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The Arctic is changing
by Mark Nuttall
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Towards an agenda for Arctic sustainable development
  The Arctic Council ( was established in 1996 with a mandate to take cooperation on Arctic affairs beyond the environment, with particular emphasis on sustainable development. The Council is to provide a high level forum for the Arctic states (Canada, the United States, Iceland, the Russian Federation, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway) to address environmental protection (especially in areas of pollution), sustainable economic development, subsistence activities, health, community development, tourism, and transport and communications. Indigenous peoples organisations were also ensured permanent participation.
  The objectives of the Arctic Council's working groups are to protect Arctic ecosystems (and here, humans are considered part of the ecosystem); to ensure the sustainable utilisation of renewable resources by local populations and indigenous peoples; to recognise and to incorporate the traditional and cultural needs, values and practises of indigenous peoples related to protection of the Arctic environment; to review regularly the state of the Arctic environment; to identify the causes and extent of pollution in the Arctic; and to reduce and eliminate pollution. This takes place through five programmes set up to deal with environmental problems, such as oil pollution, the dumping of radioactive waste, contamination of the environment by heavy metals, acidification and Arctic haze. These programmes are: the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP); Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME); Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR); Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF); and Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).
  The Arctic Council superseded the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) which was initiated in Rovaniemi, Finland in June 1991 when environmental ministers from the eight Arctic countries signed the Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment. Also referred to as the Rovaniemi process, the AEPS was a forum for the eight Arctic states to share information and to develop programmes and initiatives to deal with environmental problems such as Arctic pollution.
  The Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was formed in Alaska in 1977, in response to increased oil and gas exploration and development, and represents the Inuit of Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Since 1983 the organisation has had NGO status at the United Nations and also sees itself as being in the vanguard of indigenous rights generally, especially with regard to self-determination. The ICC criticised the AEPS for its initial narrow focus on conservation and emphasised a need to go beyond merely monitoring the state of the Arctic environment by including discussion of how to provide and maintain a sustainable economic base for Northern communities, which would move beyond the cycles of boom and bust that characterises much large-scale economic development. While the conservation of certain species such as whales and polar bears is important for indigenous peoples, science-based resource management systems often ignore indigenous perspectives and values. The designation of wildlife refuges and national parks to safeguard animals and the environment, for example, often restricts the rights of people to hunt, trap and fish in those areas, while international regulation has had an effect on subsistence whaling. The ICC position is that protection of the environment is a prerequisite for the sustainable development of Arctic resources.
  The ICC has pushed the issue of sustainable development because the small, remote, predominantly indigenous communities of the circumpolar north are mostly characterised by their precarious mixed economies, combining the informal sector of customary and traditional subsistence activities, which provide the primary sources of food for many households, with the formal sector of wage-earning possibilities and transfer payments. The informal sector is not always easy to measure or analyse, combining as it does hunting, trapping and fishing based on long-term, consistent patterns of use and seasonal variation, non-accumulation of capital, sharing of wild foods, the generational transmission of knowledge, and non-monetary exchange based on kinship groups and other networks of close social association. Subsistence activities do not only provide the nutritional means for survival, hunting and fishing are important for cultural identity and embody notions of a specific relationship between humans and animals essential for the continuity of indigenous culture and livelihoods. Despite the cultural and economic importance of subsistence hunting, increasingly fewer residents of Arctic communities participate in or depend directly upon the harvesting of terrestrial and marine mammals. Furthermore, even if most wished to hunt or fish, subsistence activities cannot by themselves provide the basis for long-term sustainability in all Arctic regions. Instead, many Native people are involved in other types of economic activities, such as commercial fishing, the oil industry or mining.
  Yet the informal and formal economies are, in many cases, interdependent making the boundaries between them blurred and not easily defined. Although a subsistence economy is usually differentiated from a capitalist economy in that the unit of production (in this case, the family) is also the unit of consumption, the subsistence economies of the Arctic are nonetheless dependent upon market forces and monetarisation. This has been the reality since Native peoples became involved with the fur trade. And as studies of commercial fisheries in remote Alaskan villages have shown, while people fish in order to sell rather than consume their catch, they nonetheless engage in activities which correspond to the spatial, seasonal, cultural and social organisational aspects of subsistence modes of production, such as resource diversification and the interdependence of households. Similarly, in Labrador, the techniques and knowledge required for a commercial caribou hunt resemble aspects of harvesting caribou for subsistence purposes, except that the hunters are employed by a commercial enterprise and deliver the caribou to a processing plant. It is difficult to see the difference between a hunter who brings caribou meat home for his family, and the hunter who harvests the animal in exactly the same way but sells the meat to a processing plant in order to buy food for his family.
  As the Labrador case illustrates, although some of the produce from hunting, herding, trapping and small-scale fishing may be consumed by the families of hunters, herders, trappers and fishers, some of it is traded, exchanged, or sold. While much of this happens in local and regional contexts, meat, fish, furs, and skins also find their way to distant markets, making informal economic activities dependent upon and closely interwoven with the global economy. Hunters, trappers and fishers and their families also depend on modern technology, such as outboard engines, snowmobiles, gasoline, rifles, and nets, which means a steady flow of cash is needed to support subsistence activities. Until the activities of anti-sealing and anti-trapping organisations virtually wiped out the markets for seal skins and furbearing animals such as beaver and muskrat, the principal source of cash for hunting families came from the sale of these commodities. In the north of Greenland, for example, the fall in the price of sealskins and even the loss of sealskin markets as a result of animal-rights activity in the 1980s meant that people in settlements dependent on hunting had to look elsewhere for a source of cash needed to supplement subsistence hunting. A modest fishery for Greenland halibut developed to meet this need. Yet, overfishing has already resulted in a depletion of Greenland halibut stocks, as large-scale commercial fishing by boats from other parts of Greenland combine with local fishing to put pressure on the resource.
  Generally, then, throughout the circumpolar north hunting families are characterised by pluriactivity in that cash is generated through full-time or part-time paid work, seasonal labour, craftmaking, commercial fishing or other pursuits that support or supplement subsistence activities. Although, ironically, full-time work restricts the time available for hunting and fishing, the casual, temporary or seasonal nature of many jobs does not allow for many households to be self-sufficient and independent of the formal economy. Subsistence activities may be something that individuals fall back on to supplement the paid work they have, or while they are looking for employment in the formal sector.
  Some observers see informal economic activities as having great potential in forming the basis for economic diversification in indigenous communities, stressing the importance of the informal sector for small-scale community development, and arguing that subsistence activities provide the best basis for self-sufficiency, in the sense that the local economy would be able to provide people with a real and regular income. The expansion of informal economic activities, such as the harvesting of terrestrial and marine mammal products on a more commercial basis, has been seen by some as the solution to reliance on non-renewable resource development. For example, in Greenland the Home Rule Authorities consider the production, distribution and exchange of food and products from hunting and fishing as vital to the development of local, small-scale sustainable community development. The promotion of this system by the Home Rule government would reduce the need for imported foodstuffs, promote local hunting practices and offset the need for government subsidies to smaller settlements. As well as meeting demand from domestic and regional markets, indigenous business ventures are also looking to open up international markets. For example, Korean buyers regularly fly to Alaska's Seward peninsula and pay at least $50 for a pound of reindeer antler (which is then used as an aphrodisiac). In Labrador Inuit hunters kill around 1,000 caribou annually in a commercial hunt, while one Baffin Island community is meeting Japanese demand for the skins of ringed and harp seals.
  But because of the interdependence between formal and informal economic sectors families and households are faced with the problem of ensuring a regular cash-flow. Opportunities for part-time work in small communities are limited and full-time jobs are even more scarce. The fur trade, the gold rush, and oil, gas and mining have all afforded employment opportunities to indigenous peoples, as well as impacted on indigenous ways of life, yet markets collapse, prices fall and jobs go. Recently, the growth of the tourism industry throughout the Arctic has allowed indigenous communities to capitalise on the desires of visitors to experience wilderness and Native culture, but the appearance of tourists is seasonal making it unlikely that tourism can form the basis for community development.
  Indigenous communities and indigenous peoples' organisations are not against various forms of non-renewable resource development. Indeed, they wish to participate in, and profit from, development activities to ensure both economic and cultural survival. In the past, major industrial development rarely paid attention to the importance of the environment and its resources for indigenous peoples, or to the social and economic problems that often result from such development. The opportunities for dealing with the problems of indigenous economies can only arise if indigenous peoples have control over resource use and development, if the social and economic diversity of indigenous communities is recognised and maintained, and if indigenous skills and knowledge are enhanced. Furthermore, there are calls to take into account indigenous environmental knowledge in environmental impact assessment.
  In some respects, land claims settlements have allowed indigenous communities to make considerable progress, and some of the more significant developments have been the result of work by community cooperatives and Native-owned corporations. The latter have either entered into joint ventures with oil, gas and mining companies, or have developed initiatives of their own. For example the Northwest Alaska Native Association (NANA), the regional corporation for northwest Alaska, has supported and promoted Cominco's Red Dog lead/zinc mine, while the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) is the biggest Alaskan-owned corporation, successful because of its relationship to the North Slope Borough (Alaska's wealthiest regional government, partly because it taxes the oil fields) and the North Slope oil industry. ASRC has also invested heavily in business concerns elsewhere in the United States.
  The Arctic Council ministers likewise take the view that environmental protection and sustainable development are not mutually exclusive. The working group on sustainable development originated as a Task Force on Sustainable Development (TFSD) set up following the Nuuk AEPS ministerial meeting mainly in response to pressure from the ICC to broaden the AEPS agenda. TFSD was upgraded to a working group at the Inuvik AEPS ministerial meeting. Its establishment indicated that the future direction of the AEPS would be concerned with broader isssues of sustainable development, rather than with pollution and environmental damage. Initial emphasis on the harvesting of renewable resources and tourism seems to suggest that the working group was much more influenced by the input of indigenous peoples' organisations, and in particular by the ICC submission at the Nuuk meeting on how indigenous peoples could participate and how indigenous knowledge could be integrated within the AEPS process. Sustainable development is also a priority area for the Arctic Council, which follows closely the 1987 Brundtland Commision definition as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Canada, in its role as first chair of the Council, defined sustainable development as 'development which seeks human well-being through an equitable and democratic utilisation of society's resources, while preserving cultural distinctiveness and the natural environment for future generations'. While the challenge facing the Arctic Council is to continue the environmental protection work begun by the AEPS, it recognises that it must link it more closely to sustainable development. Indeed, Oran Young has stressed that sustainable development should be the overarching framework for the Arctic Council as it sets out to chart new developments in international Arctic cooperation. Among other things, Young has recommended that subsistence preference, co-management, and the development of environmentally-appropriate technologies and practices should be some of the guiding principles for the Council's work on sustainable development (see also
  In seeking to reconcile the diverse and contested perspectives of indigenous peoples, environmentalists, scientists and ministers, Canada argues that 'the Council's mandate, as well as its representative structures and processes..., can accommodate the concerns of all parties, under the rubric of environmentally sustainable human development (Graham ibid.: 51, emphasis in original). Mary Simon, Canada's former Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, was reported as saying that the Arctic Council must not make the mistake of seeing environmental protection and sustainable development as distinct, as the AEPS had done, but that sustainable development must have strong environmental goals. While the Arctic Council's view of sustainable development makes appropriate nods in the direction of the ICC position on sustainability, as development that allows social, cultural, spiritual and economic growth, controversy over appropriate development strategies may come to dominate the initial progress of the Council.
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The Arctic is changing by Mark Nuttall.
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