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The Arctic is changing
by Mark Nuttall
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Barriers to sustainability: the Arctic in the global economy
  The Arctic Council places emphasis on environmental protection and sustainable development, especially with regard to continuing the work begun by the AEPS. As the joint communiqué of the Council puts it:

"Ministers viewed the establishment of this new intergovernmental forum as an important milestone in their commitment to enhance co-operation in the circumpolar North. The Council will provide a mechanism for addressing the common concerns and challenges faced by their governments and the people of the Arctic. To this end, Ministers referred particularly to the protection of the Arctic environment and sustainable development as a means of improving the economic, social and cultural well-being in the Arctic."

  Yet, how possible is this when development projects abound which are not sensitive to environmental protection needs and concerns for sustainability, nor indeed to the spirit of Arctic environmental co-operation. Indeed, how can sustainability be achieved in the Arctic regions when they are affected by the ebb and flow of the global economy? Large-scale development continues in the Arctic, even though the excitement over the AEPS and Arctic Council may have obscured it for a while. But it is not only the nation-states with Arctic territory that regard the circumpolar north as increasingly important for resource development. The economic future of the Arctic depends on global and economic processes, which makes the Arctic regions vulnerable to the volatility of world markets.
  Countries such as Japan, Korea and European Union member states constitute markets for valuable Arctic resources, thus firmly placing the circumpolar north in the world system. Densely populated parts of the world with no or few resources of their own cannot sustain the material demands made by their growing populations. They look to the northern regions for fisheries development, hydrocarbons and minerals. Siberia, for example, has some 20% of the world's forested area and about 40% of the world's coniferous forests, and the Bering Sea is one of the richest fisheries on earth. Fish stocks in the Bering Sea are threatened, however, by the commercial nature of the fishing industry (the pollock fishery was closed in 1992 due to overfishing), and the United States is only one of many nations contributing to the impoverishment of the Bering Sea ecosystem. Overfishing by a large international fishing fleet is also having an impact on the marine ecosystem in the European Arctic. There is urgent need to agree upon management regulations, but it is notable that fisheries do not seem to have provided a focus for Arctic environmental co-operation. There is uncertainty over whether fisheries will be a sustainable resource issue for the Arctic Council. And there is also disagreement over the environmental impact of commercial fishing. A report produced by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) points to commercial fishing having the greatest impact on the marine ecosystem, while a Nordic Council of Ministers report contradicts the EEA by concluding that overfishing in European waters has not depleted stocks.
  The work begun by AEPS and its various working groups, and now being continued by the Arctic Council, focuses mainly on monitoring the effects of Arctic environmental problems, seeks to produce state of the Arctic environment reports, feed this information back to politicians, scientists and indigenous communities, and make recommendations for action on environmental protection and sustainable development by government ministers. While it is widely recognised that many environmental problems facing the Arctic originate from outside the region, Arctic environmental co-operation seriously lacks a wider perspective on the regional and global dimensions of environmental change and resource pressure. What is happening in the rest of the globe is equally as important for the Arctic. Arctic environmental discourse reproduces the image of the Arctic as a natural laboratory for studying global environmental change (a handy phrase to use when justifying grant applications to scientific foundations and research councils), but fails to consider that it is important to understand the relevance of poverty in developing countries, deforestation in Nepal, floods in Bangladesh, or the activities of transnational corporations in South East Asia for the future of the Arctic, its peoples and its resources.
  The major threats posed to the ecology of the Arctic are primarily the result of social conditions arising from human activity and interactions with the environment in local, regional and global contexts. But the remit of the working groups initiated under the AEPS has been to monitor the systemic and cumulative effects of global processes on a specific region, albeit a geographically vast one, rather than with seeking to understand the complex social, economic and political processes which are the specific underlying causes of the global dimensions of environmental change and resource pressure. Future strategies for Arctic environmental protection and sustainable development would benefit from moving beyond an Arctic-centred perspective in an attempt to conceptualise economic, social and environmental linkages between the Arctic and other regions of the globe.
  Those involved in agenda-setting for Arctic environmental protection initiatives need to take into account the processes of globalisation. As with practically every part of the world, social, economic and political relationships in the Arctic have become truly globalised. In the modern Arctic virtually every aspect of life is influenced and shaped by events, trends, decisions and activities happening elsewhere. Just a glimpse of the well-stocked shelves of a Fairbanks supermarket, or drinking a cup of coffee with seal hunters on the sea ice in northern Greenland (whose wives prepare sealskins which will ultimately be exported to Japan) is enough to show how Arctic residents are very much a part of a global network of production and exchange. As the Arctic is inextricably linked to the global system, in complex cultural, ideological, economic and political ways there is a need to understand the process of globalisation and such issues as population, production, technological change, consumption and lifestyles in global perspective. A growing population places considerable demand on resources and world production is increasing to keep up with demand for consumption. This, inevitably, leads to the depletion of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas and minerals and contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, and to habitat loss and the extinction of flora and fauna.
  Pressure is placed on the environment not only by countries of the developed world, driven by the desire for economic progress and the maintenance of affluent lifestyles and vibrant economies (for example Japanese industry is depleting the forests of Sarawak and Sabah), but also by developing countries. One legacy of colonialism has been the creation and shaping of forms of society which now not only have to adjust to post-colonial systems but are following the same trajectory of economic development as developed countries. Many of these developing countries have to find ways of broadening their economic base. Industrial development means more burning of fossil fuels and increased emissions of carbon dioxide. And not only do developing countries need to feed their growing populations, they also have to pay off massive international debts, which accounts in part for deforestation (such as in the Amazon). The growth of urban areas in the developing world is also placing the environment under greater strain. Although the majority of the population of industrialised countries live in urban areas, Africa has the fastest urban population growth and by the first few decades of the twenty-first century half the world's population will probably be found in South and South East Asia. Most people in these regions will be living in cities which cannot produce what they need to sustain themselves. Resources from rural areas, the oceans and regions such as the Arctic will be vital to an increasingly urbanised world.
  The future of the Arctic regions may be linked to other, non-Arctic regional social, political and economic interests. In The Age of the Arctic (1989) Osherenko and Young point of the importance of seeing the future of development in the Arctic in terms of transnational connections rather than the classic model of core-periphery relations developed under conditions of internal colonialism. As they put it:

"[...] foreign investors can promise capital and advanced technologies for Arctic development as well as providing markets for which there is no local demand. With few exceptions...this has not resulted in colonial arrangements or even neo-colonial relationships. But direct investment on the part of foreign corporations or governments is still growing rapidly and producing a complex network of transnational connections in the Arctic."

  Fisheries represent a good example of how transnational practices impact upon local livelihoods and often prevent sustainability. Communities dependent on living marine resources in the Arctic, as in any other region of the world, are subject to the effects and influences of globalisation, and these are increasingly felt in all aspects of social, economic and cultural life. It is important to view many problems in coastal communities in relation to the global restructuring of fisheries, the balance of competition between different species and different fishing areas, the internationalisation of the sourcing of supplies for processing plants and retail markets and the redistribution of wealth from traditional actors, such as local fishers and local processors, to powerful global players in the form of transnational corporations. One of the major implications of globalisation for fisheries can be seen most markedly in resource management models and in the transition from fish as common resources to private property. In this way, fisheries are being transformed from industries or ways of life subject to the control and regulation of local, regional and national authorities to a global enterprise dominated by a handful of transnational companies.
  The interrelations between international trade, the environment and sustainable development are poorly understood and global market trends influence how far the sustainable uses of living marine resources is actually possible. At present, fisheries subsidies constitute one of the key barriers to sustainable fisheries, distorting trade and generating fisheries overcapacity -- thus leading to overfishing and the decline of fish stocks. The ability to achieve sustainable development is dependent on nations phasing out fisheries subsidies, and it is notable that Iceland has taken a lead in this regard. Efforts to encourage fishermen to shift their attention away from declining stocks and concentrate on sustainable harvesting techniques is happening through international co-operation on the formulation of criteria for the eco-labelling of fish products. While the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is involved in this work, large corporations and NGOs have also made significant progress in aiming to secure good environmental practice through a system of eco-labelling. A good example of this is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an initiative of Unilever and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. The MSC has imposed its own global standards for sustainable fishing and is working to create new market incentives by rewarding good fishing practices. In itself this can pose a threat to the viability of coastal communities and local industries based on marine produce as international trade and consumer action places increasing attention on the safety and security of marine produce for human food. Although aiming to ensure good sustainable practice, eco-labelling may actually mask trade distortions -- the effectiveness of such a system will only be known once research on local coastal economies and fishing practices has been contextualised with reference to the internationalisation of production and exchange and the activities and influences of transnational corporations involved in fisheries.
  Coastal communities dependent on the harvesting of living marine resources are put at risk by the interplay of global forces, by international trade, the restructuring of the fishing industry, the broadening scope of fisheries policy and by environmentalist action. But they are also being challenged from within by changing community dynamics, the declining importance of kinship and family for the social organisation of fishing, different local responses to social change, and by divisions within and between local and national fishermen's organisations. A characteristic of coastal communities in Greenland, Iceland and northern Norway is that, traditionally, local fisheries have been small-scale and family based, having developed their own distinctive forms of social organisation centred on close-knit kin groups, from which members of fishing crews were recruited. The contemporary reality for small communities in many coastal regions is that people rely increasingly on occupational associations in addition to, or in place of, kinship relations. As is already the case in many North Atlantic fishing societies, in occupational terms, spatially-defined communities of common interest expressed through close kinship relations are being replaced by dispersed networks based on occupational associations and formal contractual relations. In an increasingly technical and modernising Greenland, for example, hunting is becoming more 'commercialised', while fishing has become more technologically complex. Fishermen are investing in bigger and increasingly sophisticated boats to fish the waters in different parts of Greenland. While, in some cases, male kinsmen such as brothers are investing in these vessels together, crew members are not always kin, but well-qualified non-kin who receive wages rather than shares in the profits of the catch.
  Furthermore, the sustainable uses of living marine resources and the viability of local livelihoods are threatened by the transformation of fish, seals and whales from resources which are subject to common use rights to privately owned, divisible commodities subject to rational management regimes. In Iceland the principle of common use rights has been applied to living marine resources throughout the country's history, whereas in Greenland it has traditionally been the case that no one owns animals. In both cases, as is usual elsewhere in North Atlantic fishing societies, a fish or a sea mammal does not become a commodity subject to individual ownership until it has actually been caught and transformed into private property. Even then, complex local rules, beliefs and cultural practices counter the exclusive sense of individual ownership. In Greenland, the sharing and free distribution of meat from seals and other marine mammals is an acknowledgement of the debt people owe to the animal in coming to the hunter and a denial that any one person has exclusive claims to ownership of the animals that are caught. In this regard, the development of markets for Greenlandic fish and meat products, while providing a source of income for local hunters and fishermen, has provoked debates within communities about the appropriate uses of living marine resources. For many people, seal hunting and whaling encapsulates relations which are posed in ideological, natural and cultural terms, and the sharing and distribution of meat is central to the Greenlandic subsistence culture and local identity -- the sharing and distribution of meat both expresses and sustains social relationships. In many parts of Greenland today, although it is still the case that much of the meat from sea mammals is shared out to members of the hunter's immediate and extended family, increasingly hunters and fishermen are selling part of their subsistence catch to the processing plants now found in most villages, for the reasons outlined earlier. When hunting is carried out to satisfy market demands beyond the local community and regional economy, there is a feeling that the customary ideology of subsistence, with its emphasis on kinship, community, sharing and reciprocity, is disrupted and irrevocably altered.
  The changing nature of political and cultural understandings that shape the use of the Arctic, the consequences of global change and resource pressure, and the conflicting political, cultural and aesthetic values concerning its future make a theoretical rethinking of the Arctic in geopolitical terms necessary. Recent geographical and political perspectives on how the Arctic regions are changing under geopolitical, economic and cultural stress have made some progress in this respect. As we enter the twenty-first century, research in both the natural and social sciences in the Arctic will be valued increasingly for the contribution it makes to how we can understand global issues. But it is equally important to consider global processes and their impact if we are to understand the contemporary Arctic and its place in the global system.
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The Arctic is changing by Mark Nuttall.
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