What is the key to sustainable and responsible development of the Arctic region’s resources? And can the industry operate responsibly with minimum risk?

Magdalena Muir

Arctic Institute of North America, Aarhus University, Johns Hopkins University, and Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC)

Role and engagement of civil society in the sustainable and responsible development of the Arctic’s renewable and non-renewable resources

The circum-Arctic region is an area of great interest and concern to the global pubic, which has greatly benefited the region for issues like climate change and transboundary contamination. The circum-Arctic region has many important renewable and non-renewable resources that need to be developed and used appropriately for the support of local peoples and communities, and for the benefit of Arctic countries. In discussing the development of Arctic energy and mineral resources, the very significant value of the Arctic’s renewable resources for subsistence uses by local communities, national and regional fisheries, renewable energy, and land and ship-based sustainable tourism is often overlooked. From a global perspective, these renewable resources may be the most important resources of the Arctic, and are also its most sustainable resources.

Resource development in one Arctic country can positively and adversely affect the resources and interests of adjacent countries and shared Arctic seas and oceans. Air and ship-based support and transport of these resources provide opportunities for regional economic development, but also give rise to significant risks of accidents and spills. For example, the gas tanker. Ob River, left Norway in November carrying a load of liquified natural gas (LNG), and is sailing north of Russian through the Arctic, arriving in Japan in early December. Changing climate conditions and a volatile gas market make this particularly Arctic journey profitable, but what are the risks associated with more marine journeys and how can they be best addressed?

The Arctic Council and national governments have important roles in ensuring international cooperation and for developing regional and national best practices and policy and regulatory frameworks for sustainable development of Arctic resources. There is also a very important role for civil society – including academic and research institutions and non-governmental organizations  – in supporting cooperation and in the development, implementation and independent monitoring and review of these best practices, policies and regulations. Civil society organizations have valid knowledge, research and information to contribute, may provide a more objective perspective, and also may be more trusted and viewed as more trustworthy than governments and industry.

Academic and research institutions and non-governmental organizations can also facilitate public discussion and input, and build public understanding and social acceptance for the sustainable development of the Arctic resources.  In the modern interconnected world, it is impossible to overestimate the value of public understanding and social acceptance. As recent events in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere  illustrate, public understanding and social acceptance for energy and mining projects and their related infrastructure and support is both very important and very fragile. Academic institutions and environmental non-governmental organizations – in cooperation with the Arctic Council, European and national governments and industry associations like the World Ocean Council – can facilitate broad societal dialogue on sustainable and responsible development of Arctic resources that engages all peoples within and external to the Arctic.

Civil society can support this societal dialogue using the innovative media and technologies that it is currently developing, such as big data analytics, scenarios development approaches, games theory, interactive web-based information platforms, and geographical information systems (GIS) applications. As the amount of Arctic data and information increases, how Arctic data is analyzed and informs and supports decision making becomes increasingly important. Scenarios are stories that describe a possible future, and building and using scenarios allows an exploration what the future may look like, and preparation for change. Games theory is the study of strategic decision making, and games provide alternative means of sharing information and knowledge and participating in decision making. Interactive web-based platforms and GIS applications build upon social media, and can support citizen participation, science and inputs in Arctic decision making.

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