Arctic News Roundup: 31 May – 6 June

Bankastræti, a main road in downtown Reykjavík [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) Alda Sigmundsdóttir, an author of many well-read publications on Iceland, wrote a commentary in the Canadian news service Globe and Mail about how her home country has been shaped economically and societally by tourism in the last decade. In addition to the national economy being revived by the tourism sector, she described the problems in Iceland which tourism growth had created, including local concerns about Icelandic language protection, excessively pricey hotels for domestic tourists, and inability of some facilities to host foreign guests. However, the COVID-19 pandemic altered the situation drastically and the tourism sector was damaged severely. As a result, tourism-related companies restarted with a focus on attracting local visitors. However, with the gradual recovery of the sector with an increasing number of post-pandemic tourists from abroad, Alda’s piece called for a better strategy for the industry.  

2) As the United Kingdom continues to carve out a post-Brexit trade policy, it was announced, as reported by BBC News, that a deal had been finalised with Iceland and Norway, along with Liechtenstein, to liberalise mutual trade and cut tariffs. All four countries are outside of the European Union, and the British government has been seeking to diversify its trading partners since withdrawing from the EU in 2020. There remain various issues to be reconciled however, including the sensitive subject of access to Norwegian waters for British fishing vessels, and Norwegian concerns about competition from UK cheese and beef products.

3) A policy paper entitled ‘Estonia’s Interests and Opportunities in the Context of Global Developments in the Arctic’ was published by International Centre for Defence and Security (RKK-ICDS) – Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, in May. The paper discusses several aspects of the interests of the country in the High North, such as the impacts of climate change, security concerns, political, economic and scientific involvement of Estonia in regional affairs, contribution to Indigenous communities in the Arctic and other related subjects. A number of recommendations are provided by the authors, including a call for a comprehensive Arctic strategy. Estonia has been seeking formal observer status in the Arctic Council, and has embarked on a number of projects related to Arctic engagement.

4) As the New York Times reported, US President Joe Biden announced the suspension of plans to allow oil extraction leases, issued by the previous Trump administration, within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The ANWR is estimated to be abundant in oil resources but nevertheless is also home to diversified fauna and flora, and so fossil fuel extraction there has been opposed on environmental grounds.

5) The Arctic Institute published an overview which covers the latest Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, which took place in Reykjavík, Iceland. The piece summarised the main achievement during the Chairing by Iceland, with a focus on sustainable development, the ambition of Russia for the following two years after assuming the position and its wishes for further dialogues with the Arctic neighbours. 

6) Also from The Arctic Institute, the organisation published an analytical article on marine resource disputes in the Arctic via three case studies, namely the Bering Sea, Barents Sea and the North Atlantic. Despite ongoing conflicts involving fishing rights in these waters, as the author argued, governments still tend to handle these problems carefully, and usually separate them from other subjects. Yet, combined with military related issues, fishing conflicts in the High North may be more aggravated. Existing, and potential, areas of scientific research and cooperation are seen as helping to mitigate these challenges.