written by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow
- What is the Arctic?
The “Arctic” is conventionally defined as the land and marine areas extending north of the Arctic Circle (66°32’N), north of 62°N in Asia, and 60°N in North America. It also includes the marine areas north of the Aleutian chain, Hudson Bay, and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean, including the Labrador Sea. This definition was adopted in the framework of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) of the Arctic Council. The waters within the “AMAP area” are defined as the “marine Arctic”, while the Arctic Ocean is defined as the waters north of the Bering Strait and north of Greenland and Svalbard, excluding the Barents Sea. This is not the Arctic’s only existing definition. For example, the borders of the Arctic may be traced along the Arctic Circle (the parallel is 66.5° North of the Equator). Taking average temperatures as a measure, the Arctic can also be defined according to the parameters of 10 °C July isotherm. Finally, the tree line vegetation method traces the Arctic border according to the presence of tree vegetation.
Beyond all these definitions, the Arctic is a truly unique place in the world. Economics, politics, science, and social issues overlap forming a challenging and interesting pattern of interactions. To that end, the Arctic 101 series attempts to demonstrate how the Arctic works and how young professionals can act about it.
- The Arctic as home
The Arctic is home to an estimated 4 million humans, of which around 10% is thought to be indigenous. These include the Inuit of Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, the Aleut, North American natives, and Sámi people. These populations can only be found only in the Arctic and are very different from other communities on Earth for social, political, economic and cultural reasons. They are referred to as “peoples” in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The indigenous peoples define the Arctic as their ancestral home. Their unique experience and knowledge of the Arctic are the foundation of their life in the circumpolar world, in harmony with surrounding ecosystems and Arctic wildlife.
Indigenous organizations representing the Arctic indigenous communities mentioned above have been awarded the status of Permanent Participants (PPs) within the Arctic Council. This is a unique status since it entails participation in all activities of the Council, including Working Groups. At present, six Indigenous Peoples Organizations have been appointed PPs. Inuit (Inuit Circumpolar Council, ICC), Saami (Saami Council, SC), and Russian indigenous peoples (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, RAIPON), Aleut International Association (AIA) were joined by the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC) and the Gwich’in Council International (GGI). The Indigenous Peoples Secretariat works to facilitate cooperation between the PPs and the Arctic States.
Indigenous peoples have a long history and have shown themselves to be resilient to change. However, climate change now poses new challenges to their livelihoods, including environmental and social aspects. Their indigenous lifestyle and economy are closely tied to the environment and, as a result, they are changing with it. Influencing these changes and making adaptation possible are the goals of indigenous communities and should priorities of the international society as a whole. Arctic 101 will explore both the opportunities and challenges deriving from climate change and how adaptation should always be coupled with the preservation of traditional knowledge.
- The Arctic as an ecosystem
The Arctic is more exposed to climate change than most other places in the world as a result of its complex ecological systems. Arctic flora and fauna depends entirely upon the presence of permafrost: over the course of millions of years, Arctic plant species have adapted to life within just a thin layer of soil. Meanwhile, snowy conditions are vital for animal species like musk oxen, reindeers, foxes, wolverines, and wolves, especially in terms of enabling their access to food. The life of the Arctic marine ecosystem is as fragile as the terrestrial one. Fish stocks are dependent on water temperature and mammals, like seals for example, need ice for breeding and molting.
- The Arctic as a promising market
Many challenges arising from climate change are connected to prospects of increased exploitation of the Arctic’s natural resources.
In 2008, the US Geological Survey stated that the area north of the Arctic Circle contains around 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil. The total undiscovered conventional oil and gas resources are estimated to amount to 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. About 84% of these resources are located offshore and gas is largely concentrated in Russia. Oil resources are mostly located offshore and are less consistently distributed.
At present, the Arctic continental shelf is coming under increased scrutiny. Until now, harsh weather conditions, remoteness, abundance of low-cost petroleum and new shale gas opportunities have made the Arctic less attractive. Still, the International Energy Agency estimated that investments in the oil and gas sector are expected to total $20.000 USD between 2012-2038.
Navigation is another important aspect of Arctic economic activities. The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group of the Arctic Council estimates the volume of vessels crossing the Arctic waters. The latest AMSA Progress Report shows the steady expansion of shipping routes. Around 6,000 active vessels were reported in the Arctic according to the 2009 AMSA Report. Shipping in the Arctic largely depends on seasonal weather conditions. With the summer ice expected to remain contracted for longer periods, traffic is expected to increase as costs of passing are reduced.
Apart from tourism, the transportation of minerals drives the intensification in vessel traffic in Arctic waters. The mining industry is a core sector for Arctic development. In 2010, Alaskan Arctic mines generated $1.3 billion or 36.8% of Alaska’s foreign exports. Mining also accounts for half of the income of the Northwest Territories.
Fisheries in the Arctic represent only about 5% of the global catch but they are a very important resource of income in the Arctic, especially for the Arctic people. According to recent estimates, fisheries represent 90% of the export earnings of Greenland, 33% of Iceland 6% of Norway and less than 1% of those of Russia.
These figures suggest that the Arctic’s untapped resource potential is at the core of the region’s future, including that of its native peoples. The main challenge concerning resource extraction, mining, shipping and navigation is how to combine economic development with sustainability. But is the Arctic exploitation environmentally responsible? Or, even more, is it always economically viable? Arctic 101 will try to answer to these questions.
- The Arctic as a place for international cooperation
The Arctic is viewed as the excellent example of international cooperation at the global level. To that end, Arctic 101 will explore the reasons behind this success. For now, we introduce two major instruments that make this cooperation possible and fruitful.
In 1996, the Ottawa Declaration (1996) led to the institutionalization of the Arctic Council and thereby the cooperation between Arctic countries and external actors. The Arctic Council is the main high-level forum of the Arctic region. It was established with the aim of promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states, involving the indigenous people on matters of sustainable development and environmental protection. The Arctic states committed to strengthen their cooperation on all issues related to the Arctic, the only exception being military security, which is out of the Council’s mandate of cooperation.
The notion of Arctic States commonly refers to the Arctic Council States, or “Arctic Eight”. These are Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, the Russian Federation, the USA (via Alaska), Finland Sweden and Iceland. Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are Arctic states but not coastal states. The Arctic coastal states to the Arctic Ocean form the most important subgroup of the Arctic Council and are usually referred to as the “Arctic Five”. Pursuant to the international law of the sea, these states have sovereign rights and jurisdiction over their continental shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) with regards to living and non-living resources thereof.
Broadly speaking, rights and duties of Arctic and non-Arctic States are defined by international law. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the cornerstone of international maritime law at the global level, together with its implementation agreements, the Part IX Deep-Sea Bed Mining Agreement (1994) and the Fish Stock Agreement (1995). UNCLOS offers a framework in which territorial boundaries at sea, rights to enforce the law and exploit resources can be defined and regulated. It also sets the boundaries of territorial sovereignty from the coast to the high seas and defines the rights of the costal nations accordingly.
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 Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program (AMAP), 1997. Arctic Pollution Issues: A State of the Arctic Environment Report. Oslo: AMAP; Molenaar, E.J., et al., (2014). Introduction to the Arctic. In Tedsen, E., Cavalieri, S., Kraemer, R. A., eds., 2014. Arctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation. Berlin: Springer.
 Molenaar, E.J., 2012. Current and Prospective Roles of the Arctic Council System within the Context of the Law of the Sea. In Axworthy, T. S., Koivurova, T., and Hanasat, W., 2012. The Arctic Council, its place in the future of Arctic governance. Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. Pp. 141-142.
 Adam, S., Koivurova, T., Gremsperger, A., and Niemi, H., 2014. Arctic Indigenous Peoples and the Challenge of Climate Change. In Tedsen, E., Cavalieri, S., Kraemer, R. A., eds., 2014. Arctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation. Berlin: Springer.
 United Nations, 2007. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
 Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), 2009. A Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignity in the Arctic. Retrieved July 1st , 2014 from http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/sovereignty-in-the-arctic.html
 The Arctic Council, established in 1996, is the main high level forum for the Arctic region (see section below).
 Adam, S., Koivurova, T., Gremsperger, A., and Niemi, H., 2014. Arctic Indigenous Peoples and the Challenge of Climate Change. In Tedsen, E., Cavalieri, S., Kraemer, R. A., eds., 2014. Arctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation. Berlin: Springer. P. 76.
 Arctic Council, 2012. History of the Arctic Council Permanent Participants. Official Website. Retrieved July 1st, 2014 from http://www.arctic-council.org/index.php/en/environment-and-people/arctic-peoples/indigenous-peoples-today/568-history-of-the-arctic-council-permanent-participants
 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Fact Sheet, Effects of climate change on Arctic vegetation. Oslo: WWF.
 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Fact Sheet, Effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystem. Oslo: WWF.
 U.S. Geological Survey, 2008. USGS Fact Sheet 2008.
 Gautier, L. D. et al., 2009. Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic. Science. Vol. 324 (5931), p. 1175-1179.
Tomasik, M., 2014. Future trajectories for the Arctic investments. Arctic Portal. Retrieved July 1st, 2014 from http://arcticportal.org/features/775-arcticinvestmentfeature
 Arctic Council, 2009. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report; Arctic Council, 2013. Status on Implementation of the AMSA 2009 Report Recommendations.
 Arctic Council, 2009. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report; Lloyd’s, 2012. Arctic opening: opportunity and risk in the High North, Arctic Risk Report.
 Russian International Affairs Council, 2012. The Arctic: Proposal for the International Cooperation Roadmap. Vol. 7, p. 22.
 Lloyd’s, 2012. Arctic opening: opportunity and risk in the High North, Arctic Risk Report. Pp. 26.
 Ibid., p. 27.
 Arctic Council, 1996. Ottawa Declaration. Article 1.
 United Nations, 1982. Convention on the Law on the Law of the Sea.
 United Nations, 1982. Convention on the Law of the Sea; Molenaar, E.J., et al., 2014. Introduction to the Arctic. In Tedsen, E., Cavalieri, S., Kraemer, R. A., eds., 2014. Arctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation. Berlin: Springer. P. 5.
 See for example Rynning, S., 2013. Arctic Security Order: Collective Security, Collective Defense, or Something New?. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Vol. 15(2), p. 4.