Finland will put climate first in its next Arctic policy

The climate focus comes after comments by the prime minister describing fossil fuel as “bad business.”

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The policy revision began with stakeholder meetings in Helsinki and Rovaniemi (Lauri Heikkinen / Prime Minister’s Office)

Finland has said that the next iteration of its Arctic policy will take a long-term perspective on the region by pushing for economic development that does not capitalize on the effects of global warming, strengthening the Arctic Council and other institutions and linking its strategy for the region to its national goal of becoming carbon-free by 2035.

“In line with the government program, all activity in the Arctic region must be tied in with the carrying capacity of the environment, the need to protect the climate, the importance of sustainable development principles, and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” a government statement issued last week said.

Finland’s current policy was drawn up in 2013 and updated three years later. The process of drawing up a new version, which is expected to take about a year, officially began last month during events in Helsinki and Rovaniemi titled Globally Influential Finland in the Arctic Region.

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A glimpse of the direction the strategy is likely to take was seen earlier this year, when Prime Minister Sanna Marin laid out her views on the effects of global warming in the region during a session of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where she talked up the Arctic Council and described any prosperity gains from oil drilling as short sighted.

“The Arctic issue is so much more than a geopolitical issue or an issue of geopolitical contest or competition or tension. It’s about climate, it’s about our future, and that’s why we need to tackle climate change if want to save the Arctic and also tackle the risks [related to] the geopolitical issues,” she said.

Those involved in the process expect the outcome will be a “narrow” but “far-reaching” policy that pushes cooperation among the Arctic countries, a stronger role for the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council and greater EU involvement in the region.

Finland’s revision is taking place as the four other Nordic countries — Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland — are preparing new Arctic strategies of their own, and all five, say diplomats, have spoken with each other “where relevant and appropriate” — particularly in areas like security policy — in an effort to iron out major differences amongst the policies.

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Doing so, according to one official close to the process, helps Finland further its aim of promoting the stability of the region and keeping it free from military tensions.

“It would be wise if we had common guidelines, or a common statement,” the official said.

Linking the Arctic policy to issues like climate and the EU that have high priority for Helsinki suggests that the region is major consideration for the Marin government, according to Markku Heikkilä, a journalist and author who is now responsible for science communication at the University of Lapland.

“The Arctic isn’t something that is discussed on a daily basis,” he said. “But it is obvious they are putting a lot of thought into this.”