Esko Aho: Sustainable development in the Arctic and Northern Dimension area

The world we are living in is facing simultaneously several  huge challenges.

First of all, we are undergoing a technological revolution.  This will, without any doubt, increase the productivity of labor,  but it also requires changes in research, learning,  management, and social interactions. It reshapes our way of  thinking and acting, and may trigger also several  unpredictable changes.

Secondly, the climate change is a reality. The Arctic is  warming faster than many climate scientists expected, and nearly twice as quick as the rest of the planet. The extent of the Arctic Sea ice has steadily declined over the past three decades.

Thirdly, we are undergoing a demographic change, which is a real challenge. Many countries and areas in the North are facing an ageing population and low birth rates. In Europe, the migration situation has changed rapidly. Urbanization began already during the industrial revolution, but in the Northern areas it is accelerating, as people move from rural areas to cities and towns.

Fourth, today we are facing geopolitical tensions. The Arctic is not in the center of these tensions, but tensions in other areas affect also geopolitics there.

All of the abovementioned four challenges are closely linked to the Arctic region. Thus, there are a lot of risks – but at the same time also huge opportunities.

What should be done in order to utilize these opportunities in an effective and sustainable manner?

First of all, the Arctic collaboration should be isolated from the present geopolitical tensions. Secondly, investment is needed in logistics and infrastructure. Lack of infrastructure on both sea and land is perhaps the largest barrier to development in the Arctic to date. Thirdly, new realities in the energy market are most likely to reduce the interest to exploit Arctic oil and gas reserves in the future. However, the Arctic has also other resources, for example biomaterials. The long wooden fiber is the material of the future. And finally, there is tourism. Environmentally sustainable Arctic tourism needs a whole set of services and service-providers – and infrastructure.

Finland will take over the Arctic Council chairmanship in 2017. During its first 20 years, the Arctic Council has focused much of its work namely on sustainable development and environmental protection. The Arctic Council has also helped to maintain the Arctic as a zone of peace and stability. It is our common interest that the Arctic will stay like that also in the future – and it is our common interest that it will be developed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Esko Aho,
Prime Minister of Finland (1991-1995)
Executive Chairman of the Board, East Office of Finnish Industries