Future Arctic: More Mining, More Shipping and More Tourists – by Benjamin Hulac and Climate Wire (Scientific American – March 13, 2015)


As the Arctic thaws, northern nations dream of a new economy

ROVANIEMI, Finland—In one of this nation’s northernmost cities and at the close of a winter that citizens here have called unusually mild, foreign ambassadors spoke of their nations’ hope to do business in the Arctic, Finnish spokesmen outlined their plans to attract international money, and business owners burnished their cases for investment in the polar north.

“Nordic lights is a good example of business actually nowadays,” Juha Mäkimattila, the chairman of the Lapland Chamber of Conference, said at a dinner for foreign guests Wednesday, with a slideshow of aurora borealis photographs thrumming behind him. “We can actually make money on the northern lights from people from new parts of the world.”

At the two-day Arctic Business Forum, hosted by the Lapland chamber, delegations from more than 20 nations, most which do not border the Arctic Circle, said the tone reflected a robust appetite for economic expansion, natural resource extraction and an optimistic prognosis for strong tourist spending.

Meeting in a city that advertises itself on its website as “The Official Hometown of Santa Claus,” most speakers alluded to environmental management but didn’t get into the problems of melting permafrost or the additional threats of future oil spills or the loss of species.

On both days, the tone was bullish. Diplomats from global trade and economic powers signaled their governments’ growing interest in Arctic transit and heavy shipping in the Arctic Ocean.

Business sugarplums

Dorothee Janetzke-Wenzel, the German ambassador, said global coordination on trade, international politics and environmental maintenance is important for the Arctic’s future.

She said Germany views the Arctic Eight—the five Nordic nations plus Canada, Russia and the United States—as the “main guardians of Arctic policy,” and Arctic nations should create a “disaster response mechanism”—an international plan to respond to oil spills and other crises.

“What happens in the Arctic affects far more than the Arctic,” she said. “We can work on the assumption that there will be new opportunities.” But, she added, “there are also new challenges as the Arctic is growing in strategic and geopolitical challenges.”

Pacing on a stage behind flags of several European countries (Italy, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Great Britain and others), East and Southeast Asian nations (China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam), and all eight Arctic nations and Australia, the Dutch ambassador said most of the Netherlands’ business in the Arctic is coastal.

“We are not doing enough business here,” said Ambassador Henk Swarttouw of inland Finland. “The Arctic is a very important strategy area and only becoming more so.”

Due to climate change, he said, the Northwest Passage will become easier to navigate.

“There are also of course opportunities [that are] going to be opened by climate change,” he said, adding that “there are more opportunities there than threats” regarding global climate impacts to the Arctic.

“We are working with our large companies,” said Swarttouw, singling out Royal Dutch Shell PLC, “to increase fossil fuel extraction in the Arctic” in an environmentally friendly way.

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