Toward Sustainable Development
in the Circumpolar North

Terry Fenge, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee


The standard approach to a background document to a meeting of Arctic parliamentarians might have been to survey the sustainable development policies and programmes of the eight Arctic states; but because survey articles on economic, environmental, security, and other Arctic issues have already been written (Hoel, 1993; Dahl, 1993), this paper takes a different approach.

First, this paper examines the paradigm of sustainable development in some detail, for it is open to various interpretations. Second, it suggests that, in the Arctic, aboriginal self-determination and sustainable development are linked concepts. It further suggests that a key test of sustainability as a principle to guide public and private decision making lies in what it means for and delivers to aboriginal peoples, and it notes the agenda of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) task force on sustainability with this in mind. Third, it considers traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as a key contribution to planning for sustainability and presents a short case study of ecological change in the Hudson Bay region in northern Canada to illustrate the potential use of TEK in implementing sustainability policies and programmes. Finally, it proposes that the long-planned Arctic Council should reinforce the impressive work on sustainability being conducted under the AEPS.


The concept of sustainable development received international prominence through the World Conservation Strategy, published in 1980, and the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), published in 1987 (WCED, 1987). It was a guiding principle at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and it underpins the documents and agreements that emanated from the summit, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Biodiversity Convention, the Climate Change Convention, and Agenda 21.

Local, regional, and national jurisdictions around the world have taken this concept to heart and are seeking to implement policies and plans and to take action to promote sustainable development. Indeed, many did so before this concept was endorsed at Rio. Governments of the right and left and many transnational corporations share sustainability as a long-term aim.

In the circumpolar Arctic, sustainable development is a policy objective shared by the eight Arctic states. Different means are used to achieve the objective; for example, a National Commission in Finland, the President's Council in the United States, and the Green Plan in Canada. Bilateral and multilateral arrangements between Arctic states to deal with transboundary environmental issues and migratory species of wildlife have in recent years been supplemented by circumpolar approaches to these issues (Young, 1992 and 1996).

In 1991 the eight Arctic states signed the Rovaniemi Declaration (appendix 1) and committed themselves to an Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). In 1993 the Nuuk Declaration (appendix 2) broadened this strategy to address sustainability more directly as an overarching goal. The Northern Forum, which links together a number of subnational Arctic governments, promoted this broadening of the AEPS. Simultaneously it defined telecommunications, surface and air transport, and energy and mineral development as research and policy themes to promote sustainability. Further circumpolar initiatives are planned. While still under negotiation, the soon-to-be-established Arctic Council is also scheduled to address sustainability as a priority research and policy issue.


The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This deceptively

simple definition hints at five underlying "core" principles:

  1. respect for ecological integrity;
  2. efficient use of natural, manufactured, and social capital;
  3. promotion of equity;
  4. participation of stakeholders; and
  5. environmental stewardship by all levels of decision makers.

2.1 Respect for Ecological Integrity

Although the precise level of acceptable environmental degradation is an unresolved element of sustainable development, there is common understanding that respect for ecological integrity requires, at a minimum, conservation of the earth's "life-support systems". These are the ecological processes that "shape climate, cleanse air and water, regulate water flow, recycle essential elements, create and regenerate soil, and enable ecosystems to renew themselves" (IUCN, 1991). In practice, this requires maintaining the ability of the environment—and avoiding irreversible harm to this ability—to act as a provider of inputs (carrying capacity) and as a "sink" for wastes (assimilative capacity).

Technology is important in determining carrying and assimilative capacities. Within limits, technology can increase the inherent productivity of natural resources and reduce the negative environmental effects of resource exploitation. If carrying capacity is exceeded, however, basic resources such as vegetation and soil become degraded, which threatens the stability of the ecosystem.

Sustainable development also respects the biological diversity on which basic ecological processes depend— processes that provide a stream of tangible and intangible services to humans. There are three aspects to biological diversity: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystems diversity. Genetic diversity is the sum of chromosomal information contained in the genes of plants and animals. Species diversity refers to the variety of living organisms on the earth. Ecosystem diversity is the variety of habitats and biotic communities on the earth.

2.2 Efficient Use of Natural, Manufactured, and Social Capital

Efficient development has four main characteristics: sustainable resource use; waste management based on pollution prevention; full-cost accounting; and anticipation, prevention, and precaution in the face of uncertainty.

2.2.1 Sustainable Resource Use

Respect for ecological carrying capacity requires the sustainable use of natural resources. The sustainable harvesting of renewable resources respects regeneration rates and avoids irreversible harm to the economic productivity of such resources (e.g., the store of biological diversity).

Because nonrenewable resources cannot regenerate (within meaningful human time frames), different criteria must apply. In theory, a sustainable output rate for non-renewable resources is that which maintains the size of the stock relative to demand. In practice, this means that depletion rates should be low enough to ensure a high probability of an orderly transition to the discovery, development, and widespread acceptance of substitutes. Sustainable output rates can thus be increased by discovering and exploiting new reserves (increasing the stock); recycling extracted resources (replenishing the stock); and hastening the development of substitutes (increasing the amount available for current consumption by reducing future demand). Ensuring the appropriate output rates for nonrenewables is a primary function of the market, but it may require some government intervention to ensure that price signals are correct.

Many commentators argue that sustainable development also requires the use of nonrenewables in a way that limits the negative impacts of activities associated with their production and consumption on the continued productivity of renewable resources and environmental life-support functions (e.g., Goodland, 1994).

2.2.2 Waste Management Based on Pollution Prevention

Respect for ecological assimilation rates requires maintaining wastes within the assimilative capacity of the environment. Because we cannot always know the assimilative capacity, there is now a widespread consensus that the most efficient waste management policies are predicated on the pollution prevention hierarchy, which emphasizes the early, rather than the final, stages of a material's life cycle:

2.2.3 Full-cost Accounting and the Polluter Pays Principle

It is a fundamental principle of contemporary economic theory that efficient decisions must account for the full costs and benefits of alternative choices. In particular, sustainable development requires accounting for both the short- and the long-term external environmental impacts of development. Although there is some dispute in the academic literature about the most efficient manner to ensure that all external costs are accounted for, there is an emerging consensus among policy makers that, in general, the most appropriate way to do so is to adopt the polluter pays principle, which reflects the idea that environmental externalities should be internalized by those who cause them.

2.2.4 Anticipation, Prevention, and Precaution

In many cases, the ideal of decision making based on complete information is unattainable, and decisions must be made based on uncertainty. There is now widespread realization that policies based on anticipation and prevention are both more effective and less expensive in the long run than policies of react and cure, which can lead to high remediation costs. (Specific policies will inevitably vary, depending on the ability and incentives to anticipate and prevent in each situation; in some cases, strong remedial requirements may continue to be required.)

2.3 Promotion of Equity

Sustainable development also requires that the costs and benefits of development be shared equitably. Although the definition of equitable distribution is obviously a value judgment, sustainable development requires, at a minimum, that decisions account for distributional impacts within society, between regions, and between generations.

2.4 Participation of Stakeholders

Most proponents of sustainable development share the view that participatory decision making is required to translate well-meaning principles into concrete action. Rationales for this view include:

2.5 Environmental Stewardship by All Levels of Decision Makers

Principles of environmental stewardship are premised on a recognition that each individual's actions have environmental, social, and economic significance, and therefore all individuals have a role to play in contributing to sustainable development. To be implemented effectively, the objectives of sustainable development must be widely shared; all decision makers must desire and know how to act in accordance with the foregoing core principles. This requires that governments promote sustainable development through leadership by example and through education. It also requires a fostering of individual, institutional, and collective responsibility for long-term, global impacts as well as immediate, local consequences of actions.


These five "core" principles may usefully inform policies and programmes to design sustainable futures. But sustainability remains an elusive concept. It is still evolving and sometimes means different things to different people. In his paper for this conference, Oran Young notes that

sustainable development is a generative concept that is extremely difficult to turn into an operational paradigm or, in other words, to translate into practical guidelines in a manner that is acceptable to a variety of constituencies. There is a danger, therefore, that the idea of sustainable development, evocative as it is, will ultimately prove to be a dead end in the sense that it fails to provide a workable criterion for making decisions about human/environment relations [emphasis added].

This insight is important, particularly to those who expect the concept to make a measurable difference in the Arctic. The difficulty Oran Young identifies reflects not only the generality of the concept but also the emergence of two broad interpretations of the sustainability paradigm. A mainstream interpretation focuses on the application of tools and techniques to increase the efficiency with which natural resources are developed and used. In this view, the purpose of sustainable development is to push back "limits to growth". This essentially anthropocentric view contrasts with a more radical, biocentric interpretation of sustainability that suggests that the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity should be the sine qua non of sustainable human activity and that the natural environment should be valued not only for its resource potential but also for its very existence.

In some respects, these two interpretations share common ground. Both stress the importance of meeting the needs of the poor, and both note that the ability of the natural environment to meet these and other needs is limited by social organization and the state of technology. Moreover, both stress the need for long- term considerations by noting the importance of intergenerational equity. Nevertheless, the underlying ideologies of the two approaches differ, making it difficult to implement all "core" principles and to define criteria for making decisions about human/environment relations.

This difficulty is compounded in the Arctic, not only because it is fragile or vulnerable according to most ecologists, but also because it is the home of many aboriginal peoples whose values and cultures differ from the mainstream in the nation states in which they reside. At the risk of great oversimplification, it may be that policies and preferences of most national governments in the Arctic and of the Northern Forum fall closer to the anthropocentric interpretation of sustainability, while those of aboriginal peoples more closely approximate the biocentric view.


It would serve no useful purpose in this short paper to survey the environmental and social health of the Arctic or the broad range of economic developments that might be undertaken there. Such details are already available (Hyde, Bregha, and Wright, 1994).

It is important, however, to note that the Arctic is changing quickly as a result of demographic, economic, environmental, technological, cultural, and other factors—some internal to the region, others global in scope. The pace of change is accelerating as the Arctic's oil, gas, minerals, and hydro resources are more fully delineated and developed for the global market and as the region is integrated into the broader world through mass communications technology. The need for sustainability policies is pressing in this vibrant economic and social environment, but the very pace of change poses major challenges in successfully implementing such policies.

Policies and decisions to promote sustainable develop-ment in the Arctic have also to respond to external pressures over which Arctic residents and governments have limited control. Two examples illustrate this point: human health concerns resulting from bioaccumulation in the food web of organochlorines and other contaminants transported to the Arctic from Europe, Asia, and North America (Pfirman, 1994); and the social, psychological, and economic implications to aboriginal peoples of the collapse of the sealskin and fur markets as a result of the anti-harvest and anti-fur movement in western Europe (Lynge, 1992).

The facts that most change in the region is externally induced and that, with the exception of those of Iceland, aboriginal peoples form a significant portion and local majority of permanent residents of the region raise a central question: sustainable development of what for whom? In particular, what does sustainable development offer Inuit, Inupiat, Sami, Komi, and other Arctic aboriginal peoples?

These are key questions, for sustainability is not just about policies, programmes, tools, and techniques. At heart it is about power, values, and knowledge, for these determine the scale, pace, and timing of development and the priority given to competing resources. This is particularly so in the Arctic, for power over this region has rested in nation states dominated by southern metropolitan centres. The Arctic has been seen by decision makers in the South as a resource hinterland whose exploitation would benefit the nation as a whole. In the twentieth century the full panoply of state-sponsored science has been used to support exploitation of northern resources. Whether this view of the Arctic has changed significantly is a moot point, for developing its energy and mineral resources is now portrayed by some as a global as well as a national necessity.

Sustainability as an approach toward the future resonates among Arctic aboriginal peoples. Passing on unimpaired the natural environment from one generation to the next, adopting cultural health and diversity as unashamed goals of economic development, and integrating these goals with carrying and assimilative capacities all fit well with aboriginal views and advocacy.

At the 1993 Arctic parliamentarians conference, Jens Dahl (1993) broached the connection between aboriginal peoples and sustainability with the following words:

In order to integrate indigenous peoples of the Arctic into the decision-making process, in order to adhere to the rights of indigenous peoples as outlined in various international settings (ILO-Convention 169; the UN Draft Declaration Concerning the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and others) and in order to protect the Arctic environment and guarantee a sustainable management of renewable resources, it is a precondition that indigenous peoples have the organizational capacity to and are given the empowerment to attain control over their own affairs and destiny. The Arctic history shows us that any development which intends to be based on mutual understanding and respect starts with this [emphasis added].

Essentially Dahl suggested that empowerment of aboriginal peoples—self-determination—is a requirement for sustainable development. This view has influential adherents. The Brundtland Commission suggested that clearly defined legal rights of aboriginal peoples to land and natural resources in their homelands were an important requirement for sustainability. This was not portrayed solely as a matter of social justice, for the commission believed that aboriginal peoples had something of value to impart to nonaboriginal peoples:

These communities are the repositories of vast accumulations of traditional knowledge and experience that link humanity with its ancient origins. Their disappearance is a loss for the larger society, which could learn a great deal from their traditional skills in sustainability managing very complex ecological systems [emphasis added].

The 1991 redraft of the World Conservation Strategy—Caring for the Earth—acknowledged the place of aboriginal people in the hoped-for global transition to sustainability. Article 8 (j) of the Bio-diversity Convention places an onus on contracting parties to respect, preserve, and broaden the application of traditional knowledge. But it is the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 that most clearly address the theme of aboriginal peoples and sustainability. Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration notes that indigenous peoples and their communities, and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.

Article 26.6 of Agenda 21 states:

Governments, in full partnership with indigenous people and their communities should, where appropriate:

(b) Co-operate at the regional level, where appropriate, to address common indigenous issues with a view to recognizing and strengthening their participation in sustainable development.

At the national level, Arctic aboriginal peoples have taken significant strides toward self-determination (Jull and Roberts, 1991). Land-claim agreements in northern Canada were stimulated by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and home rule in Greenland, achieved in 1979. Sami parliaments now operate in Norway, Sweden, and Finland (Brantenberg et al., 1995), although it remains to be seen whether these essentially advisory institutions will be supplemented by Sami rights to land and natural resources (Sillanpaa, 1994; Brantenberg et al., 1995). Sami resident on the Kola Peninsula in the Federation of Russia are pressing for Scandinavian-style political institutions and have expressed interest in Canadian-style land rights. It is unclear, however, what the impact might be in Arctic Russia of President Yeltsin's April 1992 decree requiring county administrations and aboriginal peoples to jointly define areas in which aboriginal peoples will have priority rights to use land for herding, hunting, fishing, and trapping. This same decree requires the Government of Russia to work with aboriginal peoples to define rules governing the use of national resources in areas used and occupied by aboriginal peoples (Fenge and Reimer, 1994).

Progress on rights to land and natural resources and self-determination by aboriginal peoples within each

Arctic nation is uneven, but progress nationally is mirrored on the circumpolar stage. Resolutions passed by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) since 1977 stress connections between economic development and environmental management, cultural protection and enhancement and Inuit involvement in decision making. The Inuit Regional Conservation Strategy and Comprehensive Arctic Policy are further expressions of these connections. Inuit have been careful to couch self-determination in terms of partnerships and political accommodations with governments.

The Horsholm Declaration (appendix 3), signed in 1991 by aboriginal leaders representing the ICC, Nordic Sami Council, and USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples, glues together sustainable and equitable development with aboriginal self-determination. The declaration is also notable for its biocentric view. While it seeks "new partnerships between the governments and the indigenous people . . . to meet the often overwhelming challenges of . . . rapid global change", it clearly appreciates that economic development can be environmentally and culturally sustainable only if state governments "recognize and accommodate the rights of aboriginal peoples to self-government, lands, renewable and non-renewable resources, and . . . recognize their cultural, social and economic rights".

This declaration is important as a collective statement by aboriginal peoples designed to influence implementation of the AEPS, to move this strategy toward planning for sustainability, and to further the case for active involvement of aboriginal peoples in all components of the initiative. In this it succeeds admirably. The Nuuk Declaration of 1993 not only incorporates many of the "core" sustainable development principles outlined earlier, but also reflects the spirit and intent of the Horsholm Declaration. When meeting at Nuuk in 1993, Arctic governments agreed to establish a task force on sustainability (table 1). Aboriginal peoples have participated in and followed closely the work of this task force.

Successes at national levels in promoting aboriginal self-determination and persuading governments to share power and to cooperatively manage the environment is mirrored in the AEPS agenda, which reflects many policy and research issues of importance to aboriginal peoples. ICC, Sami Council, and the newly named Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East Russian Federation have status in this initiative as permanent observers,

and aboriginal people are included on some national delegations. In the wake of these political gains, all concerned with sustainability in the Arctic and with implementation of the AEPS may turn to another key issue: the information base for sustainability decision making.


The Nuuk Declaration recognizes the special role of the indigenous peoples in environmental management and development in the Arctic, and of the significance of their knowledge and traditional practices, and . . . their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development in the Arctic [emphasis added].

In addition, it promised cooperation between Arctic nations "to strengthen the knowledge base and to develop information and monitoring systems". It is likely that traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), sometimes called indigenous knowledge, could be of real assistance in achieving these objectives. Information about the natural environment is a key ingredient in decision making for sustainability. Yet much remains to be learned about Arctic ecology before we can claim to understand the effects of human decisions made inside and outside the region and before we can define carrying and assimilative capacities with a degree of confidence. In short, our ability to implement sustainablity policies and programmes is greatly limited by the paucity of scientific knowledge about the Arctic. In the absence of that knowledge, adherence to the precautionary principle as outlined in the Nuuk Declaration would likely restrict or even prevent hoped-for resource development projects.

From a purely practical viewpoint, generating and incorporating TEK in decision making is attractive, for in the Arctic scientific research is expensive, most data are recent, and long-term baseline data are sometimes not available. In the last ten years there has been an explosion of interest in TEK by academics and others stimulated, in part, by cooperative management regimes set up as a result of land-claim and self-government agreements (Freeman and Carbyn, 1988; Sallenave, 1994). The AEPS is sponsoring important TEK work (Hansen, 1994), but policy and decision making in the Arctic does not yet benefit significantly.

Table 1.
The Mandate and Agenda of the AEPS Task Force
on Sustainable Development

Table is temporarily offline

Mandate of the Task Force:

to propose steps governments should take to meet their commitment to sustainable development in the Arctic, including the sustainable use of renewable resources by indigenous peoples, taking into account that management, planning and development activities shall provide for the conservation, sustainable use and protection of Arctic flora and fauna for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations, including local populations.


to prepare reports and make recommendations on opportunities to enhance indigenous peoples' economies, and to improve the environmental, economic and social conditions of Arctic communities through the sustainable utilization of natural resources, while protecting the cultures of indigenous peoples.



to prepare reports on specific issues and problems presented to the conservation, sustainable use and protection of Arctic flora and fauna by management, planning and development activities, and proposals for measures to mitigate or resolve such issues and problems.



to consider the needs for new knowledge, and ways of facilitating communication and of sharing information.


Additional work of the Task Force:

from this source of information—institutional, political, financial, and other barriers need to be overcome. But what is TEK? Mary Simon notes that

indigenous knowledge reflects an elaborate interrelationship between information and culture and as such can vary in detail and complexity from group to group and region to region. These knowledge systems, however, are not merely collections of fact. Working with indigenous knowledge is, therefore, a commitment to a process which respects it as a knowledge system and cannot be separated from the cultural context within which it operates (Simon in Hansen, 1994).

Most TEK studies deal with the knowledge that aboriginal peoples have of wildlife distribution, abundance, and behaviour, and many researchers treat this knowledge as data to be fitted into scientific models. This not only misses the point about the nature of TEK, but it also shows an overly narrow appreciation of what TEK is and can be used for. If collected appropriately, TEK can go beyond accounts of land and resource use. By drawing upon and correctly interpreting detailed environmental observations made by aboriginal people when on the land, TEK can illustrate ecological change. Such perspectives are important, particularly in light of predicted impacts in the Arctic of global warming and continuing human health concerns resulting from food web contamination by transboundary pollutants. Like science, this type of research can produce information to serve aboriginal and nonaboriginal peoples alike. But more than this, the manner in which Arctic states and the AEPS deal with TEK will reveal, in part, the extent to which they intend sustainable development to serve the objectives of aboriginal peoples, for, as many commentators have noted, respect for TEK is also respect for those who hold this knowledge. A recent and a soon-to-be-published study on the Hudson Bay region of northern Canada illustrate the potential of this type of work (McDonald, Arragutainaq, and Novalinga, 1995 and forthcoming).

5.1 The Hudson Bay Region

Hudson Bay is one of the world's largest inland seas; it includes James Bay, Hudson Strait, and all interconnecting channels (figure 1). The expansion of development projects throughout the bioregion over the last 50 years and of large-scale hydroelectric develop ment in the last 20 to 30 years, with further projects planned, has raised ecological, social, cultural and economic concerns—primarily among resident Cree and Inuit. Fearing that incremental development was compromising the bioregion's carrying capacity, three organizations—the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, the Municipality of Sanikiluaq, and the Rawson Academy of Aquatic Science—obtained funding from Canadian and American foundations, industry, and governments to carry out a three-year research programme beginning in 1992. The overall purpose of the programme was to situate future development of the region within a sustainability framework. More specific goals included the following:

The TEK component of the programme brought together representatives of 29 of the 34 Inuit and Cree communities in the region in 19 five-day workshops. Participants were asked to

This research process was carried out by Cree and Inuit with the assistance of an advisory committee of three academics, one researcher in the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and a consultant. All information generated at the community workshops was recorded, translated into English, and transcribed. The resulting text was over 2,000 pages in length. It was then mapped and converted into a Geographical Information System (GIS) database to illustrate ecological components, processes, and changes.

A first analytical task was to construct a food web of Hudson Bay (figure 2). In doing so, community representatives listed 174 animal, bird, fish, and plant species. Environmental observations were broad, rich, and detailed and reached back 50 years, providing a baseline that scientists in the programme envied. Certain plants, insects, and animals were identified as indicators of environmental change.

In some fields of inquiry, TEK supported conclusions derived from science. This was the case in increasing variability in climate and weather patterns and seasonal air temperatures. In other fields, such as currents, sea ice, and polynia and lead formation, TEK was able to expand greatly upon limited scientific knowledge. In relation to key species hunted by Inuit, including polar bears and beluga whales, TEK and science disagreed as to likely numbers, distribution, and annual travel patterns. When observations and interpretations were pieced together, the TEK evidence suggested the natural environment was changing rapidly as a result of human decisions both inside and outside the region and of natural processes (table 2). As a result, Inuit and Cree are suggesting with some urgency that TEK be used in resource planning and project-specific environmental assessment in the region, and that this information guide the formulation of sustainability policies.

TEK is seen by Cree and Inuit in the region as a web of relations between people and their environment that needs to be understood if both are to be sustained. The programme showed that TEK could make a real contribution to resource planning and decision making in a large region by providing indicators and early warning signs of environmental changes that result from local, regional, or global processes. Importantly, this research programme was carried out in the face of great political disagreements between governments and aboriginal peoples as to what resource developments should be undertaken in the region.

Undisplayed Graphic

While much research needs to be done, it seems that TEK could help to provide the "workable criterion for making decisions about human/environment relations" identified by Oran Young, and ensure that sustainable development is more than declaratory rhetoric.


Sustainable development will continue to mean different things to different people, but the goal of integrating ecological and economic concerns in decision making in the Arctic is here to stay, as is the shared objective of living within the region's carrying and assimilative capacities. What, then, are some of the challenges ahead if the "core" concepts outlined earlier are to guide decision making and to do so in line with political declarations signed in Rovaniemi, Nuuk, and Horsholm?

Undisplayed Graphic

Perhaps the first challenge is to continue developing the political will to address sustainable development in collective fora such as the AEPS and the proposed Arctic Council. Cooperation between the eight Arctic countries on environmental issues has grown considerably over the last five to ten years, stimulated in large measure by programmes under the AEPS. Dealing with the legacy of unsustainable development through remedial action will remain a needed focus for all Arctic nations and the AEPS. But moving wholeheartedly into planning, policies, and practices for sustainability will require an increased commitment to joint and cooperative action between Arctic states, subnational governments, and the region's aboriginal peoples.

Table 2.
Summary of Environmental Changes in the Hudson Bay Bioregion
Observed by Cree and Inuit

Eastern James Bay

Eastern Hudson Bay

Hudson Strait

Northwestern Hudson Bay

Western Hudson Bay

Western James Bay


colder winters in reservoir areas

shorter fall & spring seasons

greater variability in fall

increased snowfall

persistence of cold weather into spring

snow melts later

spring and summer cooling trend

less rain; fewer thunderstomes

greater variability; less predictable

cooling trend

new snowfall cycle

longer winters; snow melts later

less rainfall

greater variability

warmer and shorter winters

snow falls and melts earlier

cool summers in early 1990s

longer winters

colder springs

snow melts faster

shorter and warmer winters

spring wind shifts several times a day

Sea ice

salinity changing along NE coast

more freshwater forming in the Bay

less solid in LG River area; freezes later, breaks earlier

freezes faster

solid ice cover is larger and thicker

fewer polynyes

floe edge melts before breaking up

freezes faster

landfast ice extends further off-shore

polynyes freeze

floe edge melts before breaking up


weaker in Eastmain area

swifter and less predictable north of LG River

weakening currents

weakening currents

weaker currents in Roes Welcome Sound


seasonal reversal in levels and flow

decline in water quality

unstable ice conditions on LG River; freezes later, breaks earlier

decreased water levels and river flow

decreased water levels & river flow

decreased water levels & river flow

seasonal reversal in water levels and flow

increased salinity, erosion and sediment in Nelson River

decline in water quality

decreased water levels and river flow in southern James Bay rivers

increased erosion and mud slides


change in sky colour

change in sky colour

sun's heat blocked by haze

change in sky colour

sun's heat blocked by haze

change in sky colour

change in sky colour

change in sky colour

Canada and Snow geese

coastal and inland habitat changes

coastal flyways have shifted east

fewer being harvested in spring and fall

large flocks of non-nesting/molting geese along coastal flyway

Smaller flocks of Canada geese arrive in Belcher Islands since 1984

increase in non-nesting/molting geese in Belcher and Long Islands

new snow goose migration routes

increase in number of molting snow geese

Canada geese no longer nest in Soper River area

more Canada geese in Repulse Bay area during summers of 1992 and 1993

more snow geese migrating to and from the West

habitat changes at Marsh Point staging area

earlier and shorter fall migration

habitat changes in Moose Factory area

more SG flying in from West

CG arrive from the North first part of June

change in fauna migration patters


decrease in numbers

decrease in numbers

Polar bear

increase in numbers

increase in numbers

appear leaner and more aggresive


shift away from Sleeper Islands & Belcher Islands

increase in numbers around Nottingham Islands

decrease in numbers near Arviat and Whale Cove

increase in numbers near Coral Harbour amnd Chesterfield Inlet

decrease in numbers around Attawapiskat


mercury contamination

loss of adequate habitat for several species, e.g. whitefish, sturgeon, pike, etc.

decrease in Arctic char and Arctic cod in Inukjuak area

cod are no longer found near shores off of Cape Smith and Repulse Bay


sharp decrease in numbers

change in the taste of the meat


change in diet

very large herds

travelling closer to coast

increase in abnormal livers, i.e. spots and lumps

sharp increase in numbers

crossing to islands

change in diet

migration route has shifted inland

The AEPS brings together ministers responsible for the environment. Sustainable development, however, is within the purview of many portfolios. Might it be helpful and necessary in making sustainable development the sine qua non of activities in the Arctic to bring together ministers responsible for economic development, fiscal policy, and foreign policy? The proposed Arctic Council, which is to have a mandate broader than that of the AEPS would seem to be an institutional vehicle to provide for this.

A second challenge is to define a policy, planning, and research agenda that reflects more fully the various components of sustainability and to have this agenda acted upon by national governments and regional and circumpolar bodies, particularly the AEPS. In dealing with transboundary pollution and management of migratory species of wildlife, the case for bilateral or multilateral action between states or subnational governments is clear and compelling. This is not necessarily the case for other policy fields, such as non-renewable resource development. Indeed, development of oil, gas, and minerals is not on the agenda of the AEPS sustainable development task force (table 1). This is not an oversight.

Notwithstanding the reticence of national governments to have planned and potential nonrenewable development addressed in multilateral fora, the manner and speed with which energy and mineral resources in the Arctic are developed is a central component of sustainability. As such, improving and potentially harmonizing procedural and substantive standards for development of these resources could usefully be looked at by the AEPS or the Arctic Council. Article four of the Nuuk Declaration points in this direction by putting an onus on national governments to "promote legislation required for the protection of the Arctic environment". Development of guidelines for application of environmental impact assessment, proposed by Finland and being discussed in the AEPS sustainability task force, also leads in this direction.

A third challenge concerns the legal underpinnings to environmental and economic cooperation between Arctic states. The AEPS was established through a politically important but legally nonbinding declaration. Nevertheless, article ten of the Nuuk Declaration promises that Arctic nations will cooperate to develop new legal instruments to protect the Arctic environment. There seems to have been limited use of this article, which might also open the door for a re-examination of the legal status of the AEPS and the proposed Arctic Council.

Finally, the whole question of TEK needs to be given far greater weight in environmental management throughout the circumpolar world. Some dismiss TEK as anecdotal; others see it as ideologically tainted. While this type of knowledge has to be understood in the cultural context in which it is generated, it should be clear that it has much to offer. Finding ways and means to integrate TEK into decision making is a particularly important challenge to Arctic governments and to the AEPS.


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Appendix 1. The Rovaniemi Declaration

June 14, 1991 - The Rovaniemi Declaration - signed by the Eight Arctic Nations

Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment

We, the Representatives of the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America;

Meeting at Rovaniemi, Finland for the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of the Arctic Environment;

Deeply concerned with threats to the Arctic environment and the impact of pollution on fragile Arctic ecosystems;

Acknowledging the growing national and international appreciation of the importance of Arctic ecosystems and an increasing knowledge of global pollution and resulting environmental threats;

Resolving to pursue together in other international environmental fora those issues affecting the Arctic environment which require broad international cooperation;

Emphasizing our responsibility to protect and preserve the Arctic environment and recognizing the special relationship of the indigenous peoples and local populations to the Arctic and their unique contribution to the protection of the Arctic environment;

Hereby adopt the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and commit ourselves to take steps towards its implementation and consider its further elaboration.

We commit ourselves to a joint Action Plan of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy which includes:

We intend to assess on a continuing basis the threats to the Arctic environment through the preparation and updating of reports on the state of the Arctic environment, in order to propose further cooperative action.

We also commit ourselves to implement the following measures of the Strategy:

We agree to hold regular meetings to assess the progress made and to coordinate actions which will implement and further develop the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.

We agree to continue to promote cooperation with the Arctic indigenous peoples and to invite their organizations to future meetings as observers.

We agree to meet in 1993 and accept the kind invitation of the Government of Denmark and the Home Rule Government of Greenland to hold the next meeting in Greenland.

Wherefore, we, the undersigned Representatives of our respective Governments, recognizing its political significance and environmental importance, and intending to promote its results, have signed this Declaration.

Appendix 2. The Nuuk Declaration

September 16, 1993 - The Nuuk Declaration - signed by the Eight Arctic Nations

We, the Ministers of the Arctic Countries,

Recognizing the special role and responsibilities of the Arctic Countries with respect to the protection of the Arctic environment,

Acknowledging that the Arctic environment consists of ecosystems with unique features and resources which are especially slow to recover from the impact of human activities, and as such, require special protective measures,

Further acknowledging that the indigenous peoples who have been permanent residents of the Arctic for millennia, are at risk from environmental degradation,

Determined, individually and jointly, to conserve and protect the Arctic environment for the benefit of present and future generations, as well as for the global environment,

Noting that in order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it,

Recognizing the importance of applying the results of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to the Arctic region,

Welcoming the efforts of the eight Arctic Countries to implement, through the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy, relevant provisions of the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and the Forest Principles, efforts which include the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), and the Working Groups on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response, and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment,

Affirming Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which affirms that States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and development policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction,

Further affirming Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration, which states that: "indigenous people and their communities . . . have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development".

Hereby make the following Declaration:

1. We reaffirm our commitment to the protection of the Arctic Environment as a priority and to the implementation of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.

2. We adopt the report of the Second Ministerial Conference of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, and endorse its provisions to implement the Strategy, in particular:

3. We will cooperate to conserve, protect and, as appropriate, restore the ecosystems of the Arctic. We will in particular cooperate to strengthen the knowledge base and to develop information and monitoring systems for the Arctic region.

4. We recognize that effective domestic environmental legislation is a prerequisite to the protection of the environment. As Ministers we shall promote legislation required for the protection of the Arctic environment.

5. We support the achievements of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and state our beliefs that the Principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development have particular relevance with respect to sustainable development in the Arctic.

6. We believe that decisions relating to Arctic activities must be made in a transparent fashion and therefore undertake to facilitate through national rules and legislation appropriate access to information concerning such decisions, to participation in such decisions and to judicial and administrative proceedings.

7. We recognize the special role of the indigenous peoples in environmental management and development in the Arctic, and of the significance of their knowledge and traditional practices, and will promote their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development in the Arctic.

8. We believe that development in the Arctic must incorporate the application of precautionary approaches to development with environmental implications, including prior assessment and systematic observation of the impacts of such development. Therefore we shall maintain, as appropriate, or put into place as quickly as possible, an internationally transparent domestic process for the environmental impact assessment of proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the Arctic environment and are subject to decisions by competent national authorities. To this end we support the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.

9. We underline the importance of prior and timely notification and consultation regarding activities that may have significant adverse transboundary environment effects, including preparedness for natural disasters and other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the Arctic environment or its peoples.

10. We recognize the need for effective application of existing legal instruments relevant to the protection of the Arctic environment, and will cooperate in the future development of such instruments as needed. We support the early ratification of the United Nations Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change.

11. We undertake to consider the development of regional instruments concerned with the protection of the Arctic environment.

Appendix 3. The Horsholm Declaration

Declaration of the Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit

We, the Representatives of the indigenous peoples organizations of the Arctic, being the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Nordic Sami Council, and the USSR Association of Northern Small Peoples;

Meeting at Horsholm, Denmark, for the first Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit to seek greater mutual understanding and to further our cooperation;

Having respect for the traditional and continuing stewardship of our lands, waters, plants and animals; and for the traditional knowledge of our peoples;

Deeply concerned for the health, well-being and ultimate survival of our peoples, including recognition of our nutritional needs and the rights of renewable resource harvesters, and for the protection of our Arctic environment, both now and in the future;

Ever aware of the changes which have affected our peoples, our lands and our rights to decide for ourselves what our future shall be;

Recognizing that there is only one Arctic, and that we share one future together;

Affirming the requirement for sustainable and equitable development in our homeland;

Requiring state governments to recognize and accommodate the rights of aboriginal peoples to self-government, lands, renewable and non-renewable resources, and to recognize their culture, social and economic rights;

Commending the Arctic governments for their close cooperation with our organizations in the process leading up to the Declaration of Rovaniemi, and calling on those Arctic governments to fully implement the spirit as well as the words of the Declaration and of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy;

Declare that:

Arctic indigenous peoples desire not only to survive, but to thrive as indigenous peoples into this 21st Century. Arctic governments must take affirmative initiatives immediately to work with their indigenous peoples to bridge the rapid global change which impacts our peoples. Adequate resources must be made available by the governments to meet the real social, health, economic and educational needs of the indigenous peoples. New partnerships between the governments and the indigenous peoples must occur to meet the often overwhelming challenges of this rapid global change. Maximum self-determination of the indigenous people is desired.

We adopt as consensus statements of the Summit, the following:

1. Statement on Subsistence, the Traditional and Direct Dependence on Renewable Resources

2. Statement on Renewable Resource Harvesting

We agree to continue the collaboration begun here among the Arctic Indigenous Leaders by holding our Second Summit in 1993 to be organized by the Nordic Sami Council.

We further agree that in order to advance our mutual concerns, we will initiate a process leading up to the Second Arctic Indigenous Leaders Summit, to include the following issues: