As part of the High North Dialogue Arctic 2050: Mapping the future, a panel discussion Arctic 2050: Mapping the future was held on April 23, 2021. The umbrella theme of all Arctic 2050 presentations: Mapping The Future of the Arctic and exhibitors tried to give their views on development and change in the Arctic over the next few decades from the standpoint of economy, trade and maritime transport, energy, ecology and social trends. During the panel Russian scientists from the Skolkovo School of Management, one of the leading research centers in Russia and their Norwegian colleagues discussed possible scenarios for the development of the Arctic in the next 30 years
Although almost all exhibitors were wary of more accurate predictions given the many factors that potentially determine the course of events in this area, the general impression that could be gained from different presentations is that greater importance is expected in this area in world economic and traffic flows. development opportunities in mining, energy and maritime transport are great, but there are also great unknowns and potential temptations regarding the mutual rivalry of countries in this area, regulating legal and policy frameworks for the implementation of development policies and finally regarding climate change and risk environment.
Frode Nielsen pointed out that during the thirty-year period during which he has been following the developments in this area, there have been great shifts in the perception of this area and the consideration of development opportunities that were not seriously considered before.
According to him, a distinction should be made between the North European-Russian part and the North American part Arctic area. Namely, the northern European and Russian part is less and less frozen and has huge resources that are more and more available. From year to year, Nielsen underlined, the Arctic is becoming more and more accessible for the exploitation of resources. He emphasized that there are three elements of this “blue economy”: marine living resources, marine inanimate resources and ocean traffic and trade. He pointed out that there are challenges regarding the price of exploitation, ie cost-effectiveness, of these resources, as well as what impact this exploitation will have on the environment and the communities there. He underlined that the issues of sustainability of the delicate balance in the Arctic ecosystem as well as the existing human communities remain of great importance.
In her presentation, Alexandra Middleton outlined four potential scenarios for the future of the Arctic region. She explained that the aim of the research is to outline possible directions of development in the long run – by identifying different variables and then identifying those that can have the greatest impact. Among these factors are: environmental development, demography – institutional framework, economic factors. She emphasized that it is possible for development to lead to an “Arctic paradox”, which is a situation in which the people who inhabit this area do not benefit from its economic development, and may even have harm!
The result of this reflection are four possible scenarios marked by historical epochs: the Dark Ages – according to which the Arctic would become a depopulated and devastated post-industrial area; Age of Discovery – fierce competition for Arctic resources with possible militarization and markedly conflicting political relations without a solid institutional framework to establish rules; Romanticism – The Arctic would become a field for showing environmental awareness, the economy would be of secondary importance, while caring for the environment would dominate; The Arctic, Middleton said, would become a kind of “demonstration exercise for National Geography”; Renaissance nations would cooperate in researching this area; there would be agreement on the standards to be adhered to in the exploitation of resources, special technological platforms for Arctic conditions would be developed; a balance would be sought between respect for nature, traditional living and the application of advanced technologies.
In his presentation, Heiðar Guðjónsson tried to answer the question of whether the Arctic is an attractive business location. In his opinion, the answer is yes and that with the application of advanced, sustainable technologies, “more with less” can be achieved. According to him, given the growing needs for resources in South and Southeast Asia, the Arctic region can become very important for the sustainable development of the countries of the northern hemisphere.
Guðjónsson believes that in order to do business in the Arctic, it should be regulated by the “Arctic Investment Protocol”, which he called “business in the Arctic way”.
Polina Lion, from Rosatom, the company behind some of the largest nuclear icebreakers in the world, spoke about the company’s activities in the Arctic region, as well as about the possibilities of sustainable and properly regulated development.
According to her, in modern conditions, doing business in the Arctic is becoming crucial. No, it is one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world. She said that Rosatom pays great attention to the impact of nuclear power plants on human well-being – during the implementation of projects, great attention is paid to infrastructure development, conservation efforts related to flora and fauna, as well as the creation of new, good jobs. She highlighted the company’s experience in Egypt, Hungary and Bangladesh.
Asked whether she expects rapid growth of economic activity in the Arctic area or rather gradual development, she said that it is difficult to accelerate business in this area. Therefore, he explains, the business will develop gradually in order to harmonize with the infrastructure and regulations. He expects that significant business shifts will be realized by 2024.
Felix Tschudi spoke about the Northern Sea Route. He considered shorter-term opportunities. According to him, several factors so far arouse caution: the high cost of transport, damage to the environment, poor performance so far and poor statistics in recent years.
However, he points out that this could be one of the most cost-effective and sustainable maritime routes. Namely, from 2023, Russia plans to provide privileged conditions for companies that would sail the Northern route. In addition, there are huge resources in the Arctic region itself, which can serve as a basis for sustainable economic development. It is, from a purely traffic point of view, a shorter transport route for many ports in the northern hemisphere.
In the end, he pointed out that in order to realize these development ideas, political disturbances would have to be prevented. He optimistically concluded that Norway and Russia have been able to deal with these problems in the past, so that may be reason for optimism that they will be able to do so in the future.
Kjell Stokvik, director of the Center for Arctic Logistics, pointed out that there is a demand for business opportunities in the Arctic area, but that there are also numerous difficulties in achieving cross-border business. According to him, it is crucial to include people living in the Arctic in this development.
Russian diplomat Nikolay Korchunov stressed the importance of considering and predicting future development trends. However, he warned, it should be borne in mind that complex life circumstances limit the possibility of more accurate predictions. He pointed out that managing Arctic opportunities is a complex challenge.
According to him, the various scenarios envisaged have the force of an industrial revolution, according to the potential changes they can bring to this area. He believes that geopolitical opportunities will also play a big role – the Arctic is globalizing, it is increasingly participating in world processes. The involvement of non-Arctic states plays a major role, especially in areas such as environmental protection. During the Russian presidency of the Arctic Council, we will be focused on sustainable development in this area, the diplomat pointed out.
Tero Vauraste highlighted the potential role of satellite technology in examining and predicting Arctic conditions, especially when it comes to climate change.
Jan Dusik tried to answer the question of whether it is possible to develop business in the Arctic in a sustainable way, especially when climate change is taken into account.
According to him, long-term forecasting is of great importance because “we cannot afford an additional unsustainable burden on the Arctic area”, it is necessary to approach development carefully, the participation of governments and their mutual cooperation is important and it is important to involve local peoples in deciding on further development directions.
He pointed out that sustainable business is possible, but that it cannot be achieved through mere rhetoric, but requires serious reflection and the adoption of policies that would be subordinated to these goals.
Anne Rännäli-Kontturi from Finland focused her presentation on the social and humane aspect of the future development of the Arctic. She believes that the key questions are – how to achieve sustainability with inclusiveness and how to attract people to tie their future to the Arctic?
According to her, it is necessary to invest in human resources, communities and education in order to create quality jobs, which means encouraging and facilitating entrepreneurship and investment.
The moderator underlined the importance of attracting new talents because, contrary to widespread views, the Arctic is a very urbanized area.
In the end, the panelists answered the question which of the four narratives they consider the most convincing for the future of the Arctic – most participants opted for the Age of Discovery, followed by the Renaissance and far fewer votes for Romanticism and the scenario described as the Dark Ages. According to the Russian diplomat Korchunov, it is more likely that there will be an intermediate scenario, between the competitiveness predicted by the Age of Discovery and the orderly cooperation that is crucial for the Renaissance.
The panelist agreed that future of the Arctic will be determined by the cooperation and mutual developmental capacities from the neighbor states.