The European Commission is due to present its renewed Arctic policy later this year. This has been in the making since the previous Commission and expectations are high. The new policy will have to provide a more strategic take on the EU’s engagement in the region, all the while balancing geopolitical interests with climate and environmental issues.
The Arctic’s stability has been relatively well-preserved over the years, but is now increasingly impacted by growing international interest in the region. The activity of China and aggressive militarisation by Russia are changing the security landscape.
The prospect of tensions escalating to something more serious has to be acknowledged, but should not be overstated. Despite the current deterioration in the EU-Russia relations, successful cooperation on the Arctic is in the interest of both.
The substantial common interests include cross-border cooperation on environmental issues and maritime security. The new Arctic policy will have to outline how the EU will rise up to its geopolitical ambitions and address, in collaboration with Arctic states and others active in the region existing security issues in the region.
The EU’s previous Arctic policy, back in 2016, outlined climate change, sustainable development and international cooperation as main pillars. All remain highly relevant - climate change particularly - should remain as the key priority in the new policy.
The Arctic is, on average, warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has been increasingly affected by the dramatic impact of climate change and biodiversity degradation. Rising temperatures, changes in ice conditions, wildfires, rising sea levels and severe biodiversity losses are affecting the entire planet.
“Is it sufficient to simply promote the ‘greening’ of mining, oil drilling and the development of new sea routes, or should we refrain from them altogether? If you look at this question from the perspective of nature and our planet, the answer is simple”
Local adaptation strategies and the protection of the Arctic ecosystem cannot be addressed in isolation of the global framework of climate action or separately from the EU’s climate policies. After all, the emissions produced elsewhere in Europe and globally, are causing drastic changes in the Arctic environment, much more than anything that is happening in the Arctic itself.
The EU has found it difficult to balance the protection of the Arctic ecosystem and its interest in resources and business opportunities in the region. We therefore must ask ourselves: is it sufficient to simply promote the ‘greening’ of mining, oil drilling and the development of new sea routes, or should we refrain from them altogether? If you address this question from the perspective of nature and our planet, the answer is simple.
Whatever direction the EU takes with its new Arctic policy, it is important to remember that the Arctic is not an empty space, open for all interested stakeholders to come and compete over resources. It is inhabited by people, indigenous and others, who live and work their everyday lives in the Arctic. It is their hopes and wishes that must feature in our policymaking.
The EU claims it is strongly committed to engaging indigenous and other local communities in its policies and activities in the Arctic. However, currently feedback from these communities is not glowing; I was asked recently in an event discussing what ‘firsts’ the EU is still to witness? Well, the good and full representation of Europe’s only indigenous people in the EU’s decision-making processes is still to be seen.