New planning tool to mitigate land use conflicts in Sápmi

October 10, 2022

Press release from Luleå University of Technology

The transition to fossil-free energy production and the UN’s sustainability goals require the extraction of minerals that cause intractable land conflicts, not least in Swedish Sápmi where the Sámi engage in reindeer husbandry. A new interdisciplinary project explores new strategic planning instruments that can manage land use conflicts in a way that is perceived as fair and legitimate.

“This project aims to create tools that can identify and balance conflicts of interest even before it becomes relevant with a possible permit process. We focus here on mining establishments in the north, but the methods and results can just as easily be applied to the extraction of other natural resources in many parts of Sweden, says Christina Allard, project manager and Assistant Professor of Law at Luleå University of Technology.

The Swedish planning system has difficulty dealing with large-scale land conflicts and focuses primarily on the urban environment. Several of the metals needed for batteries, wind turbines and solar cells – for example copper, lithium and rare earth metals – are found in reindeer pastures and affect vast surroundings, far from urban areas.

“We want to develop instruments that can be used for strategic planning at landscape level where authorities, Sami villages, the mining industry and other stakeholders collaborate to identify more or less suitable areas for mining establishments”, says Christina Allard.

The Sami have special rights
The Sami as indigenous people and reindeer-herding Sami in particular have special rights that must be taken into account in planning and decision-making processes. The research group will therefore study good examples from New Zealand, Canada, Norway and Finland where planning instruments that take into account the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional land use are used in, among other things, mining establishments.

“The conditions for planning vary, of course, in different countries. It is not possible to copy another country’s planning instrument directly. The instrument must be adapted to the legal, political and cultural frameworks that are applicable in Sweden.”

By involving those who are actually affected by the decisions in the research process, the researchers hope to get a deeper picture of the conditions that set the framework for a Swedish planning instrument. The participatory research approach is also about exploring the actors’ understanding of what constitutes a fair process.

“Participation and inclusion of relevant actors in the entire planning process is a prerequisite for the process and the outcome to be perceived as legitimate. But it is also a prerequisite for the research project itself and its results to be perceived as legitimate.”

The researchers will collaborate with, among other things, Region Norrbotten and Västerbotten and the county administrations in these counties, SGU, the Sami Parliament, the Swedish Sami Confederation, Svemin (Swedish business association for mines, minerals and metal producers) and several Sami villages in Norrbotten and Västerbotten.

The project is interdisciplinary with researchers from several universities and other research institutes:

Luleå University of Technology
– Christina Allard, Assistant Professor of Law
– Karin Beland Lindahl, Assistant Professor of Political Science
– Tobias Bauer, Assistant Professor of Ore Geology

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
– Ingrid Sarlöv-Herlin (SLU, Alnarp), Professor of Landscape Planning with a focus on man’s relationship to his landscape and with experience of mapping landscapes in collaboration with the people who live there.
– Per Sandström (SLU, Umeå), PhD in Biology,researcher in ecology and expert on reindeer husbandry and land use issues and how GIS (geographical information systems) can be used to get a picture of how competing land use affects reindeer husbandry and the ecosystem.

Uppsala University (Campus Gotland)
– Tom Mels Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in cultural geography with a focus on social planning and justice issues as well as historical natural resource conflicts

Ájtte – Swedish mountain and Sami museum
– Kajsa Kuoljok PhD and researcher in ethnology and expert in traditional Sami knowledge on how the landscape is used in reindeer husbandry and how digital tools can be used as a complement to that knowledge.

Originally published on 6 October.

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