in monthly averaged Arctic Ocean ice volume for August 2013 was 76% lower than the maximum in 1979 (Polar Science Center 2013). (Source: modified from Stroeve et al.". Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast" 2007)


In the marine Arctic, climate-induced effects on species and ecosystems, associated with a decrease in sea ice extent and duration (Fig. 3), are already being observed. Of key concern is the rapid loss of multi-year ice in the central Arctic basin and changes in sea ice dynamics on the extensive Arctic shelves, which affect the biodiversity and productivity of marine ecosystems.

A secondary effect of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is ocean acidification resulting from increased dissolved CO2. Since the solubility of CO2 is higher in cold than warm waters, Arctic marine ecosystems are especially prone to acidification, and there are already signs of such changes in the Arctic Ocean. This is an important threat to calcareous organisms, and thereby may have cascading impacts on marine ecosystems including potential impacts on biodiversity and fisheries.

Until the second half of the 20th century, overharvest was the primary threat to a number of Arctic mammals, birds and fishes. A wide variety of conservation and management actions have helped alleviate this pressure in many areas to such an extent that many populations are recovering, although pressures on others persist.

Since the middle of the 20th century, a variety of contaminants have bioaccumulated in several Arctic predator species to levels that threaten the health and fecundity of both animals and humans. However, due to concerted global action to reduce the release of contaminants, there are, as yet, few demonstrated effects on Arctic species at the population level. Lack of data may mask such impacts, however. New contaminants, and changing fluxes of others, continue to be introduced to Arctic ecosystems and related food webs with unknown ecosystem effects.

Arctic habitats are among the least anthropologically disturbed on Earth, and huge tracts of almost pristine tundra, mountain, freshwater and marine habitats still exist. While climate change is the most geographically extensive and potentially harmful anthropogenic impacts at present, regionally ocean bottom trawling, non-renewable resource development and other forms of intensive land use pose serious challenges to Arctic biodiversity.

Pollution from oil spills at sites of oil and gas development and from oil transport is a serious local threat particularly in coastal and marine ecosystems. A major oil spill in ice-filled waters would be disastrous to marine mammals, birds and other biota, because containing and cleaning up oil spills in broken ice is very difficult, particularly under problematic weather, light and ice conditions.

Many Arctic species spend much of the year outside the Arctic; e.g., Arctic waterbirds are highly dependent on a network of staging and wintering areas in wetlands in many parts of the world. These habitats are experiencing severe development pressure and in some cases overharvest, particularly in East Asia, but also in other parts of the world.

At present, few human-introduced alien species, including pathogens and disease vectors, are spreading unchecked and putting Arctic species under pressure. However, the pathways by which invasive species spread, such as shipping and resource development corridors, are rapidly expanding and may dramatically increase the rate of introduction. Many potentially disruptive alien species are also found in sub-Arctic regions and will probably spread northwards along with other species in a warming climate.

There is an enormous deficit in our knowledge of species richness in many groups of organisms, and monitoring in the Arctic is lagging far behind that in other regions of the world. Even for the better-studied Arctic species and ecosystems we have insufficient data on trends in distribution, abundance and phenology and too few natural history specimens for retrospective and baseline analyses. In addition, the functioning of Arctic ecosystems is insufficiently understood making it difficult to implement ecosystem-based monitoring and management. Hence, there is a critical lack of essential data and scientific understanding necessary to improve the planning and implementation of biodiversity conservation or monitoring strategies in the Arctic.

The multitude of changes in Arctic biodiversity – driven by climate and other anthropogenic stressors – will have profound effects on the living conditions of peoples in the Arctic, including the diversity of indigenous languages, cultures and the range of services that humans derive from Arctic biodiversity. While ecosystem changes already underway may provide new opportunities, they will also lead to loss and, at a minimum, require considerable adaptation and adjustment.

Suggested conservation and research priorities

Taken together, the most serious pressure on Arctic biodiversity in the past was overharvest, whereas the most serious present and future pressure is climate change. Most overharvest problems are relatively easy to address and many have been alleviated, while others such as heavily depleted seabird populations in Greenland remain to be solved. An effective response to climate change, on the other hand, seems at the moment to be outside the capacity of human societies. This gives gloomy prospects for ecosystems and species in the Arctic and elsewhere.

The erosion of global biodiversity is not the only global crisis of our time. It has been argued that changes in climate, biodiversity, infectious diseases, energy supplies, food, freshwater, human population and the global financial system are part of one contemporary global challenge, and that they need to be addressed as such (Steffen et al. 2011). If this is not done in an integrated and sustainable way, efforts to address one challenge may very well worsen one or more of the others. Also, global markets seek the exploitation of Arctic resources, resulting in greater interconnections between the Arctic and the rest of the world.

To safeguard Arctic biodiversity and the services we receive from it, three spatial levels of stressors must be addressed: (1) global and circumpolar stressors like climate change and long-range transport of contaminants by air and sea water, (2) regional stressors like overexploitation, expanding boreal and invasive alien species, and (3) more ‘localized’ stressors like mineral extraction, oil development and ship accidents. Here, the 35 lead authors of the ABA provide a set of suggested priorities for actions defined according to these three geographical scales.

The alleviation of global and circumpolar stressors with effects on species and ecosystems generally requires international cooperation for effective management.[1]

  •             Conserving the unique Arctic biome will require all possible efforts to curb human-induced global warming. 
  •    Global and regional actions to reduce both legacy and new environmental contaminants entering Arctic ecosystems should continue and, where necessary, intensify under existing international conventions.
  • Effective conservation of Arctic biodiversity needs to be global in scope and requires significant international cooperation to succeed. Any action to solve one global challenge should take others into account so that measures to solve one stressor do not worsen others.

Since many fish, birds and mammals move between different regional and national jurisdictions, management can benefit from regional cooperation.

  •        To maximize the resilience of Arctic ecosystems, effective protection of large representative tracts of habitat, including hotspots for unique Arctic biodiversity and northern ‘refugia’ areas, is of paramount importance. This includes Arctic islands together with mountainous areas and multi-year sea ice refuges, where unique marine Arctic biodiversity has the best chance of surviving climate change.
  • A major oil spill in ice filled Arctic waters would be detrimental to biodiversity and very difficult to clean up, particularly under problematic weather, light and ice conditions. However, if oil development is undertaken, a precautionary approach adhering to regulations and guidelines specific to the Arctic and based on the best available science would reduce risks. This approach should include avoiding development activities in the most sensitive areas.
  •  Focused harvest management of fish, birds and mammals is needed on those species and populations that have experienced major declines for which harvest is one of the causal factors.
  • To protect staging and wintering wetland areas for Arctic waterbird migrants from both habitat loss and overharvest, concerted international efforts should be conducted to conserve a network of key areas and address overharvest. This is especially critical in the East Asian flyway.
  • To effectively protect Arctic native species and ecosystems from devastating effects of invasive alien species, appropriate efforts are needed to prevent their establishment in the Arctic. Early detection and preventative actions should focus on areas of human activity and disturbance.

Although many aspects of local stressors can be managed by national or local authorities, bilateral or international cooperation on common standards may be needed in some cases and can be beneficial in most.

·    To protect Arctic biodiversity from severe impacts from local development and industrial activity, biodiversity conservation needs to be a cornerstone of natural resource management and land and marine planning.

·   Improved monitoring and research is needed to survey, map, monitor and understand Arctic biodiversity including integrated, repeated data collection following recommended standardized protocols and priorities, and involving Arctic citizens in the survey and monitoring, if we are to move ahead with science-informed decisions in the Arctic. Support for national and international coordinated efforts such as the CBMP and the BAR Code of Life is important to fill critical data gaps on population abundance and trends for many Arctic terrestrial and marine species as well as on changes in the functioning and services of Arctic ecosystems.

In order to effectively respond to these suggested priorities, international cooperation and direct action at the national level are required. Many such efforts are already underway, and the Arctic countries possess strong legal frameworks that can form the basis for effective conservation of Arctic biodiversity. Nevertheless, such agreements and initiatives are of little use if not backed up by secure long-term funding, enforcement and popular support.

The ABA has succeeded in identifying what needs to be done. Now comes the harder step of actually doing it. At the Arctic Council Ministerial in May 2013 the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic states instructed the Senior Arctic Officials of the Arctic Council that a plan to support and implement the ABA recommendations be developed. This implementation plan is scheduled for release in April 2014.

To build upon the work of the ABA, CAFF is organizing the first Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Trondheim, Norway on November 25-27, 2014.  The Congress will promote the conservation and sustainable use of Arctic biodiversity through dialogue among scientists, policy-makers, government officials, industry, civil society and indigenous peoples.


Hans Meltofte, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark

Henry Huntington, Huntington Consulting, Alaska, USA 

Tom Barry, Conseration of Arctic Flora and Fauna International Secretariat, Iceland 


[1]See e.g. Johnsen et al. (2010) for overview and discussion of international agreements relevant to the Arctic, their coverage among Arctic states and their efficiency.



Tracking, Understanding and Addressing Rapid Change in Arctic Human Development


Demography of  Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic (Map: ArcticPortal, Adopted from map by W.K. Dallmann published in Arctic Human Development Report (2004)  and map made by Hugo Ahlenius for UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2010)Demography of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic (Map: ArcticPortal, Adopted from map by W.K. Dallmann published in Arctic Human Development Report (2004) and map made by Hugo Ahlenius for UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2010)


Arctic societies face rapid change: a changing climate and environment, increasing forces of globalization, political, cultural and economic transformations.  Moreover, the rate and magnitude of social change is increasing. Effected by multiple stressors, change offers both opportunities and challenges.  Over the past many decades we have witnessed an amazing dynamism and resilience of Arctic cultures to adapt to changes to their social and physical environments, to adopt from others, and to innovate.  Behold the swift and selective incorporation of exogenous technologies into subsistence livelihoods, as well as the combining of these ‘traditional’ activities with waged jobs to realize lives rich on multiple fronts. Witness the fusion of local and global art forms: for instance, the creation of a distinct Greenlandic rap culture or innovations in Inuit print-making. Contemplate the complexity of new identity formations in the Arctic, as newcomers arrive, settle, interact and sometimes intermarry with local populations, and become Northerners in their own and their neighbors’ minds. Consider developments in distance education and culturally appropriate curricula that increasing numbers of northerners can enjoy.  And innovations in resource management strategies that increasingly incorporate local voices and ways of knowing

We also see the demographic hollowing-out of smaller and more remote settlements, and their viability being challenged, as the Arctic population rapidly urbanizes. We observe increasing gender imbalances, as women leave and Arctic regions in general and smaller settlements in particular, in greater numbers than do men.  We see increased interest in resource extraction by multinationals with headquarters located far from the Arctic, and with a mandate to maximize shareholder profits that often overshadows considerations of local needs and desires. We grieve the substantially higher rates of violence that many Arctic communities suffer.

In brief, we see Arctic societies and cultures are undergoing vast and rapid transformation, with both positive and negative facets. But how can we track and understand these transformations? In this article I offer a brief overview of two key initiatives of the past decade that have aimed at improving our understanding of human development in the Arctic: the Arctic Human Development Reports, the first published a decade ago, and the second forthcoming shortly, and the Arctic Social Indicators Reports (I and II), completed in the intervening ten years. 

The Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR)

At the turn of the millennium, an assessment of the state of human welfare in the Arctic was called for, including the identification of major challenges Arctic residents faced in achieving well-being: physical, cultural, mental, spiritual, etc. (ASI, 2010).  This gave birth to the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR), which the Arctic Council identified as a ‘priority project’ in its Inari Declaration of 2002.  Published in 2004, AHDR provided the first assessment of human development on a circumpolar scale, describing the components – demographic, cultural, economic, legal, political, human health and well-being, education - of human development across the North.  The report also dealt with key northern issues that cut across the above domains, such as resource governance, community viability, and gender issues.  In short, the report provided a baseline of Arctic human development at the beginning of the 21st century. It was tasked, further, to “identify and provide policy relevant insights on key issues, themes, and trends that are of high importance and immediate concern to individual livelihoods and the welfare of people and societies in the circumpolar region.” (AHDR 2004:18).

While the AHDR identified and described key components of human development in the North at the beginning of the 21st century, how could changes and trends related to these domains be tracked? One of the AHDR’s recommendations to develop a system for monitoring Arctic human development, in order to enable a longitudinal view that could better inform policy makers and advisors. It suggested the desirability of “a small number of tractable indicators to be used in tracking changes in key elements of human development in the Arctic over time” (AHDR 2004:242).  This gave rise to the Arctic Social Indicators project (2006-2014), the goal of which was to identify, test and then recommend such indicators for use.

Arctic Social Indicators (ASI)

The old adage about ‘what you can’t measure, you can’t understand, control and improve’ undeniably has its limitations. Yet indicators are useful tools to monitor change, understand trends and consider ways in which to encourage those seen as positive and to impede, alter or ameliorate those seen as negative. (Of course we need to note that what is a positive or negative trend is often contested.)

The first AHDR report argued for a distinct set of indicators appropriate to Circumpolar World. Such a set should be limited – broad enough to be meaningful, while few in number to keep things manageable.  Use of currently available and regularly collected statistics or other information would ensure affordable tracking of trends. Of course the trade-offs inherent in using such simplified, proxy measures for tracking something as complex as human development are recognized. Yet more refined metrics would require high costs in terms of both time and financial resources to collect, and thus would unlikely be updated regularly, compromising the easy identification – and addressing – of developing trends.

In recent decades, the UN Human Development Index (UN HDI) has been used to monitor human development across the globe.  However, for the specific Arctic context, the UN HDI indicators needed both to be adapted and supplemented. While generally ranking lower than their southern counterparts in Arctic nations, when measured by the common indicators, Arctic residents throughout most of the north still assert a strong sense of well-being (SLiCA). Of course longevity, material well-being and education are important. But Arctic residents also recurrently stressed other aspects of well-being. Control over one’s fate is important: Arctic residents recurrently express concern over their ability to be in charge of their own destiny, when decisions – political, economic, social – are being made in places far from their communities and homelands.  Many value a robust cultural life, and feel its contribution to their well-being as important as material wealth. And spending time ‘on the land’, including while harvesting country foods, is as valued by many. These attributes of northern life are common components of Northerners’ definition of well-being.  Both indigenous and non-indigenous Northerners have expressed these values - control over one’s destiny, having a viable local culture, and interacting with the natural world (ASI, 2010).

Thus the ASI project developed Circumpolar-specific indicators for six domains of human development (ASI 2010). It adapted the three measured by the UN HDI to the Arctic: rather than life-expectancy, infant mortality and net-migration are proposed; knowledge and education is measured through post-secondary completion rates (given that all Arctic countries have a high rate of literacy and educational achievement), and material well-being is measured through per capita household income. Indicators for the three additional domains were identified: language retention as a proxy for cultural vitality; consumption or harvest of ‘country food’ for closeness to nature, and for fate control an index that combines measures of political control, control over land, economic control and control over knowledge construction.  Proxies all, but these quantitative indictors allow relatively easy tracking of changes. The chosen indicators were then trialed by applying them to several regions of the North (ASI-II, 2014).

The development of Arctic social indicators can be seen as part of a broader initiative to provide measurements of many aspects of change in the Arctic – information that meets both scientific and societal needs. Initial efforts in this direction focused on measures of change in physical features (permafrost, biodiversity, pollutants). Social indicators, while challenging to develop and with perhaps much greater limitations than physical ones, are increasingly acknowledged as critical to understanding and thus beginning to address key transformations in the Arctic.

The Second Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR-II)

While ASIs offer an approach to tracking human development in the Arctic, a regular update of the AHDR seems a useful endeavor. ADHR-II as the first of what will likely be decadal reports. Endorsed by the Arctic Council in November 2011, it is produced under the auspices of the SDWG, it will be published later this year (2014).

ADHR-II’s subtitle, Regional Processes and Global Linkages, highlights how Arctic transformation must be situated in the context of global change, including both climate change and other forms of change.  Focusing on developments since the first report, and drawing on the extensive research efforts of the International Polar Year, AHDR-II will enable comparisons of cultural, economic, political, and social conditions with similar conditions in other parts of the eight Arctic countries and in the world at large, over the course of the first decade of this millennium.

A sample of the trends which AHDR-II identifies are noted here as ‘teasers’. Following the introduction the second chapter, covering demographic trends, emphasizes especially the continued yet shifting role migration plays in the composition of the Arctic population, as new areas contribute migrants. Chapter 3, Cultures and Identities, discusses the complexity and dynamism of Arctic identity formation in the 21st century. The chapter on Economic Systems stresses continuity as characterizing economic trends over the past decade, but notes the increase in institutional relationships between local residents and exogenous resource developers that increase local economic benefits of resource extraction.  In terms of resource governance, such innovations are explored further in Chapter 7. A chapter Political Systems and Geopolitics notes the pressure from non-Arctic states in defining Arctic futures, and one on Legal Systems emphasizes the continued cooperation of Arctic states in the region, contrary to media accounts postulating escalating conflict. Determinants of well-being such as food security, aging, sexual harassment and discrimination are touched on in a chapter on Health and Well-being. The chapter on Education offers a new section on human capital, including creative capital, in the Arctic.  To complement these ‘domain’ chapters, AHDR-II provides two cross cutting, complementary chapters focusing on the imbricated processes of transformation at different scales: one examines globalization, the other community viability.  Stay tuned!

As with the first AHDR, AHDR-II will provide valuable information to those engaged in policy making, as well as for the public’s education.  It is hoped that the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) will utilize it in priority-setting exercises.  We intend that the AHDR-II, in documenting innovative policies and institutions developed in specific areas of the Arctic to address challenges to various facets of human development, will offer lessons for other parts of the Artic and beyond.  Tracking and understanding human development in the Arctic are important steps to informed - and hopefully compassionate - policy choices that will contribute to direct change toward increasing the well-being of the Arctic’s residents.

Gail Fondahl is President of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association.


 AHDR 2004, Arctic Human Development Report. N. EInarsson, J. Nymand Larsen, A. Nilsson and O.R. Young (eds.). Akureyri: Stefansson Arctic Institute

ASI 2010. Arctic Social Indicators – a Follow-up to the Arctic Human Development Report , J. Nymand Larsen,, P. Schweitzer, and G. Fondahl (eds.). Copenhagen: Arctic Council of Ministers.

ASI 2014. Arctic Social Indicators II: Implementation. J. Nymand Larsen, P. Schweitzer, and A. Petrov (eds.) Copenhagen: Arctic Council of Ministers.



Online features on the project website are an online series of commentary articles discussing a variety of issues facing the Arctic today with the aim at engaging policy makers, stakeholders and the general public on Arctic issues in different countries. It is a venue for public interaction and communication between the public, scientific researchers, policy makers and stakeholders through online comments in order to enhance the transfer of knowledge into action.

The features are written by a broad selection of authors, including leaders, experts and locals in the Arctic community.

Each feature focuses on one of the different trends chosen for impact assessment in the methodology report from Work Package 2 of the project: Climate and environmental changes in the Arctic; Increase in maritime transport; Increase in mining and exploitation of hydrocarbons; Changing nature of Arctic fisheries; Turbulent modernization of Arctic societies and cultures; Increasing research in the Arctic


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