EU hesitation puts Arctic plans on ice

EPA/KIMMO BRANDT

Reindeers are tied up during the Reindeer Cup Championship Drives 2011 in Inari, Lapland, northern Finland. EU-member Finland will assume the two-year rotating chairmanship position of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum addressing sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic, in May 2017.

Nature vs. development, climate change on Lapland agenda


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BRUSSELS – The European Union needs to play an active role in the Arctic instead of simply observing the developments in the region, European Committee of Regions President Markku Markkula from Finland told New Europe.

EU-member Finland will assume the two-year rotating chairmanship position of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum addressing sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic, in May 2017. The transition in leadership will occur during the Council’s biennial ministerial meeting to be held in Fairbanks, Alaska. The US assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.

“We’ll go to the Arctic Circle in Lapland because Finland will be this spring the Arctic Council presidency country. We’re having our economy policy conference there in November. We want to see that from the EU prospective; how to convince the EU officials to take that much, much more seriously,” Markkula said in an interview, following a European Committee of the Regions plenary session at the Parliament in Brussels on February 8.

Rapporteur Pauliina Haijanen, who is also from Finland, presented the Union Policy for the Arctic at the plenary.

The eight-country Arctic Council comprises of the United States, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, along with 12 additional observer countries that include China and India. In addition, six organisations representing Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants are permanent participants.

“Why we are just kind of observing the developments instead of seeing the natural resources?” Markkula asked. “We need to protect the nature and take that dimension strongly. But we also need to be part of the business development there, especially if climate change goes on as it. I have my summer cottage a bit further to the north from that. The climate has changed already a lot,” he told New Europe.

In Dublin, 100 experts from 50 countries met this week to draft the outline of the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on climate change and related issues due out 2019. “Two, three years ago we had the warmest part in Europe in Lapland at the end of May,” Markkula said.

He noted that during its Arctic Council Presidency, Finland would push for utilising measuring systems from the European Space Agency, Copernicus and Galileo to monitor a whole spectrum of activities in the Arctic.

Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and the EU having total land area of 98,984 square kilometres and 181,815 inhabitants. Lapland aims at becoming the leading Arctic region in the sustainable utilisation of its vast natural resources, including energy.

Meanwhile, Haijanen told New Europe by phone from Finland on February 15 that the EU could play an active role in the Arctic. She said that during the Arctic Council two-year chairmanship in May, “We can highlight our role in the Arctic policy”.

She said climate change could also open opportunities for the development of the region. “The first point is defining the area so that it’s not just in the Polar Circle, but it’s important that we can make this area wider. The biggest challenge is sustainable socio-economic development. Natural resources are key aspect of economic growth. We have to increase prosperity in the Arctic region,” Haijanen said, adding that it is important to improve traffic and telecommunications throughout the region.

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