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Aarne Granlund
MSc Student Climate Change and Politics
Nord universitet

How will the High North look like in 2030?

This brief paper will outline ten distinct but connected trends which will impact and drive
social, economic and environmental developments in the Arctic during the coming decade.

1. Non-linear climate change

Arctic areas of the planet are undergoing measured and rapid changes in all aspects of the
environmental system. Resulting from human-caused climate change, these changes are
becoming increasingly pervasive and destabilising for the Arctic itself and possibly for the
whole planet. Perhaps the most striking trend is the loss of sea ice extent and volume in the
Arctic Ocean, especially in the Barents and Kara sea regions.

Other environmental trends resulting from climate change include but are not limited to
coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, declining snow cover during spring, ocean acidification,
mid-winter warmth events in the atmosphere and increased precipitation. These trends are
likely to remain in place and possibly amplify themselves because the Arctic as a whole is
warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

2. Climate change mitigation urgency

International efforts were undertaken in Paris during 2015 to limit the increase of average
global temperatures ’well below 2 degrees celcius’ and pursue efforts to further limit such
increase to 1.5 celcius. The outcome of these efforts was the Paris Agreement, now signed and
ratified by well over one hundred nations. However, the commitments brought by nations to
negotiations are insufficient in their current form. Unless they are tightened, global average
temperature will increase at least 3 degrees celcius with catastrophic effects. Taking into
account developing natural feedbacks in the climate system, abrupt and uncontrollable
changes cannot be discounted on any time interval.

For the Arctic, even limiting temperatures to well below 2 degrees celcius will have very large
and sustained effects, since average temperatures would rise 4 to 6 degrees celcius depending
on the region. Since the atmospheric loading of greenhouse gases is increasing year by year,
this trend has to be taken into consideration when the future of the Arctic is being discussed.

3. Climate change adaptation

Since it is clear that observed and pervasive climate change impacts are accelerating and
mitigation action will not deliver significant easing without forced interventions in the climate
system which are unlikely, Arctic states, regions and localities will have to build adaptive
capacity and chart their vulnerabilities to internal and external stress factors brought by the
changing situation. These measures will be increasingly taken in the coming decade on all
levels of government.

These developments are closely connected to migration concerns. Both the indigenous
population and aging Western communities are facing demographic change and climate
change impacts especially if they are resource dependent.

4. Hydrocarbon industry

Arctic holds at least 22% of undiscovered conventional hydrocarbon reserves of the world. It
is clear that this factor will be of great interest for various nations and corporations. However,
it remains unclear if the bulk of these resources will be exploitable. The effects of global policy
choices in climate mitigation are as hard to predict as the prices of commodities such as crude
oil and natural gas, but generally it is somewhat clear in mitigation science that most of the
known oil and gas reserves will have to be left unexploited in order to meet the Paris
Agreement obligation of limiting the increase of global temperatures ’well below 2 degrees

If the price of crude oil remains low, Arctic resources are uneconomic. Clearly such a situation
could render future large scale projects in the region ’stranded assets’ – however,
uncertainties in this regard are large and impossible to predict. There might also be
operational restraints due to changing weather patterns and rapid physical change in the
landscape. Environmentalist activities are unlikely to have much effect on government
initiatives to exploit resources. Neither the European Union or the United Nations have any
real legal power over state sovereignty in resource development.

5. Migration

There have been significant movements of people in the Arctic. Recently due to the flux of
migrants from Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe and Russia, many found a way
accross the Russian border to the Arctic parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway. This event was
a one-off situation, but in the future it seems obvious that climate change will relocate
populations not just in the hotter parts of the world, but also up north due to coastal events
such as erosion and storms and multiple other pervasive effects of climate change.

Some regions and localities in the northern parts of Nordic countries are experiencing drastic
demographic shifts as younger people exit the areas for education and possibilities in bigger
cities. For northern indigenous peoples, these options are increasingly available – traditional
livelihoods such as reindeer husbandry are becoming harder due to external and internal
stress factors. Subsistence hunting and fishing will feel these impacts during the coming

6. Renewable energy

There are emerging signs that renewable energy is penetrating quite deep into the Arctic as a
viable alternative for energy production. This trend is reinforced by multiple cost-benefit
analyses on economics of incumbent energy generation systems. In some cases it is simply
cheaper to generate local power in remote regions than to import fossil fuels over long
distances. Russia, Norway and many communities in the United States’ Arctic are embracing
local renewable generation, inclucing but not limited to solar and wind power.

If the cost curves of renewable energy decline as they have done during the past years, a new
way of thinking could be useful in planning for secure energy futures in the Arctic. There are
multiple upsides and economic possibilities here.

7. Fisheries development

Due to changes in climate and weather patterns, many fish species that are of commercial
value are moving towards the polar regions, followed by commercial large-scale harvesters.
This trend is non-negotiable and will continue into the future. There is strategic importance
for multiple nations to use these stocks in a sustainable fashion since they might be the most
secure natural fish stocks in terms of overall overfishing and climate change impacts on a
global level.

Norway has significant industry in aquaculture, representing a major export income. Future
development of sustainable marine food production should continue in the northern regions.
There might be considerable innovation space for land-based farming systems with export
potential. World is likely to move away from heavy industrial meat production due to
resource constraints and climate policies.

8. Shipping in the Arctic Ocean

Summer sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean will drop below one million square kilometers
during the coming decades at the latest, opening up possibilities for shipping. However, it is
unclear if traditional merchant fleet will be able to operate on the newly discovered routes
due to the short sailing season and low bunker fuel prices.

Fully open Arctic Ocean is not in the forecast for the winter season even on the highest
emissions scenarios during coming decades. There are also general climate change trade-offs
in keeping the Arctic Ocean covered with ice. It is not entirely unconceivable that the
international community might choose to engage in geoengineering to recover ice volume if
the ice-albedo feedback and general Arctic dynamics generate catastrophic climate effects.
However, this is highly speculative.

9. Tourism

Tourism is likely to increase in the High North. This is already seen in eg. Svalbard and in the
Canadian Arctic. Cruise ships are penetrating deeper into the region since sea ice cover is
diminishing. It seems that the pristine look of the nature will attract attention as a form of
disaster tourism, considering the drastic climate change impacts in the Arctic.

There are various operational and environmental limits to wide scale tourism development –
for local economies, it might be unwise to develop their base earnings profile on elusive
tourism growth. Boom and bust cycles are the industry norm and sustainability issues might
turn some travellers off from full exploitation of the area.

10. Environmental protection

Last but not least, there are serious initiatives to establish protected areas in the High North.
Nature itself is not pristine here though, having been introduced to POPs, plastics and human-
caused climate change. Increasing tourism, shipping and resource extraction will likely clash
with environmental concerns during the coming decades with the former ones being on the
driving seat due to commercial benefits.