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Ecological Feedback Effects Affecting Arctic Biodiversity in Response to Glacial Melt

A changing Arctic

The Arctic is a geographic region situated in the northernmost part of earth. It marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice. The Arctic is considered an area within the Arctic Circle that draws an imaginary line that circles the globe at 66° 34′ N. The Arctic Circle region includes the Arctic Ocean basin and the northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska. This region is characterized by its distinctive polar conditions caused by the angle of the Earth to the Sun, which creates strong differences in climate and photoperiod between long, dark, cold winters and the short, cool summers with a period of continuous daylight.

The Arctic is made up of several different ecoregions that support different communities of plants and animals. These include permanently frozen tundra, grasslands, wetlands, boreal forest, and glaciers and ice sheets (AMAP, 2016). Even though most of the Arctic is covered by water, the Arctic Ocean is the world´s smallest ocean, accounting for just 1% of the world´s ocean water (AMAP, 2016). This is due to the fact that most of the water in the Arctic is freshwater. The Arctic accounts for about three-quarter of the world´s total freshwater resources and the majority of this water is found in a frozen state (Reinwarth & Stablein, 1972).

Arctic freshwater systems are undergoing abrupt changes associated with global warming. The responses to these variations are, in turn, interconnected with many other processes, producing a rebound effect that ultimately has consequences that affect the whole world as we know it.

In this paper, we will present an overview of the various environmental effects caused by climate change and how they interconnect, with the aim of raising awareness of the gravity of the consequences that follow these cross-related processes and the importance of maintaining the stability of the ecosystems.

Ice bodies in the Arctic and their formation

When we talk about the melting of ice, we are referring to all perennial surface ice on land, which includes ice sheets or continental glaciers, sea ice, ice shelves, glaciers, and ice caps (UNEP, 2008). Ten percent of the total world´s rivers flow into the Arctic Ocean. The high amount of freshwater flowing into this ocean forms a less saline water layer that sits on top of a denser saltwater layer. The surface layers freeze and, in this way, sea ice is formed (AMAP, 2016). There are also other types of freshwater bodies that have different formation processes, such as ice caps and ice sheets, cirque and alpine glaciers, or valley and piedmont glaciers.

A glacier is defined as a persistent large body of ice that moves slowly over land, propelled by its own weight. Glaciers can move down a slope or valley or they can spread outwards on a land surface. They are dynamic stores of water which vary greatly in size and are constantly exchanging mass and energy with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and other parts of the earth system (Benn & Evans, 2010).

Glaciers are formed when the snowfall accumulation far exceeds the melting and sublimation in a certain area over a period of time. They begin as snowflakes that start to accumulate and gradually, as the snow becomes denser, the weight of the accumulated snow buries the older snow and compresses it. The seasonal snow gradually densifies and becomes more tightly packed. The dense grainy ice that has survived a one year melt cycle is called firn (Paterson, 1994). When the ice grows thick enough, the firn grains fuse and the interconnecting air passages between the grains are closed off, turning into a huge mass, called glacial ice (Paterson, 1994).

The fact that they are created by snowfall means glaciers are primarily composed of fresh water. Over 68% of the world’s freshwater is held in ice caps, ice sheets, and glaciers (Shiklomanov, 1993) and out of that percentage, 20% comes from glaciers and icebergs that are in the Arctic region (National Geographic Society, 2016).

Glaciers are not static despite their appearance. When the ice reaches a certain thickness, there are constant pressures acting on it and varying levels of heat, molecular actions, and movement are produced within the glacier (Paterson, 1994).

The ice mass flows under the influence of its own gravitational weight, chemical changes in the surroundings, and the Earth’s own natural movements. It moves to lower latitudes, where it undergoes extensive loss by melting; these areas are known as ablation areas (Benn & Evans, 2010). The total glacier mass evolves through time depending on the balance between accumulation and ablation, which depend on climate and local topographic factors (UNEP, 2008). Accumulation and ablation areas are separated by the equilibrium line, where the balance between gain and loss of mass is 0 (UNEP, 2018).

Arctic’s shrinking cryosphere

Some parts of the Arctic Ocean remain ice-covered all year-round, but the edges of the ice cover melt in summer, causing the ice to break off and float away with the ocean currents. Each year, Arctic sea ice follows a general trajectory, growing late September through April, and melting from April through mid-September (NSIDC, 2020). There is three times more ice in winter than in summer (Thomsen et al., 2016). However, recent years have experienced lower extents in all seasons, especially summer and early autumn, although the shape of the yearly trajectory has not changed. The most dramatic collapse in the satellite record occurred in September 2012, where the average extent for the entire month of September was 3.57 million square kilometres. This is a highly unusual drop from the previous years (NSIDC, 2020) and covers less than half the area that was occupied decades ago. In the 1970s, before the Arctic sea cover started to melt, it would average 8 million square kilometres a year (Raj & Singh, 2013).

The floating sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is, without a doubt, shrinking. Snow cover over land in the Arctic has decreased, notably in spring, and glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada are retreating. In addition, permanently frozen ground in the Arctic, known as permafrost, is warming and in many areas thawing (NSIDC, 2020).

Raj and Singh report in a new study that the radial decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change. Climate change induces complex responses to the Earth’s cryosphere (Bamber & Payne, 2004) because there is a complex chain of processes linked to climate change; changes in atmospheric conditions, such as solar radiation, air temperature, precipitation, wind, cloudiness, etc. (Kuhn, 1981). This means that the increase in glacial melt is related to the fact that the earth’s average temperature has been increasing dramatically for more than a century. Since scientists first started to see evidence of changes in Arctic climate, the changes have only become more pronounced. Nowadays, glaciers and ice caps are used to act as indicators of climate change and global warming (UNEP, 2018).

The Arctic is changing faster than any other place on our planet. In fact, the global warming rising temperatures have been twice the global average over the past 30 years. This phenomenon is known as Arctic amplification (NSIDC, 2020; IPCC 2007). Most glaciers around the world are presently retreating; the ice is declining by more than 10% every 10 years (Dyurgerov & Meier, 2005). However, The Fifth IPCC Report (2013), shows that areas in the Arctic, such as Alaska and Northern Canada, are among the areas where glaciers have lost most ice mass over the past decade. Continued sea ice declines are expected and a seasonally ice-free Arctic is predicted to occur well before the end of this century (Kwok et al., 2009).

Glaciers play a huge role in Earth’s water cycle and condition in all Arctic ecosystems. As the ice cover shrinks, balance between all of the interconnected factors that make up the ecosystems is lost. All of the processes are cross-related and when they are subject to changes, they have repercussions on other processes that in turn cause responses on others, creating feedback loops that lead to further warming. This feedback is the reason climate change affects the Arctic more and faster as we move forward in time. As crucial biological and biogeochemical processes suffer variation, ecological regime shifts associated with possible losses of biodiversity are induced (Agustí & Duarte, 2010). The rapidly diminishing ice cover has also unlocked opportunities that set even more pressure on the biodiversity of the Arctic ecosystems, such as the exploitation of natural resources that were unreachable until now, increased tourism, as well as new transportation and shipping routes (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacier retreat compromises glacier ecosystems and the loss of a pool of genes adapted to the cold that live only in these ecosystems (Vincent, 2010). These changes are linked through different atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial systems and they cascade through the entire food chain, from small ice-associated species, such as microbes, to megafauna and marine mammals (ACIA, 2004; Mueter et al., 2009). It also affects terrestrial species and overall all ecosystems, landscapes and environmental systems because it brings climate feedbacks that cause major changes to the earth surface (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

These changes impact processes that set the framework for the global climate system, influencing regions all over the world (White et al., 2010). Some of these changes are well understood, while there is a considerable uncertainty around other projected changes. The impacts it will have on human society range from the decrease of water that will be available for consumption and irrigation because of long-term loss of natural freshwater storage in frozen form, effects on hydroelectric energy generation capacity, to the emergence of new diseases, parasites and contaminants (Kutz et al., 2005; Sommaruga, 2014).

As climate change leads to glacial melt and feedback loops conducive to further warming are created, all ecosystems are being affected. In this paper the cross-related processers caused by climate change are linked to one another in order to explain the consequences this has on ecosystems and the biodiversity that we rely on. Biodiversity keeps the ecological system we live in working. Changes in the Arctic ecosystem affect our resources directly and indirectly, having an impact on our society as we know it. These ecosystems ultimately influence us by conditioning science, development, management, recreation, economy, religion, cultural heritage, and resources for the maintenance of human livelihoods.

The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of this biodiversity that is being destroyed and to gain consciousness on how important it is to cooperate in implementing a conservation management plan that relies on sustainability and makes ourselves responsible for the alterations to the earth that we are causing.

Biodiversity and Climate Change

Biodiversity in the arctic
The Arctic is made up of a number of different communities of plants and animals supported by specific ecoregions; permanently frozen tundra, boreal forests, grasslands, wetlands, and ice sheets and glaciers (AMAP, 2016). Arctic biomes are often defined by how water moves through or is stored within them because they are characterized by a variety of freshwater ecosystems. As the Arctic water cycle changes, the biomes and their ecosystems are changing as well.

Without taking into account the microorganisms, the Arctic ecosystems support more than 21,000 species of plants, fungi, and animals, or even endoparasites (Barry et al., 2013). This is without taking into account that many species remain yet undescribed or undiscovered (Bluhm et al., 2011). If we compare this to other areas, the Arctic has relatively few species, but even though they are less rich in species, the Arctic region contributes significantly to global biodiversity. This is because Arctic ecosystems are recognized for their highly adapted, extreme environment-resistant species that fill multiple unique ecological niches.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the term “biodiversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

Biodiversity is important because it refers to the variety of life on earth that keeps the ecological system we live in working. Each species has a unique niche or role to play in an ecosystem since living creatures depend on each other to survive. The strong interaction between species leads to cascading impacts from one species to another, which is why the loss of specific species greatly conditions the survival of others that benefit from the previous.

This polar region is recognized for its cold-adapted species that have developed genetic diversity, reflecting great adaptation. The pool of genes developed in the Arctic is therefore unique and contributes greatly to planet biodiversity. In addition to these distinctive genes, the Arctic ecosystems indirectly contribute to shaping global biodiversity because of the impact it causes on the rest of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacial ecosystems
Anesio and Laybourn-Parry (2012), argue that the cryosphere is a biome even though it isn’t characterized as a biome in most textbooks. Although they haven’t always been given this credit, glaciers and ice sheets are Earth’s largest freshwater ecosystems and they comprise several biodiverse habitats. Glacier ecosystems occur on the ice, in the ice, and under the ice and they can be divided into supraglacial, englacial, and subglacial ecosystems (Hodson et al., 2008). The biome they form is very distinct from others and it is dominated by microorganisms, both autotrophs and heterotrophs (Hodson et al., 2008; Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012).

Cold-adapted (psychrotrophs) and cold-loving (psychrophilic) microorganisms that are actively metabolizing on glaciers and ice sheets have a range of unique genes and adaptations. They have the ability to produce anti-freezing proteins, cold-active enzymes, and exopolymeric substances that provide cell protection against the damaging effects of the cold (Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012). These microbial communities also play an interesting role in biogeochemical transformations (carbon fixation and respiration, iron cycling and methanogenesis) with implications that reach global scale (Hodson et al., 2008).

We have relatively little information about the functional diversity of glacial microbes, and their role in biogeochemical processes, but we are aware that they are valuable organisms able to adapt and thrive extreme habitats and, as explained in Green´s et al. (2008) paper, studying these organisms can offer us possible responses to climate change. Climate change compromises the survival of this pool of distinctive genes and conditions biodiversity as alterations to glaciers and ice sheets translate to surrounding ecosystems that, at the same time, have repercussions on the rest of the world. It is not just about the loss of the polar hemispheres, but about how this conditions the world as we know it.

Terrestrial Ecosystems
The Arctic terrestrial ecosystem is normally saturated with water as a consequence of always being covered in snow, excepting the warmer months of the year. Moreover, permafrost lies underneath the tundra, also helping to keep moisture, as well as nutrients, during the summer months (Callaghan et al., 2005).

Tundra plants survive by adapting to extreme conditions. In the winter, they are protected by the snow that covers them (Callaghan et al., 2005). In the spring, plants come alive by obtaining warmth from the soil, keeping moist and unexposed by growing in mats close to the ground.

The arctic terrestrial ecosystem is recognized for its low primary production and plant biomass (Schmidt et al., 2002). The low production is a consequence of the fact that the area of available tundra is small. In addition, there is a short growing season due to the temperatures, snow cover, permafrost, and the high proportion of photosynthetically less efficient cryptogams in the plant communities (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

There is an accumulation of organic matter, as a result of the higher production than decomposition rate, caused by the temperature dependence of microorganisms. This leads to a high food supply that diverse species, such as saprophagic arthropods as well as vertebrates, come to take advantage of (Jonasson et al., 1999). In addition, plants are generally nitrogen- and/or phosphorus-limited (Schmidt et al., 2002) and compete against microbes for nutrients, resulting in a high proportion of biogenic salts being microbially fixed (Jonasson et al., 1999; Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

Marine Ecosystems
The Arctic Ocean is a young ocean with an evolutionary origin of seaweeds, marine invertebrates and mammals that dates back to 3.5 million years ago (Adey et al., 2008). The seasons without ice date to the last 10,000 years, which means that ecosystems belonging to Arctic coastal waters are even younger (Weslawski et al., 2010). The fact that it is a young ocean causes it to have lower biodiversity compared to marine ecosystems that are found at lower latitudes (Adey et al., 2008; Michel et al., 2012). Even though there appears to be a comparatively smaller number of species that support the marine food web, these species are of great complexity and diversity and they can be found in abundant biomasses. These species hold an immense ecological importance since they are essential to maintain diverse trophic pathways within Arctic marine ecosystems.

As stated in Michel’s et al. (2012) paper, the current biodiversity estimates suggest that, while there are many species yet to be discovered, the marine Arctic includes several thousand species of microbes and protists, over 2000 species of algae, and 5000 animal species, including hundreds of zooplankton taxa dominated by crustaceans and thousands of unicellular and multicellular benthic taxa.
The Arctic ecosystem is considered phagophyllic, which means it is associated with seasonal ice and the functioning of marine arctic ecosystems is linked to key physiographic and hydrographic features of the Arctic Ocean, which include temperature, salinity, stratification, connection to other oceans, etc. (Michel et al., 2012). Fluctuations in these features affect the organisms that are conditioned by them. The Arctic ecosystem is based around algae which is one of the most abundant organisms and depends on this sea ice and is at the bottom of the food chain, supporting all other species (Barnes & Tarling, 2017). These organisms are found in such considerable biomasses that they create clear, nutrient-free water in the winter months and intense blooms in the summer (Smetacek & Nicol, 2005; Barnes & Tarling, 2017). In the summer, production becomes high due to 24 hours of sunlight that allows continuous photosynthesis to be possible. There are also high near-surface nutrient concentrations due to vertical mixing through a combination of wind-mixing and upwelling. Diatoms, which are very efficient producers, are dominant in these conditions (Dunbar, 1982).

Marine organisms are distributed unevenly in the ocean because of the uneven mixing and the upwelling (Stempniewicz et al., 2007). Regions such as glacier fronts, marginal ice zones or estuaries, where different water masses mix, are often rich feeding sites (Dunbar, 1982). Continental shelves are highly dynamic environments where most of the biological production in the Arctic Ocean takes place and a broad range of biodiversity is found. They are habitats that support unique communities of organisms because there is a wide range of environmental conditions on these shelves. The conditions go from gradients in temperature, salinity, and nutrient concentrations to changes in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon caused by the influence of the annual sea ice (Steffens et al., 2006).

Climate change impact on the biodiversity in the Arctic

Effects on the different Arctic ecosystems
The ice that covers the poles has a high albedo, which means that it can reflect solar radiation, helping to cool the earth. As this ice cover shrinks, the albedo effect that cools the poles and essentially refrigerates the earth is being eliminated (IPCC, 2007) because snow and ice have a greater albedo effect than the bare or vegetated ground that is replacing it. Surfaces with a lower albedo that are getting exposed, absorb more heat, contributing to even more warming (Raj & Singh, 2013). Less sea ice covering the ocean exposes more of its surface to solar energy and also wind. This causes a higher evaporation which increases air moisture. The warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture it can hold, which implies a feedback effect. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, therefore more moisture also contributes to rising temperatures, thus creating an additional feedback effect that leads back to the melting of ice. Higher winds caused by the lack of sea ice ‘’protecting’’ the water provide a rise in the mixing of surface layers with underlying waters. Because deep water in the Arctic is warmer than surface waters, heat is brought up from lower depths, which results in further water temperature variations (AMAP, 2011a).

Moisture in the atmosphere contributes to more precipitation in an increasing proportion as rain, which at the same time contributes to more defrost. In addition, climate change is also leading to the transport of more moisture from lower latitudes towards the pole (AMAP, 2016). Increased precipitation, river flow, and discharge from melting glaciers and ice sheets are all channeling growing volumes of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean. This also contributes to rising sea levels. According to NSIDC (2019), if all land ice melted away, the sea level would rise by almost 70 meters with the Greenland ice sheet contributing to a rise of about seven meters, and thus submerge many of the world’s greatest cities (IPCC, 2007).
Melted fresh water causes less dense water on the surface and an increased stratification, which results in higher surface water temperatures and lower biological activity because phytoplankton can be isolated from deeper layers that are richer in nutrients (Oliver et al., 2018). Warmer water in the surface absorbs less carbon dioxide which then stays in the atmosphere and further warms the earth (Oliver et al., 2018). Alternatively, a longer open water period can also be linked to increased primary production (Arrigo et al., 2008) due to the higher wind mixing rates that create favourable conditions for upwelling of nutrient-rich waters (Michel et al., 2012). In addition, phytoplankton receives more light in the open water (Arrigo et al., 2008). This means that, as explained in Oliver’s et al. (2018) paper, depending on local conditions, sea ice losses can enhance or reduce primary production.

The layer of permafrost covers approximately 25% of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere (Yang et al., 2010). It is a significant carbon store that contains remnants of plants and animals accumulated over thousands of years; by some estimates, it contains twice as much carbon as there is currently in the Earth’s entire atmosphere (AMAP, 2016). Observations and measurements show that the temperature in the permafrost has risen by up to 2-3°C in most places in the last 40 years (IPCC, 2007). The total area of the northern hemisphere with surface permafrost is expected to decrease as much as 80% by the end of this century (IPCC, 2007). Thawing permafrost contributes to the release of greenhouse gases (mainly methane) that are currently stored in the ground which leads to the previous effects and allows microbes to break down this organic matter, producing greenhouse gases. Furthermore, when permafrost thaws, water from small lakes and tarns is drained away, affecting the hydrological cycle in the area (AMAP, 2012). Permafrost melt allows plant growth but can also cause areas to experience perennially waterlogged conditions, suppressing forest growth (AMAP, 2016).

There are important warm ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Arctic pole. In the North Atlantic the water brought from warmer lower latitudes will be cooled. As the warmer water flows in, colder, denser water sinks below and begins flowing outwards from the Arctic Ocean and moves south. These currents circulate within the Arctic marine system, and then flow southwards, having an important role in driving global ocean circulation. Increased flows of freshwater and changes in salinity could disrupt this mechanism that plays a key role in global climate regulation and is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) (Palter, 2015). Disturbances in the Gulf Stream can dramatically impact the weather on land.

Ocean currents and rivers also play a big part in supplying nutrients that form the basis of marine food webs of global importance (Palter, 2015). For example, extensions of the Gulf Stream, such as the North Atlantic current, have branches that are warm-water currents that carry small calanoids that impact Spitsbergen. Other currents like the Sørkapp Current, influence Spitsbergen by bringing cold, Arctic water from the northeast with a zooplankton community (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

The jet stream is a high-level airstream that circles the globe at mid-latitudes and affects the track of pressure systems and storms over North America, Europe, and Asia (Raj & Singh, 2013). It can also be influenced by glacial melt because it is driven by the difference in temperatures between cold Arctic air and warmer air from the south.

When the ice melts into freshwater and precipitations increase, there is plant growth (Callaghan, 2001). A surface covered by plants has a lower albedo and, therefore accentuates climate change and leads to some of the effects we explained previously. In the ocean, the lack of cover provided by the ice, will also result in new habitats available for seaweed colonisation in the ocean (Weslawski et al., 2011).
In both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, more plants mean more photosynthesis. This could be counterproductive due to an enrichment in nutrients and minerals from permafrost and the enhanced flow of water that could potentially support excess heterotrophic activity and cause eutrophication. As explained in Agustí et al. (2010), a transition towards an ecosystem with a reduction in export matter that causes an increased heterotrophy is taking place (Agustí et al., 2010). The shifting of the net metabolism of the Arctic Ocean from autotrophic to heterotrophic implies a change from a net sink to a source of CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010).

In terrestrial ecosystems, this can alter local food webs and the range of wildlife supported by an ecosystem (Zarnetske et al., 2012). It also leads to an abundance of commensal species impacting Arctic endemics, such as predators or competitors and outbreaks of insect herbivores and plant pathogens (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

In aquatic ecosystems, this leads to blooms of algae that reduce water quality, crowd out other species, and are toxic for animals. Cloudiness can block the light needed for photosynthesis and potentially clog filter-feeding fauna (AMAP, 2016). The supply of clean water is also an important service provided by natural systems. Again, toxic algae blooms caused by excessive nutrient inputs can affect drinking water quality.

Other changes being experienced in the Arctic tundra are small variations in nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) The Arctic tundra is dominated by plants that have low nutrient requirements (Jonasson et al., 1999). Small variations in N and P cause a strong increase in plant productivity (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001), which is why changes in the cycling of nutrients will bring changes to the community structure (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

As explained on the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (Barry et al., 2013), changing landscapes and vegetation will bring loss of unique animal species from certain areas of the Arctic. Species rely on seasonal indicators that are changing, and they have different ecological responses to these variations. Changes in the sea ice or sea ice surface generates the direct loss of habitats. Fluctuations in stratification, light attenuation, and nutrient availability indirectly affect unique communities of organisms, such as pelagic and benthic communities. These communities support associated food webs having repercussions on higher trophic levels and also impact the reproduction and foraging success of ice-associated species (AMAP 2011; Michel et al., 2012).

While it is hard for specific species to adapt to these gradual changes in the timing of the seasons, new species from the south that are already accustomed to those parameters can expand their breeding ground and have access to places they could not before (Jensen et al., 2008). The pattern that will be most often repeated will be that milder environmental conditions in the pole may provide new habitats for temperate species that may outcompete polar species and disrupt the ecosystem (Michel et al., 2012). Replacement by subarctic species that have extended their distribution range northward have been observed in the last 30 years for different animal species (Michel et al., 2012). Increased human activity in the Arctic also contributes to bringing invasive species (Kortsch et al., 2015). There will also be alteration to the predator–prey interactions because of the change in habitat and seasonality. Many species depend on sea ice for their dispersal and access to feeding (Descamps et al., 2017). Although these species could have a short-term benefit because there will be higher prey densities gathered in smaller ice-covered areas, in the long term it will result in their extinction (Thomsen et al., 2016; Descamps et al., 2017).

Variations in diversity are taking place, with a trend towards a community of smaller cells, such as bacteria, small algae, and zooplankton. If these organisms, which are a strong determinant of trophic pathways and carbon fluxes in marine ecosystems, continue having a competitive advantage, it can lead to reduced biological production at higher trophic levels (Li et al., 2009). Changes in the size and energy content of key zooplankton prey affect energy transfer in the pelagic food web having important consequences for the animal species that tap into this food base (Weslawski et al., 2000).

An increase in bacterial respiration which is also supported by an increase in temperatures, increased inputs of carbon, and the strengthening of the pycnocline, also means a challenge for the capacity of the Arctic Ocean to act as a sink for CO2 (Cai et al., 2010). The dominant microbial loop in the upper water column will lead to decreased exports of biogenic material to the sea floor. This will again help the planktonic ecosystem shift from a CO2 sink to a CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010). Bacteria and other microorganisms will have a higher supply of organic matter that they can convert to carbon dioxide and the ocean can experience a reduction in calcium ions and higher ocean acidification generated by an increase in carbon dioxide. The ocean also absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere which will be at higher concentrations. This means more dissolved CO2 in the ocean which is a threat to calcareous organisms and may have cascading impacts on marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and fisheries. Calcium ions and carbonate are used to build shells and skeletons which species rely on (Barry et al., 2013; AMAP, 2016). Studies have detected an undersaturation in aragonite which is essential for the formation of the shell of an important plankton species in the Arctic caused by ice melt (Yamamoto-Kawai et al., 2009).


The Arctic is undergoing crucial changes in many of its elemental physical components. These alterations have important impacts on the chemical and biological processes, having repercussions that are coupled with many ecological feedback processes and will cause unpredictable reorganizations of ecosystems in the region and potentially on a global scale.

Loss of biodiversity is one of the effects we are already experiencing due through climate change and we need to be aware of why this is so severe. Biodiversity keeps the planet healthy since it keeps a balance. If there is a big change and functioning ecosystems disappear, then the earth might not be able to ever recover from this loss of balance. It is not just for the wellbeing of other organisms, but our own wellbeing is affected, too. They are just the first to experience it. It also impacts our lives in a direct way because less biodiversity compromises the resources that we take advantage of. Since we need these resources to survive, we must learn to take care of them. That is why it is of great importance that we combine our interests with sustainability, promoting an innovative and respectful society that is dependent on stability and well-functioning cooperation. There are ways to use our knowledge in technology, but the upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic biodiversity and resources must be as innovative and wide-ranging as the unknown stressors that are being experimented by Arctic ecosystems now. The impacts of climate change will give rise to coordination challenges among nations, as well as for regional levels of government.

The Arctic offers major opportunities for development with multiple sectors that have a great potential for economic growth and requires a management plan based on sustainability that takes account of environmental and social considerations. The fact that the Arctic is an unexplored source of unique resources joined with the current situation that demands solutions to remediate global warming, makes research related to new industries, such as marine bioprospecting, indispensable. Science plays a crucial role in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change since it has the ability to positively reduce the effects that have been explained. The upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic resources and ecosystems, as well as to study and understand them, must be as novel and expansive as the unknown challenges that are being experimented by the Arctic region now.

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Climate Change and Mental Health: A Snapshot of Arctic Indigenous People’s Resiliency and Suffering as the World Transforms

For years, the Arctic region, home to 4 million people, ten percent of whom are indigenous, has provided an example of rapidly changing climate patterns impinging on human ability to adapt to the change (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). The Circumpolar region has experienced warming at a rate roughly two to three times greater than the rest of the world (AMAP, 2021). As the environment changes, the region’s economic prospects also change, both positively and negatively. But to understand the full extent of the Arctic as a region experiencing rapid climate change also requires examining the human toll—the emotional toll—this transformation causes. Duane Smith, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada and Vice-President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, points out in the UN Chronicle that the sacred knowledge of the world passed down through generations in Indigenous communities is becoming less accurate as Arctic ecosystems change with the climate. As a result, traditional ways of life are less viable for Arctic Indigenous peoples (Smith). Many Indigenous people have begun to feel like strangers in their own lands (GreenFacts Scientific Board, 2021). These communities have shown incredible resilience thus far, but that forced adaptation is also costly. Take for instance, the fact that Circumpolar people, specifically the wellbeing of adolescents, is worsening with not enough solutions in sight. Suicide is on the rise among Indigenous adolescents in the Arctic, especially in Greenland (Bjerregaard & Lynge, 2006). In the Arctic region, Greenland is the world’s largest island with a population composed primarily of Inuit people (Rasmussen, 2021). The island is also home to the world’s second-largest ice sheet, which is vital to global climate patterns (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2020). Much like rapid modernization and cultural identity deviation, climate change impacts and melting Arctic ice are also contributing to this region’s worsening mental health crisis (Barrett, 2019).

As Indigenous cultures and their relationship to the ice struggle to endure, they are vulnerable to underrepresentation in the face of globalization and modernization. If their unique needs and experiences are not recognized, they will suffer disproportionately from the impact of global climate change. Their experience could prove to be a warning sign for many cultures in the coming decades.

Mental health is a key area of concern, especially among younger generations in Greenland. Greenland has the highest suicide rate of any country in the world, almost to the point where suicide is a normal part of life. Every Greenlander can say they know someone who has died by suicide (Hersher, 2016). As the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework is being deployed across the globe in accordance with its 2030 agenda, it’s essential this region and its communities are not left behind. One way to do this is to mobilize the recommendations of the UN’s Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) by investing in improved mental health infrastructure for Arctic native people.

The Inextricable Link Between Environmental and Mental Changes for Arctic Indigenous People

According to recent reports by the UN, 2019 was the second-hottest year on record within the hottest decade recorded (2020). For the Arctic, this reality has been unmistakable. Glacier ice, sea ice, and permafrost are melting at alarming rates in this region, creating devastating impacts on the world’s cryosphere (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2020). According to predictions, the Arctic will be ice free for at least part of the year before this century ends. It might even be ice-free by the middle of the century (Scott & Hansen, 2016).

The UN recognizes Indigenous people as “inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment” (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs Indigenous Peoples). And, with more than 40 different ethnic groups, the Circumpolar Indigenous people have called the Arctic home for thousands of years (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland).

Ford and others explain that Indigenous people have strong cultural and spiritual ties to their lands and “also have a central role in detecting and managing change due to [those] deep connections to the land and seas” (Ford, 2020). As industrialization and social and climate change erase Arctic ice and change weather patterns, the foundational continuity for indigenous traditions, livelihoods and culture are threatened (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). This is leaving the Arctic’s native people more vulnerable than ever, impacting their housing, infrastructure, and transport connections to the point of necessary relocation (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). One example from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that slower fall freezes are leaving Indigenous peoples without access to hunting, other communities, and health care (2020). “As a result, the livelihoods connected with hunting, fishing, and herding are under threat. Indigenous peoples have an especially strong bond with nature and the changes in harvesting activities may have implications for the economy, society, culture and health” (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland).

Relative to these people’s ancestral lineage on this land, the impacts they are seeing now from climate change are very disruptive to what they have always known. We know that disruption causes mental health challenges and suicidal risk factors like family collapse, increased alcoholism, and child abuse and neglect (Hersher, 2016). One example of widespread community devastation and rapidly forced adaptation happened in New Orleans, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A study found that serious to moderate mental illness nearly doubled among survivors of one of the deadliest hurricanes on record, forcing 500,000 people to relocate from their homes (Kessler, 2006). Another example of how climate change is devastating homelands, and by extension the mental health of its residents, comes from a 2016 wildfire at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada (AMAP, 2021). A mental health status assessment of young adolescents showed triple the rate of depression and double the rate of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (AMAP, 2021).

While change in the Arctic has been more gradual than a single natural disaster event, considering mental health and psychological theory shows how this disruption of ecosystems and livelihoods can adversely affect mental health. Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner developed an ecological paradigm that shows how a person’s development, interpersonal relationships, and overall well-being are influenced by the interconnected relationship between various ecosystems, from an individual to a macro level, and vice-versa (Guy-Evans, 2020). The work of Bronfenbrenner illustrates how interconnected human beings are with their environments and cultures. This is especially true for Arctic Indigenous people. Livelihoods, cultures, and support systems, all of which are under threat in the Arctic Indigenous communities, play an important role in identity formation, life fulfillment, and resilience to stressors. When people’s ecosystems are threatened or out of balance and interpersonal relationships are strained, mental, physical, and spiritual vitality wane. That can be a catalyst for isolation and mental illness.

Mental health literature also demonstrates what can happen when basic needs become more challenging to meet as a result of disrupted ecological systems. One of psychology’s most influential theorists, Abraham Maslow, asserts that human needs exist in a hierarchical schema where low level basic needs like food, water, shelter, safety, and security must be accomplished before higher level, self-fulfillment needs like a sense of belonging, fulfilling one’s full potential, and creative innovation can be satisfied (McLeod, 2014). If the lower-level basic needs go unmet, or are disrupted, it creates a substantial impact on a person’s mental health.

Some of the higher-level needs for the Arctic Indigenous, in particular, are currently under threat and often overlooked in health care systems. According to the Arctic Human Development Report, Arctic Indigenous people emphasize the importance of three key factors of human development not found in the Human Development Index. These include fate control (controlling one’s own destiny), maintaining cultural identity, and living close to nature (Larsen et al., 2014). Unfortunately, large gaps still exist for the Arctic Indigenous populations when it comes to meeting their lower-level, basic survival needs making it that much more difficult for them to realize these higher-level needs they hold as sacred and necessary for well-being.

The unsustainable burden climate change puts on the Arctic Indigenous people is playing out most uniquely for the future generations. These future generations are being raised by parents who have long been coping with ecological disruptions and unmet needs. Now, these parents are suffering with mental illnesses such as substance abuse and depression as a result of traumatic assimilation demands and rapid modernization. This increases mental health risk factors for their children (Barrett, 2019). As these parents are then looked upon to manage the burden of past and present circumstances, they are also managing the path forward for their children. This begins to illustrate what can happen when a culture and its needs are substantially eradicated within the span of a generation or less. In Greenland, for instance, many young people feel cut off from the older generations while also not really belonging to the new one (Hersher, 2016). The Indigenous youth are caught somewhere between a demand for modernity and new ways of living and a sacred duty to honor the culture of their ancestors as they find a way forward amid the far-reaching impacts of climate change.

Suicide Among Greenland’s Indigenous Adolescent

According to Chow, “Inuit Indigenous peoples make up 89% of Greenland’s population which means that mental health issues are particularly prevalent in Inuit communities” (2019). Of that 89%, the most alarming mental health concerns come out of the adolescent population.

“Inuit suicide rates per 100,000 for Greenland, NWT and Alaska with their national averages for Denmark, Canada and US by age group 1980-89 (8)” (Einarsson et al., 2004)

The above image indicates the vast disparity in suicide rates across the Arctic’s Indigenous youth. “Youth suicide rates are alarmingly high in many parts of the Arctic, particularly in Greenland [where] the suicide rates were around two to 10 times higher among Indigenous youth” (Lehti, Niemelä, Hoven, Mandell, & Sourander, 2009).

Additionally, youth suicides follow unique patterns. They tend to occur in clusters meaning for every suicide, there are many more attempts and instances of people experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideations creating catastrophic impacts on their communities (Larsen et al., 2014). This ripple effect of youth suicides can be devastating in small communities with nearly 60% of adults and roughly 33% of adolescent Greenlanders having lost a loved one to suicide (Larsen & Huskey, 2010). Suicidality at this level perpetuates the mental health crisis in this region as families take on more stress and coping responsibilities due to losses and grieving.

In the Arctic, male Indigenous populations are even more disproportionately affected by suicide when compared with populations as a whole (Einarsson et al., 2004). One reason for this among Arctic Indigenous males could be the effect climate change is having on traditional Indigenous male roles. The image below indicates such rates across the Arctic with the highest numbers occurring in Greenland (Larsen, 2014).

(Larsen, 2014)

Not only is risk of suicide significant in the Arctic’s Indigenous communities, but it is also directly tied to globalization and climate change. Greenland’s suicide wave has followed historical patterns and is indisputably linked to the rapid changes in Greenlandic ways of life (Larsen & Huskey, 2010). Youth is meant to be a time of growth, learning, and hope for the future, not a period of time marked by so many hardships and barriers that a person takes his/her own life. In order for these adolescents to have the best chance at a good future, they need mental health resources.

It’s important to note that it’s not just environmental changes that are impacting the Arctic Indigenous adolescents’ mental health. Social-political changes like forced assimilation can lead to loss of traditional practices and beliefs, displacement, loss of lands, and acculturative stress (Kvernmo, 2006). The intersectionality of acculturation demands and challenges due to climate change leave the Arctic’s Indigenous populations uniquely vulnerable to mental illness amid a lack of mental health resources. Climate change is resulting in food and water insecurity and impacts on health care infrastructure thus having a profound impact on human physical and mental health resulting in suicide and domestic violence, among others (Larsen et al., 2014). Mental illness can be shrouded in stigma and desires to avoid addressing the issue can run deep. Mental illness is often a difficult problem to face with no clear cut solution. Healing requires empowerment, hope, and thoughtful, intentional resource allocation.

In order to control their fate, the Arctic Indigenous people must have agency and resources. Unfortunately, large gaps still exist for the Arctic Indigenous populations when it comes to decision making opportunities, especially in regard to health systems. Many Indigenous people see the inclusion of local values as foundational to any healing system, therefore, making it important to broaden our ideas about what constitutes cross-cultural healthcare services and create new approaches to solving old problems (Einarsson et al., 2004). Acknowledging what is happening to the people in these communities begins to illustrate how this fate could befall others if more isn’t done to mitigate the risk factors.

A Case Study for Populations Everywhere

Research proves that when people are supported by mental health resources, they are more resilient, can take better care of their families, can participate more fully in society, and have the freedom to innovate and the world needs more of this (World Health Organization, 2013). By paying attention to the quality of life and adaptability among its vast and varied interconnected ecosystems and people, any region stands to gain a better understanding of itself and how it, too, might adapt to the changing environments. The Arctic Indigenous communities are currently some of the hardest hit by climate change, but they won’t be the only ones. They offer a clear example of why mental health needs to be a priority in implementing the UN’s Goal 3 and the allocation of resources.

Bolstering this community starts by creating more mental health infrastructure for the Arctic’s Indigenous people and their youth. This would broaden the community’s capacity to live at their fullest potential, to thrive, and to innovate. However, it’s important to consider the many barriers to mental health care services that often exist in rural areas. These include stigma around mental health, stigma toward those who have a desire for care, lack of anonymity when seeking mental health treatment, lack of mental health professionals, lack of affordable culturally competent care, and lack of transportation to care (Rural Health Information Hub, 2019). These are barriers that must be overcome.

Research shows that societies greatly benefit from more investment in mental health resources. One study looked at the effectiveness of implementing mindfulness-based practices into mental health care for Native American youth for suicide prevention. The results indicated the mindfulness approach, in collaboration with an indigenous research framework, improved their self-regulation and reduced suicidal thoughts (Le & Gobert, 2013). Another example of the positive impact mental health resources can have come out of Germany. In a study where interventions for depressive disorders were implemented, there was success in reducing suicidality, and this approach is currently being implemented in several other regions across Germany (Hegerl et al., 2006). Though the implementation of mental health resources is often costly and challenging, these studies indicate that it is a necessary and worthwhile priority.

Currently, there are numerous examples of resilience and evidence that Indigenous people are having some success coping and adapting to rapid change. They are improvising, adapting technologies, altering knowledge systems, and learning how to navigate challenging new environmental and social realities (Ford et al., 2020). While their resilience is evident, it is in response to great suffering that continues to escalate. That is why investment in mental health resources is urgently needed to allow the Arctic Indigenous people time and space to preserve their vibrant cultures in a changing world. No one knows better what the Arctic Indigenous people need to heal and to prosper than themselves. Providing them with the resources they need could allow them the space to do just that.


The melting Arctic ice and the rapidly changing environmental and economic landscapes of the Arctic regions are creating a trickle-down effect that is impacting every facet of Indigenous life, right down to the mental health of youth. Creating a healthier, more sustainable path forward for the next generation of Arctic Indigenous livelihoods, cultures, and health will require innovative changes ranging from environmental sustainability to responsible business practices to increased mental and physical health resources. The UN’s Goal 3 calls for global good health and wellness (United Nations Development Programme, 2020). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), world leaders are now recognizing a need for the promotion of mental health and well-being as health priorities within the global development agenda (2016). One compelling reason is the direct impact mental illness will have on the global economy. As Chisholms writes, The World Economic Forum estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to US$16 trillion over the next 20 years, equivalent to more than 1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) over this period. (2013). As the world works to implement changes in response to Goal 3, investment in mental health care will be needed in order to reduce suffering and unnecessary loss of life in the global health paradigm.

Climate change will continue to impact more and more populations and cultures, and we must be ready to support the emotional, and not just physical or economic needs, brought on by our changing environment. True sustainability is not just about protecting the environment, it’s about protecting people and human rights as well. When looking at the compelling evidence for global mental health investment, the WHO states, “for each year of inaction and underinvestment, the health, social and economic burden will continue to rise. Doing nothing is therefore not a viable option” (Chisholm, 2013). What the Arctic region proves is that there is work to be done in supporting mental health in order to foster resilient societies in the decades of transformation to come.


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Glacial Water Melt in Greenland: Resource for the Future


Research into the cause and effect of increased thawing in permafrost areas and rising sea level has led to the conclusion that without extensive decrease in carbon emissions, future generations may be presented with severely different global conditions (IPCC, n.d.). This condition could make populated areas uninhabitable and leave others with limited possibilities for agriculture and other activities vital for human survival.

However, the increasing melt rate of Greenland’s glacier may present an opportunity to harness more energy for electrical generation than is currently being done today. Such a project could prove beneficial for Greenland’s economy and may possibly attract the interest of various energy demanding industries, which may in turn present various employment opportunities and infrastructure investments for the benefit of the indigenous people of Greenland.

Hans Stauber studied the potential of the glacial meltwater of Greenland’s glacier in the 1930’s (Alther et al., 1981). His study outlines the methodology for harnessing the meltwater by using the elevation difference of the glacier, utilising the Nunataks for creating reservoirs and transporting the energy.

This research paper will focus on the feasibility of a large-scale hydropower project in Greenland, presenting examples from Iceland and Norway, and paying careful attention to the current global conditions, modern applicable parameters, and the potential benefits of large-scale hydropower investments in Greenland.

Hydropower Background

Since the development of the Francis, Pelton and Kaplan turbine, hydropower has been a vital contributor to economic growth. The world’s first large scale alternating current hydropower plant was built in the USA. It harnessed the energy from the Niagara Falls in New York, coming into production in 1895. By the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of small hydropower plants were installed across the world. In 1940, the United States accounted for around 40% of the electric generation after completion of The Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee dam finishing in 1942. The Itaipu dam in Brazil was finished in 1984 and was the world largest hydro power plant until the Three Gorges dam power plant was finished in 2012 (“History of Hydropower”, 2018) (Bank, 2013) .

Hydropower in Norway
The power production in Norway is divided among hydropower, wind, and thermal power, with the vast majority coming from hydropower. The total annual energy production on an average wet year is 151 trillion watt hours (TWh), with hydropower production at 90%, wind power around 7.5% and thermal power producing the rest. Currently, Norway has around 1671 hydropower plants, 52 wind power plants, and 30 thermal power plants across the country, with the majority situated along the coast (NVE, 2019). Norway’s history of producing electricity by hydropower dates back to the 19th century as plants were built to energize chemical and metallic production. This heralded the start of economic and technological growth in Norway. The majority of the hydropower plants built during the 20th century are still running today, with only maintenance and minor modifications required. The oldest hydropower plant currently running is Hammeren which was built in the year 1900.

Hydropower in Iceland
Iceland’s terrain and position offers the unique opportunity of being able to utilise both geothermal and hydropower energy sources. Geothermal energy contributes 28.9% of the total energy generation, hydropower contributes 71%, and 0.3% are gained from wind energy (NEA, n.d.). Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge offers geothermal possibilities, but not without some complications. Iceland has multiple active volcanoes and a history of violent eruptions which have had severe effects both inland and abroad. For example, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 disrupted a large portion of the air traffic in Europe.

In 2015, Iceland’s electricity generation was 18.798 GWh (GI, n.d.), but a recent study by David Finger points out that there is still unexploited hydropower potential in Iceland (Finger, 2018).Hydropower electrical energy in Iceland began in the 20th century when the main power station located in Elliðaár was built in the year 1921. This power station is still in partial use today. A further complication is that Iceland’s glaciers cover around 11% of the land, with Vatnajökull covering 7900km2 (NI, n.d.). Because Iceland’s glaciers hold a mass of 3600 km3, they could raise the global sea level by around 10 mm if melted (of Earth Sciences, 2020).

Hydropower in Greenland
Greenland is the largest island in the world. Located 740 km from the North Pole, with Kap Farvel having the same latitude as Oslo. Greenland’s total area is 2.166.086 km2 with 81% permanently covered by icecap (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Buksefjord, Greenland’s first hydropower plant was constructed in 1993. Today, Greenland utilises five hydropower plants which supply six towns with electricity used for domestic use and heating (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Greenland relies partly on imported oil, even though they are increasing self-production and utilising heat from waste incineration. The Co2 emission of Greenland in 2013 reaching 555Kt with 94% of the emission originating from energy consumption (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Indigenous People
Greenland is part of Denmark’s kingdom, but has had a self-government since 2009 and “has had exclusive responsibility regarding extractive projects on the territory and in surrounding maritime zones” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). A great deal of attention is currently being paid internationally to Greenland’s pursuit of independence from Denmark as a sovereign state (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). The Indigenous people of Greenland view extractive industries as a means to increased stability, improved living conditions, and good employment opportunities which among other factors could lead to an increased standard of living. From an outsider’s perspective, enabling extractive industries in Greenland is a stepping stone towards independence from Denmark. But as the study depicts, the Indigenous people place more importance on the benefits of increasing economic independence by allowing the extractive industries, rather than seeking political independence. “Exploration and exploitation of natural resources is known to contribute to major changes at individual, community and national levels” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). Greenland’s Mineral Resources Act states how developers are required to conduct an environmental impact and social impact assessment (SIA). The government often requires a social sustainability agreement, i.e. Impact and Benefit Agreement (IBA), to promote equitable development. “The provisions in the Mineral Resources Act on EIA and SIA are brief, but are developed further in a number of topic-specific Guidelines. Although the latter are not legally binding in a formal sense, it is unlikely that the government will grant a license in cases where the developer has not met, if not exceeded the requirements in the Guidelines.” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020).

Technical details
Greenland’s glaciers theoretical energy potential is, according to the Geological Survey of Greenland (GEUS), 470 Twh per year. “This estimation gives results far from the real available hydropower energy, which can be applied only when the water comes into hydrological catchment areas where hydropower plants in reality can be constructed” (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Figure 1: Hydropower potential locations in west Greenland (Højmark, 1996). “Blue areas indicate hydropower basins, black squares possible localities for hydropower plants and black circles are observation localities for water flow estimates operated by GEUS. (Geological Survey)” (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

An estimate based on multiple years of research work determines 16 catchments areas with a combined energy of 14 Twh in the western of Greenland (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Energy Exportation
Exporting the energy from Greenland could be achieved by hydrogen generation through electrolysis. Additionally, ammonia could be used as an energy carrier with water and air combination (Alther et al., 1981).

Figure 2: Distance between Nunavut and Nuuk (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

With distances between countries contributing greatly to the cost of an energy exportation project, there are locations within reach of Greenland which may present opportunities to transfer electric energy to other countries. Studies reveal how energy could be exported to the west, to Nunavut in Canada since Nunavut is only 800 km from Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. Currently Nunavut has a population of 23,000 people and requires more electric energy (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Additionally, the western part of Iceland could possibly utilise electric energy from Greenland (Nunatsiaq, 2016).


A study from 1981 presents a methodology for harnessing the meltwater of Greenland by utilising electric power transportation stations with reservoirs at different elevations.

Figure 3: “Schematic illustration of a glacial power station in Greenland. 1 = Inland ice. 2 = Firn. 3 = Snow cover. 4 = Melt water channel. 5 = Bedrock. 6 = Upper reservoir. 7 = Lower reservoir. 8 = Natural dam (Nunataks). 9 = Pipe shaft. 10 = Iceberg.
(After kollbrunner and Stauber, 1972.)” (Alther et al., 1981).

Perpendicular channels which are cut into the bedrock guide the meltwater to the reservoirs with minimal loss. From the reservoir flows water through pipelines to a lower reservoir (7), where the natural dams (Nunataks) serve as a dam wall (8). “These Nunataks provide a natural drop of some 2000 m from the terminus of the ice cap to sea level.” (Alther et al., 1981). Which in turn is guided through pressure pipeline and turbines.

Natural forming reservoirs may be created by distributing coal dust or other heat absorbing material to enable the ice in that area to melt faster than normal during the summer months; this procedure would only serve to initiate the process. This formation could be enlarged and altered as needed and channels made as required by each reservoir at any given time (Alther et al., 1981).

Hydropower Development in Norway

The integration of hydropower in Norway had a large impact on the country’s economic development. The first hydropower plant in Norway, was built in Hamn, Norway in 1882, where the power was used by a nickel production plant (Vasskrafta, 2019a). In the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, the chemical industry developed where hydropower energy was available, mainly because long distance energy transmission was not feasible at that time. An industrial company named Borregaard was established in 1889, to produce biochemical products. Borregaard later developed the hydropower plant Borregaard kraftverk in 1898. This was the beginning of multiple other industrial developments, such as Norsk Hydro, the largest industrial establishment and hydropower developer. Norsk Hydro was the first company to develop synthetic nitrate fertiliser and used hydropower energy and water for this production. In 1907 Norsk Hydro developed a hydropower plant in Notodden named Svelgfoss 1, which was Europe’s largest hydropower plant and the world’s second largest hydropower plant at the time. By 1911, Norsk Hydro had completed Vemork hydropower plan, the world’s largest hydropower plant with an installed capacity of 108MW (“Kraftverk: Vemork”, 2016). Furthermore, the development of Solbergfossen hydropower plant had excessive technological and historical importance for Norway. It was developed during the First World War after the completion of the hydropower laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The cooperation among contractors, developers, and NTNU managed to increase the efficiency of the turbine by more than 10% using Norwegian contractors, thus ensuring the country’s competence comparable to an international level. This is historically important as construction started in 1913 and finished in 1924, a time period when political forces wanted to use and develop Norwegian technology (“Kraftverk: Solbergfoss”, 2016) (Vasskrafta, 2004) (NTNU, 2019). Development of Glomfjorden kraftverk, a hydropower plant using two of what was in 1920 the world’s largest turbines, laid the fundamentals of an important industry in Glomfjorden and also bureaucracy in Norway. The project development contributed to the decision to develop NVE, the Norwegian regulators of hydropower (“Kraftverk: Glomfjord”, 2016) (Vasskrafta, 2019b).

Hydropower Development in Iceland

Iceland’s incentives to create its first large scale hydropower plant came in the 1960’s when the company Alusisse showed interest in constructing an aluminium plant in Iceland (Energy, 2019). Afterwards when Iceland had been attracting high energy demanding industries, the national power company of Iceland was established (Landsvirkjun). Its first task was to administrate the construction of Búrfell hydropower plant which came into operation in 1969 with the capacity of 210 megawatts (MW). Iceland has since become a large aluminium and ferrosilicon exporter, with increase in demand through the years, which in turn has increased the energy need and prompted further the construction of more hydropower plants (Energy, 2019). The effects of the construction of hydropower plants to satisfy the industrial energy demand has had a large effect on Iceland’s infrastructure, both economic and social, with the construction of the plants and employment from the industry.

Incentives for Greenland

Using Norway and Iceland as an example, there are two proposals for Greenland to proceed with its hydropower development:
Generate interest from high energy demanding industries by proposing access to sustainable clean hydropower electric energy with a comparable geological location as Iceland. Private equity firms and industries could be involved in the construction of a large scale hydropower plant.
Construct a hydropower plant with the aid of Denmark for the future prospects of energy exportation, providing the necessary foundation for large scale industries to operate in Greenland.

Greenland could benefit greatly in terms of economic development and social effect. Greenland could possibly satisfy all of its energy demand and become completely carbon neutral. In the near future a shift in emphasis of the transportation and mobility sector is almost certain. Such development and the ever growing demand for industries to implement sustainability in their manufacturing process, will broaden the market for clean energy and Greenland could be in a position of being able to supply sustainable electric energy for industries willing to offshore their operations to Greenland. It can be said that Greenland certainly has the building blocks to reach similar development as Iceland by harnessing the glacial meltwater and being able to provide sustainable energy for many years to come. Metallurgical processing, used in industries such as copper electrolytic refinement and aluminium, could utilise the meltwater generated electric power (Alther et al., 1981).

International collaboration

For a project of this caliber, international collaboration would be necessary for design and supplying equipment such as excavators to Greenland. With such a collaborative effort the project should be achievable in 15-20 years (Alther et al., 1981). According to The cost estimate for the power scheme would be around $275 – $320 per kilowatt (Partl, 1978). With considerations to transportation facilities as gas pipelines or AC/DC rectifiers / inverters, the additional cost could amount to $220 – $430 per kilowatt hour. Disruptions to local population would likely be minimal, but would be different between energy harnessing locations since the population is fairly small and dispersed in comparison with Greenland’s geographic size. The effect on the environment should be minimal (Alther et al., 1981). If H2 spillage did occur, such as by the bursting of gas pipelines, the effect on marine life would likely be insignificant.

LCA of Industrial Project

As a requirement to uphold Greenland’s clean reputation and to fulfil environmental require- ments regarding emission standards and pollution, industries that show interest in relocating to Greenland should do a full life cycle analysis (LCA). This would need to be approved by Greenland’s and Denmark’s governments and abide to their requirements.

Social Economics Benefits in Norway

Electricity has increased the welfare of the Norwegian population. The development of effective transmission lines enabled industries to grow and make electricity more available. In the 1920’s the majority of people living in Oslo had access to electricity, but in the 1940’s, 80% of the entire Norwegian population had gained access to electricity. Since the Second World War and up to the 1990s, there have been large investments in the electrification of Norway and in 1965 nearly every house had access to electricity. This development has been a driver for the continued economic growth and increased welfare in Norway (norske leksikon, 2020).

Social Economics Benefits in Iceland

Since the 1960’s Iceland’s population has grown from 175,000 to over 340,000 (Worldome- ter, 2021). Its gross domestic product (GDP) has increased from 1400$ to over 66000$ per capita (Commons, 2019), with a large portion in direct relation to the industrial development that followed the construction of the hydropower plants and the accessibility to electrical energy. The infrastructure of Iceland relies on the energy-demanding industry and seldom has any single industry had such an impact on one country. With employment opportunities and increased quality of life, population is able to grow and other industries can emerge.


“Climate change will further exacerbate the unique applied glaciological challenges associated with the proglacial mining described above. Rising atmospheric temperatures are expected to increase the meltwater runoff from the ice sheet by a factor of five by the end of the century” (Colgan et al., 2015). Greenland’s glacial meltwater hydropower potential could become more feasible as the global conditions become more severe due to global warming. Emissions from electricity generation using coal and other environmentally polluting methods may be decreased substantially by harnessing Greenland’s glacier meltwater. This project might prove to be much more beneficial than anticipated as we witness the growing demand for sustainable electric energy.


As Greenland’s glacier melts and opportunities emerge for hydropower, it is these authors’ opinion that Greenland should proceed with large-scale projects that keep the best interests of the Indigenous people of Greenland in mind and, at the same time, create an incentive for industries to relocate their operations to Greenland. This may in turn stimulate the economy through employment opportunities and provide Greenland with the incentive to invest in its infrastructure to accommodate this development. With the hydropower developments in Norway and Iceland, and with Greenland sharing similar geological location as Iceland, Greenland should consider this opportunity while it is still a possibility.

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The Legal Protection of Sea Ice Areas and the Triple Bottom Line Approach to Mining Management in the Arctic

2020 is the year when 40% of the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf, located on the north-western edge of Ellesmere Island, caved into the sea. 2020 is the year when the Greenland Ice Sheet has already passed the point of no return. 2020 is the year when human presence in the Arctic Ocean fell dramatically due to the COVID-19 outbreak. And at the same time, 2020 is another year when the dispute between the economic profit from mining in the Arctic and environmentally sustainable future was not resolved. Environmentalists are afraid that, as the sea ice melts, the Arctic Ocean will become more available and accessible for mining and navigation. Economists are afraid that mining activity in the Arctic Ocean will become less available as shrinking sea ice areas get international protection measures. Existing legal measures are not able to address the problem of melting in the Arctic adequately. The common problem of environmental protection measures and mining regulation measures is considering sea ice as “part of something.” There are no ice protection regulations as a separate natural object, only as a Natural Park as in Canadian and the United States legislation, and there are no international protection measures that consider sea ice as “sui generis”. Initiatives to invent glaciers protection legislation meet the strong opposition of mining supporters, as it was in Chile and Argentina. The main question of our research about potential sea ice protection legislation concerns the concept of “sui generis”: is it possible to create legal measures based on the fact that sea ice areas are “one of a kind” that require their own, unique, protection? We will check existing legal protection systems and analyze current mining practices through the triple bottom line approach to answer this question.

Sea ice and the environment

Nowadays, Polar vortex-increased heat waves, and the unpredictability of weather caused by ice loss are already causing significant damage to crops on which global food systems depend (Hancock, 2020). Furthermore, but no less critical, the melting of the Arctic ice pack affects sea level in the Arctic Ocean, sea surface temperature, and wildlife populations, like beluga whales, narwhals, and bowheads. Moreover, these species would require additional protection measures and flexible measures adapting to the consequences of melting. In the first section of our research, we would like to pay attention to the significance of sea ice protection from the environmental perspective. Melting Arctic sea ice opens up this once frozen frontier to new interests, such as fishing, shipping, and resource development. Increased human presence in the Arctic Ocean could potentially affect many sea ice patterns and local marine biodiversity. We will answer the following questions to understand how to make shrinking ice areas environmentally safe: Who has the rights to “sea ice”? Who has the rights to fish and tap the minerals that potentially may be found underneath of sea ice areas? And is it possible to protect flora and fauna?

Who has the rights to sea ice? Sea ice areas located within national jurisdiction are regulated by the legislation of the coastal state. Coastal states may adopt non-discriminative legal measures to protect these areas from pollution, according to Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (United Nations, 1982). In the case of sea ice areas located beyond national jurisdiction, we need to define the legal concepts of res and terra, communis and nullius. The main feature of the nullius concept is that something belongs to nobody and can be taken by the first taker, and terra can be occupied in a real or effective way. The concept of communis means that something belongs to everybody and cannot be occupied by somebody. In the case of sea ice, we question whether it is possible to effectively or really occupy and establish sovereignty over sea ice. The most common opinion is that it cannot: sovereignty can be established over the territory possible to transform for further effective use. So, those Arctic sea ice areas, located beyond national jurisdiction, may be considered as res communis: territories belonging to everybody and exploitable by those who wish to and are capable of doing so. However, fish located underneath sea ice is res nullius and appropriated by taker in the amount of completed catch.

The situation with mineral resources that potentially may be discovered underneath is different. Extraction of minerals explored underneath the sea ice areas, potentially on the seabed and ocean floor, is regulated by Part IX, Section 2 of UNCLOS, since the seabed and ocean floor located beyond national jurisdiction falls under the definition of “Area” provided in Article 1 section 1 of UNCLOS and in Agreement relates to the implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982. Article 136 of UNCLOS and annex to Agreement reaffirm that all mineral extraction on the seabed and ocean floor is implemented under the principle of the common heritage of mankind (Agreement, 1982). Following legal regulations mentioned above, we can conclude that the most applicable legal concept for minerals underneath is res communis. Notwithstanding, we need to pay attention to the fact that the United States (US) is not a member-state of UNCLOS and Agreement, so the linkage of mineral extraction with the concept of the common heritage of mankind would be ineffective from the US’s perspective.

Access to fish and mineral resources may be limited, but limitations should be justified by reasonable ground. Today, the most reasonable ground for imposing limitations on access to natural resources is global warming and sea ice melting. Consequences of melting, which is especially fast-paced, will lead to Arctic marine ecosystem changes. These issues need to be addressed. Protection measures from human activities would apply to sea ice areas with an average thickness less than 1.5 meters or ice temperature from -20 to -10℃, since human activities can accelerate shrinking (see for example: polarportal.dk/en/sea-ice-and-icebergs/sea-ice-thickness-and-volume/). As an example of existing biodiversity protection measures of areas where sea ice will probably melt and increase accessibility and availability, we would like to point out the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. Thinking of fishing as two types – for commercial and exploratory purposes – would protect those affected by sea ice melt and changed ecosystem species and allow commercial fishing to be beneficial at the same time. How will it work in case of fragile aquatic ecosystems? It is possible to declare exploratory fishing, which according to Article 1 section e), means fishing to assess the sustainability and feasibility of future commercial fishing, only applicable for threatened species (Agreement, 2019), the list of which would be possible to put into the annex. Commercial fishing would apply only to species who may have an advantage from global warmings, like Polar (Arctic) cod, and krill. At the same time, we would like to point out that the mentioned international fishing regulation will apply only to high sea areas without sea ice. Currently, massive commercial fishing is not taking place on the Central Arctic Ocean sea ice, plus, sea ice-associated species have no substantial commercial value nowadays. Nonetheless, sea ice-associated species are the most vulnerable to ice melt and their extinction can affect the food web, for example, ice algae that form the base of the food web (Barry, 2011). Some algae stay attached to the bottom of the ice, some fall into the water column, and some fall to the bottom of the sea to provide food for species that feed at different depths (Barry, 2011). Protists (single-celled organisms) and zooplankton eat the algae which are then eaten by, for instance, Arctic cod and sea birds, which in turn act as the primary link to other fish and birds, seals, and whales (Barry, 2011). So, the extinction of sea ice-associated species will make “commercial” species vulnerable. Yet commercial fishing would increase the vulnerability of such commercial species.

To limit human interference into fragile ecosystems around sea ice areas, we need to pay attention to the Marine Protected Areas approach. Example of provisions regulating the issues of Protected Areas can be found in the Antarctic Treaty System. Antarctic Treaty System is effectively recruiting human activity limitations in the most fragile areas. Annex V to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty regulates the establishment of specially protected and specially managed areas in the most fragile environments. Such regulations make it possible to limit human presence in such areas (Annex, 1991). In addition to the tool mentioned above, article 9 section 2 of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) provide an opportunity to designate the quantity of any species harvested, regions, and sub-regions based on the distribution of populations of Antarctic marine living resources, opening and closing of areas, regions or sub-regions for purposes of scientific study or conservation, including special areas for protection and scientific study (Convention, 1980). Moreover, the article of CCAMLR makes it possible to regulate harvesting methods, including fishing gear, with a view, inter alia, to avoid undue concentration of harvesting in any region or sub-region (Convention, 1980). To use the analogy of the above-mentioned legal instruments, the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice areas may be defined as areas kept inviolate from human interference so that future comparisons may be possible with other localities affected by human activities, such as representative examples of major marine ecosystems, or potentially, areas of particular interest to planned scientific research (Annex, 1991). However, as the Arctic does not have its hard-law treaty system, it would be almost impossible to analogize this situation to the Antarctic Treaty System. In the Arctic, the Marine Protected Areas establishment is in International Maritime Organization and Regional Fisheries Organizations’ competence. In our opinion, the best way to define the type of protection regime for the sea areas with accelerated ice melt is to use the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Area Categories System. According to their guidelines for applying protected area management categories, there are seven categories of the Protected Areas, and we would like to pay attention to the most suitable regimes for vulnerable ecosystem after sea ice melt. By implementation of the Category IA: Strict Nature Reserve, protection areas may achieve preservation of ecosystems, species, and biodiversity features in a state that is as undisturbed by recent human activity as possible, while still procuring examples of the natural environment for scientific studies, environmental monitoring and education, including baseline areas from which all avoidable access is excluded, and minimizing disturbance through careful planning and implementation of research and other approved activities (IUCN Ia, 2018). The Category IV: Habitat/Species Management Area usually helps to protect or restore: 1) flora species of international, national or local importance; 2) fauna species of international, national, or local importance including resident or migratory fauna; and/or 3) habitats (IUCN IV, 2018). The size of the area varies but can often be relatively small. Category IV will be the best protection regime if locations around the shrinking sea ice area have threatened species. Nevertheless, IUCN has no power to establish protected areas and can only provide recommendations and assessments to existing protected areas. Nowadays, the most powerful categorization of the marine protected areas is the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) division of protected areas on particularly sensitive sea areas, special areas, emission control area designation, areas to be avoided, and no anchoring areas. The most suitable protection regime, according to MEPC categorization, is a particularly sensitive sea area. IMO’s Resolution A.982(24) Revised Guidelines for the identification and designation of particularly sensitive sea areas regulate the criteria of adopting such a regime, including the one mentioned in section 4.4.1-4.4.11 ecological criteria (Resolution, 2005). Adoption of a particularly sensitive sea area regime will oblige parties to adopt ships’ routing and reporting systems near or in the area, according to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and following the General Provisions on Ships’ Routing and the Guidelines and Criteria for Ship Reporting Systems, and to limit navigation through such areas that should protect the environment from navigational harm (Resolution, 2005). However, we think that procedurally it is hard to demand the adoption of such a regime. It is difficult to prove scientifically that some Central Arctic Ocean area meets ecological criteria for adopting particularly sensitive sea area regimes. Besides, in the case of IMO, the navigational issue will always prevail over the ecological one, but it is definitely a subject of disputes. The question remains, who will be responsible for the control and assessment of environmental protection, prevention, and response in connection with navigational and industrial issues? The most likely organization for such responsibility is IMO, since it is the specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) and is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships, the main reason why the imposition of strict environmental protection measures may become necessary in the future. Such control and assessment of IMO can cooperate with the Protection of the Artic Marine Environment (PAME), a working group of the Arctic Council, the main interest of which is mentioned in this section on environmental protection.

In conclusion to this section, we would like to draw attention to Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources: the primary objective of this protection regime is to protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial (IUCN VI, 2018). To understand if conservation and sustainable use of natural resources can be mutually beneficial, we need to answer the question: would it be possible to promote sustainable use of natural resources, considering ecological, economic, and social dimensions (IUCN VI, 2018)? The answer to this question is the subject of the next section of our research. We summarize that sea ice areas located within national jurisdiction are protected following domestic legislation rules from the environmental perspective. Regarding sea ice located beyond national jurisdiction, we would like to assume these ice areas res communis. However, resources located inside this territory, except resources that can be extracted only from seabed and subsoil, are res nullius. Resources that can be extracted only from seabed and subsoil, due to UCLOS’s existing regulations, are res communis, thus extending to them the principle of the common heritage of mankind. Nonetheless, due to existing legal practices and regulations, especially on the international level, we can conclude that through increased adoption of the protection areas regimes, it seems possible to protect sea ice from increased human activities. The question remains, how will these protection measures affect the economic consequences of melting? And how will they affect navigational? It’s worth mentioning that the consequences of sea ice melt may be seen from the indigenous perspective also. As the brightest example, we would like to point out the Canadian and Greenlandic Inuits located around Pikialasorsuaq, where the North water plynya connects the Canadian and Greenlandic settlements of Inuits. The accelerated melt of local sea ice makes communication difficult and creates risks that could cause dog sledding to become extremely dangerous. That may lead to crucial changes in Inuit’s lifestyle.

Ice Melt and the Resulting Industrial Opportunities

Promoting comprehensive legal protection regimes for non-jurisdictional Arctic sea ice and the Central Arctic Ocean will naturally face opposition due to the potential industrial economic value of the region. The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) sustainability approach demands that when implementing strategies or sustainability practices, three prongs be analyzed and balanced: 1) people, 2) profit, and 3) planet. As discussed above, there are numerous factors and considerations present to support that a protection regime for Arctic sea ice is beneficial from an environmental lens. However, a proper TBL analysis will also require an in-depth inquiry of the benefit that the utilization of resources in the Arctic can bring to the pillars of profit and people.

The melting of Arctic sea ice and the opening of access to greater portions of the Arctic have important economic consequences for a number of industries. There is a wealth of highly valuable resources that are being made accessible due to Arctic sea ice melt. Untapped within the Arctic, there is an estimated 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (30% of the planet’s untapped gas), 44 billion barrels of liquid natural gas, 90 billion barrels of oil (13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserve), and reserves of gold, zinc, nickel and iron (Bryce, 2019). The opportunity to exploit these new resources is of great interest not only to Arctic states, but to other world powers as well, and has led to a greater politicization of the Arctic in recent years (Rosenthal, 2012). As more ice melts, more of these resources will be available for extraction and nations will be vying for increased access. For non-jurisdictional Arctic areas, which are open to all for exploration, the opportunity for access to these resources is not only of interest to the surrounding Arctic states, but of global interest as well. A concern here from an environmental perspective, is that the economic incentive of exploiting these resources, particularly for Arctic nations with sovereignty over them, may weaken resolve to mitigate Arctic sea ice loss.
Oil & Natural Gas

As more sea ice melts, it is anticipated that vast reserves of oil and natural gas, which have remained mostly undiscovered, will become accessible. As of 2015, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) had predicted that there could be approximately 90 billion barrels of available oil in the area above the Arctic Circle, which equates to 13% of the world’s undiscovered and accessible oil (US Energy Information Administration, 2012). As for natural gas, it is estimated by the USGS that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of recoverable natural gas liquids are stored in the area beneath Arctic sea ice (US Energy Information Administration, 2012). This is equivalent to 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves. The economic potential of these resources is vast and, as a result, the world is enticed by the opportunities that melting sea ice presents. These resources only become available when, in the eyes of some environmentalists, there has been failure to adequately protect and prevent the melt of Arctic sea ice. As sea ice melts, the potential to capitalize on the wealth of resources below increases and countries are poised for when that happens.

Oil and natural gas companies have already begun to develop agreements with Arctic countries for access to their reserves. Russia in particular has taken initial steps to advance their exploration and extraction efforts. However, other states have certainly shown interest in capitalizing on these opportunities.

Navigation and Shipping in the Arctic
One of the significant impacts from Arctic sea ice melt that will lead to global economic implications and power struggles is the opening of shipping lanes across the Arctic. These passages were previously inaccessible but, because of sea ice melt, there is potential for mass-scale commercial shipping through shipping lanes made accessible with additional sea ice melt. The first new sea route is the Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Sharma, 2019). Since the turn of the twenty-first century, that passage has experienced relatively ice-free conditions multiple times, though it’s not yet a dependable pathway for commercial ships (Struzik, 2019). The other path, the Northern Sea Route, is along the coast of Siberia and has begun experiencing summertime sea ice declines that may transform it into a reliable shipping route (Sharma, 2019). The Northern Sea Route runs from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska and would dramatically reduce the transit time for ships traveling from East Asia to Western Europe (Sharma, 2019). In fact, it is estimated that it would reduce transit time by 10-15 days and that, as a result, a huge portion of Chinese trade would be conducted through this route if it became available (Sharma, 2019).

There are, however, still barriers to using these routes: the ice conditions are unpredictable and there is a lack of rescue teams and support infrastructure (Murphy, 2018). Therefore, it may be several years, if we continue on our current path, before these routes become available for large-scale commercial shipping. However, Arctic states are beginning to address these issues in anticipation of these new shipping routes. For example, in Russia there are plans to construct new ports and roads, and to improve roads between Arctic states for movement of goods (Murphy, 2018). Therefore, some countries may be more prepared for this transition than we think. This new reality will have impacts not only on the environment, but also on the world economy and national security, as nations compete to gain rights to shipping lanes and newly accessible resources in the Arctic.

The “New Cold War”
These resources have sparked a battle over the Arctic, coined “the New Cold War.” Climate change is drastically changing the Arctic, and Arctic states are all staking claims over regions of the Arctic seabed, and the valuable resources within them. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states have sovereign rights over their continental shelf for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of its natural resources (United Nations, 1982). The continental shelf typically extends 200 nautical miles (nm) from the baselines of the coastal states (United Nations, 1982). However, under some circumstances, such as when there are unique geological geographical features, states can extend their continental shelf beyond the 200 nm, but not greater than 350 nm from the baseline (United Nations, 1982). The desire to control more of the continental shelf in order to exploit those valuable resources has led to extended claims and significant debate over who has sovereignty over Arctic waters and the continental shelf. For example, in 2001, Russia was the first to claim an extended continental shelf. Denmark followed suit in 2014 (Barents Observer, 2019). More recently, in May 2019, Canada submitted its claim for an extended continental shelf, including 1.2 million square kilometers of seabed and subsoil, with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, who holds the decision-making power over these claims (Barents Observer, 2019).

The Arctic Council was established by the states with territorial claims in the Arctic in part to help manage the competing interests that arise concerning the Arctic and promote cooperation among different countries and indigenous communities in the region, as well as help manage and discuss plans for sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic (Exner-Pirot, 2019). There is both opportunity and hope that the engagement of the Arctic Council can help facilitate any action taken to establish protection regimes among the Arctic states and help balance these competing interests.

The Triple Bottom Line Analysis
The potential for legal protection of these non-jurisdictional Arctic sea ice can be analyzed using the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach. The TBL approach is a sustainability framework that attempts to balance the interests of “people, planet, and profit” when dealing with a particular issue or activity. This tool balances the competing interests of an activity and can be used to develop a stable and just regulatory framework. Arctic oil and gas exploration is a perfect example of both the advantages and challenges of using the TBL. On the one hand, it helps all relevant aspects be considered when constructing a new thinking framework for Arctic mining, given there is currently no hard-law regulatory scheme. There is little value in only considering the environmental effects or economic of an activity, as these complex issues cannot be addressed in a silo. On the other hand, balancing the many different interests involved in Arctic oil and gas extraction is a difficult task. The exploitation of resource-based industries in the Arctic is a key economic driver of the region, which makes it complicated to implement strict legal policies that affect not only all eight Arctic states, but impede the global interests of untapped and unexploited potential resources in the Arctic.

Of course, a key factor in this analysis is the profit potential of extracting these resources from the Arctic. The economic value to Arctic countries who have offshore resources within their jurisdictional continental shelf, and then the economic value of resources outside of Arctic state jurisdiction are not to be underestimated. There is global interest in investing in exploration and extraction. In particular, China is looking to expand efforts to the Arctic. They are not only interested in the oil and gas opportunities in the Arctic, but the opening of shipping lanes. China ships vast amounts of goods and the opening of new routes, such as the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, could substantially reduce their transit times. In fact, in early 2018, China published a white paper dictating the nation’s first Arctic policy and unveiling their vision for a “Polar Silk Road” across the Arctic (Nakano, 2018). This vision included plans to build infrastructure and conduct trial voyages along those new shipping routes (Nakano, 2018). It will be interesting to see how China’s involvement shifts the distribution of power among the other Arctic nations. Offshore extraction in the Arctic could also affect the global market and price point for these resources (Krupnick, 2011).

Important to note are the incredibly significant investment and operational costs. There are hefty financial and logistical challenges associated with offshore exploration, which could slow efforts to commercially and substantially capitalize on these resources (Bergo, 2014). Serious Arctic exploration is predicted to be years, if not decades, in the future, predicated on the further melting of sea ice and the development of adequate infrastructure. The infrastructure dilemma in the Arctic is significant. The harsh environment of the Arctic makes it slower and more difficult to establish the needed infrastructure to make the Arctic an industrial hub of resource exploration and extraction (Bergo, 2014). Naturally, many nations would likely hope to see the Arctic develop into that image. However, as more Arctic states work to capitalize on their resources found within their jurisdictional waters and the continental shelf, coastal infrastructure will be built that will facilitate and expedite exploration into non-claimed regions of the Arctic open to all for extraction (Sherwin, 2019). Therefore, while the upfront time and cost associated with Arctic exploration is great, the barriers to resource extraction will likely diminish exponentially as more infrastructure and newer methods are developed.

However, we also must consider that there is a significant economic benefit from the existing ecosystems, wildlife, and natural resources in the Arctic, even without the exploitation of mineral and oil resources. “Local communities benefit from access to subsistence goods, such as fish, birds and marine mammals, and obtain significant cultural benefits from collectively engaging in subsistence hunting and interacting with their landscapes.” If Arctic exploration and resource extraction is allowed or encouraged to a great extent, coastal Arctic communities may have reduced access to ecosystem services and natural resources that help sustain livelihoods of Arctic peoples merely due to the feedback loops and ripple effects stemming from the exploitation of Arctic resources. As costly as resource extraction may be in the Arctic, future efforts to invest in exploration and develop the necessary infrastructure should be anticipated in the coming years. Therefore, the time is ripe to discuss how these economic benefits can be objectively balanced with the resulting environmental harm.

Finally, we must consider how mining affects the people of the region. Resource extraction in the Arctic has the potential to bring significant sums of money to Arctic states. With the opening of shipping lanes and the potential for the industrialization of the Arctic Ocean, the push to develop infrastructure in coastal Arctic towns may yield entire new industries, create jobs, bring in revenue, and generate tourism for Arctic states and communities. The infrastructure may very well benefit the people by bringing significant economic benefit to the region. However, extraction activities can also run contrary to the culture and heritage of Arctic communities and may bring industry in an undesirable direction. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the degradation of the Arctic environment due to glacial melt and mining may disrupt their way of life and cultural practices.

Given the many factors influenced by mining in glacier areas, it is clear how the balancing of these interests would pose challenges and create great opposition to region-wide protection regimes for sea ice in the Arctic.


From the environmental perspective, sea ice areas should be considered sui generis and require special protection measures. These protection measures should define the status of such areas and resources within and under areas, regulate biodiversity protection, and declare limitations of human activities in the most fragile areas. The most applicable concepts defining the status of sea ice areas and resources are res communis and res nullius. As biodiversity protection measures for sea areas that will lose ice cover, we would like to recommend the separation of fishing activities based on the list of threatened species, as well as the implementation of the Marine Protected Areas approach following IUCN or IMO categorization, which would be a useful tool in limiting human presence in the fragile glacial areas.

There is no doubt that the Arctic still suffers the severe consequences of climate change and the conservation of the Arctic ecosystem is a huge incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable societies. However, the battle over the Arctic will continue as its resources become more accessible. For the sake of the environment and conservation, the hope remains that climate change mitigation practices will reduce the amount of Arctic sea ice loss and therefore the amount of space and resources over which disputes can arise. Organizations like the Arctic Council provide confidence that the efforts to protect the Arctic and promote sustainable management are very much still alive.

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Sustainable Development of Arctic Oil and Gas: Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Benefit-Sharing.

How would you feel if foreigners encroached on your natural resources for commercial exploitation without your consent and had no agreement with you regarding the sharing of benefits generated from its use? This is the case for vulnerable Arctic populations and Indigenous peoples. The Arctic is known as a vast storehouse of potential resources. Oil seeps have been recognized and used for commercial purposes in Northern Alaska, Canada, and Russia since the 1920s (Huntington & Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, 2007). They will continue to be a significant economic force in the Arctic, spreading through many areas and environments and impacting many individuals and communities. Additionally, the melting of Arctic glaciers caused by climate change provides opportunities to exploit new Arctic oil and gas deposits (Casper, 2009). In the Arctic, extractive factories invade indigenous and local populations’ land and water, posing a danger to their resources. These activities are, therefore, likely to affect the delicate and fragile Arctic ecosystem and endanger already vulnerable Arctic populations and Indigenous peoples, while at the same time improving economic growth (Casper, 2009).

Benefit-sharing can be described as a fair and equal distribution of the monetary and non- monetary benefits produced by resource extraction activities. Rewards include the allocation of taxes and royalties, business, and equity ownership, employment creation, negotiated arrangements, and community development (Wilson, 2019). Globally, benefit-sharing offers mean that indigenous/local populations and extractive industries cooperate peacefully to turn the resource “curse” into a developmental advantage (Petrov & Tysiachniouk, 2019). In remote areas in the Arctic, oil and natural gas production offers growth opportunities and also raises costs for residents, indigenous communities, and cultures. It affects the economy’s survival and reduces the traditional resource utilization of land (Tysiachniouk & Petrov, 2018). Benefit-sharing is a legal requirement and a component of corporate social responsibility that can promote sustainable development in the remote Arctic regions if adequately structured. In the Arctic, sustainable development can be defined as development that enhances the well-being, health, and protection of Arctic populations and inhabitants, while maintaining the institutions, roles, and resources of ecosystems (Petrov & Tysiachniouk, 2019). On the other hand, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a management principle in which organizations combine fiscal, social, and environmental issues in their business practices and the relationship with their stakeholder (“What Is CSR? | UNIDO,” n.d.).

Meanwhile, according to Wilson, for efficient control of industrial production’s environmental and social impacts, indigenous and local populations are pressing for fairer benefit-sharing by the extractive industries. International principles refer to Indigenous peoples’ rights to benefit from creating resources, engaging in decision making, and establishing development planning goals that specifically impact them. Although international standard procedure on indigenous rights for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) exists for equitable distribution of benefit sharing with Indigenous peoples in resource development, there are currently no prospects for Indigenous peoples to play a significant role in strategic planning. Lack of meaningful engagement and participation of indigenous communities in decision- making during the life cycle of resource extraction activities undermines the FPIC principles in violation of Indigenous peoples’ rights. The disagreements over the benefits and negative effects of resource extraction have intensified due to structural changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fall in market prices for gasoline due to a decrease in demand has impacted productivity and profitability (Bernauer & Slowey, 2020). It has resulted in exposing the failure of extractive corporations’ failure to incorporate Triple Bottom Line (TBL) initiatives that focus on the 3 Ps: (Planet, People, and Profit) into their business operations. Due to limited data on the ongoing economic, social, and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a gap in this research paper on the full impacts of the pandemic that will have to be addressed by future research.

This paper aims to address benefit-sharing in extractive industries and how Indigenous people can participate in community development decisions by answering how benefit-sharing would promote sustainability and access to decision-making in the era of Covid-19. The paper’s approach is based on a review of the literature to establish the principles underlying the study. The paper is divided into three (3) parts: a) benefit-sharing instruments and corporate social responsibility; it explains benefit-sharing principle, formation, purpose, and the relationship between benefit sharing and CSR to promote sustainable development in the Arctic, b) discuss indigenous control and implementation of international standards in respect of indigenous rights through the effective implementation of FPIC and its achievement strategies, and c) the impacts of COVID-19 on benefit-sharing agreements concerning the TBL initiative.

Fair and Equitable Benefit Sharing Principle, Formation, Purpose

In international environmental law, the debate regarding control and ownership of natural and biogenetic resources has been ongoing for the past several decades (Stellina, 2015).

Natural and marine genetic resources have traditionally been regarded and accepted as part of the common heritage of mankind. Nevertheless, the developed nations have been too concerned with the extraction of biological and genetic resources with the advancement of technology and the increased north-south divide over sovereign rights for natural resources (Stellina, 2015). To bring equity between the needs of developed and developing nations and how to protect and conserve marine and natural resources. Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) was seen as a solution.

Since the 1990s, benefit arrangements have been a growing interest in regions with sound indigenous regulations, such as North America and Australia. (Sulvandziga, 2019). The principle arises from various international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the “Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing to the CBD” (Sulvandziga, 2019, p.64). Access and benefit-sharing from an international legal perspective refer to how benefits resulting from the natural resources utilization, the protection of the environment, and the use of traditional knowledge would be shared between the communities granting access to the resources and the users of the resources (Unit, 2020 “The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing”).

James Anaya, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, drew unprecedented attention to the role of benefit-sharing concerning Indigenous people’s rights to land and natural resources (Morgera, 2014). According to Anaya, Indigenous people’s rights to benefit-sharing implies “the broad international recognition of the right to indigenous communal ownership, which includes recognition of rights relating to the use, administration and conservation of the natural resources existing in indigenous territories, independent of private or State ownership of those resources.” (Sulyandziga, 2019, p. 67). He stated that “Aside from their entitlement to compensation for damages, Indigenous peoples have the right to share in the benefits arising from activities taking place on their traditional territories, especially in relation to natural resource exploitation” as a reference to benefit-sharing in Article 15(2) of ILO Convention No. 169 and appropriate to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Articles 25 and 26 respectively (Morgera, 2014, p. 1-2). In this regard, Anaya also stressed that the only clear international standard applicable to benefit- sharing is that it must be “fair and equitable” for such sharing. The benefits to be shared include tax revenue, information, scientific and commercial cooperation, joint management of natural resources, and technical support, which have been identified as monetary and non-monetary (Morgera, 2016).
James Anaya also argued that benefit sharing is seen as “one of a set of inter-linked safeguards for the realization of substantive rights of Indigenous peoples” (Sulyandziga, 2019, p.67). Sharing of benefits explicitly reflects a particular relationship among governments, commercial businesses, and indigenous groups. It is known that benefit sharing is part of the social license to operate, thus, the public approval of the operations of the industry plus the completion of mandatory mineral extraction licensing and permit requirements (Tysiachniouk & Petrov, 2018).

In a nutshell, the benefit-sharing aim is to ensure indigenous communities’ involvement in decision-making by improving their well-being and offering local communities’ control over their future as well as protecting Indigenous peoples’ human rights by promoting community development projects in remote areas in the Arctic.

Benefit-Sharing and CSR for Sustainable Development

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a principle whereby corporations willingly decide to commit to a healthier community and a safer world. CSR is defined by the Commission of European Communities in 2001 as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and their interaction with their stakeholders on voluntary basis.” CSR initiatives for international oil firms include developing risk control policies such as steps to avoid oil spills; focusing on energy conservation and green energy; establishing partnerships with the local communities where they operate; enhancing the quality of life of workers; and contributing to society as a whole (Cao, 2018). Thus, CSR initiatives enable businesses to move beyond regulatory standards to add to their competitiveness by engaging more in human capital, the community, and stakeholder partnerships.

Sometimes, companies engage in corporate social responsibility benefit-sharing schemes to satisfy investors and shareholders and to meet the needs of local communities only to the degree required to receive the ‘social license’ to operate (Tysiachniouk & Petrov, 2018). The commitment of an organization to localities often takes the form of compensation or targeted investments. However, the corporation holds the leadership role in the decision-making power of benefit sharing, making its preference prevail in several ways over community needs and desires (Petrov & Tysiachniouk, 2019).

According to Johnstone & Hansen 2020, the socio-economic and environmental effects of the exploration and production of oil have led to political and civil society problems that have caused social damage by companies in violation of human rights laws of the local populations and workers. This includes the right to land, culture, rights at work, an acceptable standard of living, and the right to engage in decision-making processes relevant to projects involving land and communities (Johnstone & Hansen, 2020). For this reason, it is therefore crucial for businesses practicing CSR to follow the TBL 3P’s (Profit, People, and Planet) approach as a measure for financial reporting on their business activities. The TBL concept, proposed in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission, is the basis of most CSR theories. In 1994, the phrase was coined by John Elkington, often known as 3Ps or three pillars. It notes that a corporation should be accountable for three characteristics: profit, people, and the planet, i.e., economic, social, and environmental responsibility.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) also argues that, as a method for assessing and reporting organizational success toward economic, social, and environmental performance, the TBL methodology is used. It is an effort to connect private businesses to sustainable global development by giving them a complete set of working priorities than just profit alone. The view held is that an organization must be financially stable, eliminate its adverse environmental effects, and function in compliance with community norms in order for it to be sustainable. Therefore, businesses can be considered profitable only if it takes care of all three components of the TBL, and all of them are incredibly closely related (Księżak & FischBach, 2017). Thus, one element cannot be adopted in isolation from the others.

Meanwhile, one accepted definition of sustainable development in Brundtland’s 1987 report defines it as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”(Fonseca, Domingues, & Dima, 2020, p.1). Sustainable development aims to resolve the societal desires to live best under the limits placed by nature. Development is a multidisciplinary process for all persons to reach a better quality of life. The interdependent and mutually reinforcing elements of sustainable growth are economic growth, social development, and environmental conservation (Fonseca et al., 2020, p.2). It indicates that, there is a relationship between CSR, TBL, and sustainable development as they all aim to address the same core elements.

Non-Governmental Organizations and the general population have a great deal of influence on CSR initiatives. According to Sustainable Development Working Groups Report, 2013 on “CSR in the Arctic-way forward,” the primary universal standards which drive CSR in the Arctic that were approved by the Arctic Council in the first workshop on CSR held in Stockholm from 26-27 January 2012 are the OECD Guidelines, the United Nations Global Compact, and the Global Reporting Initiative Reporting Standard. These guidelines are considered strong and adequate instruments that warrant more focus, follow-up, and enforcement by Arctic business operators (Group (SDWG), 2013).

The United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) of Human Rights promote that all states are responsible to uphold human rights and prevent violation by corporations and organizations of all kinds and sizes. The obligation allows enterprises to comply with appropriate national laws and self-regulate to fill policy differences between national and international law. Both government and non-states players must ensure that victims are entitled to remedies (Johnstone & Hansen, 2020). The UNGPs also stress that businesses should dialogue on stakeholder engagement, particularly in terms of “meaningful” consultation and engagement with communities and stakeholders (Wilson, 2020). Mineral extraction and mining ventures in the Arctic can not only add to the economic circulation of natural resources, produce revenue, and provide new employment for the local population, but can also be followed by negative effects on the ecosystem, traditional land, climate, and the health of local people ((Novoselov, Potravny, Novoselova, & Gassiy, 2020).

For that matter, Novoselov, Andrey, et al., 2020 argue that industrial projects in the Arctic are highlighted and influenced by many Arctic stakeholders’ interests through social, environmental, anthological, and cultural practices. Therefore, the achievement of benefits for resource extraction projects on conventional lands in the Arctic should also mention:

  • Protection of the environment needed to lead the traditional Indigenous peoples’ commercial activities;
  • Cultural heritage preservation and traditional knowledge;
  • Reduction of social conflict induced by project implications awareness;
  • Employment development;
  • Health care improvement;
  • Providing infrastructure
  • Providing educational accessibility;
  • Increasing living standards and empowering the indigenous community with requirements for socio-demographic reproduction.

The compensation process must meet all parties’ needs, which can only be accomplished by including all stakeholders in the execution of strategic planning. For this reason, the fair and equitable benefit-sharing arrangement in the Arctic regions is critical, and it must facilitate both procedural and distributional equity. The principle of benefit-sharing encompasses several instruments, such as the negotiation of partnership agreements, the purchase of traditional products, the creation of indigenous jobs, the funding of transport, and social infrastructure development (Tysiachniouk, Henry, Tulaeva, & Horowitz, 2020). This scheme encourages indigenous communities to make better use of these financial opportunities to achieve future sustainable growth.
Consequently, community engagement is an essential aspect of international human rights law in the decision-making process on matters concerning one’s own life and the society in which one lives. However, Agenda 21 also acknowledges, among other things, that strong public involvement in decision-making, including the need for individuals, groups, and organizations to engage in decisions, especially those concerning the communities in which they live, is one of the essential prerequisites for achieving sustainable development. The mining industry in the Arctic affects the environment, the safety of the water supply, and the local people’s welfare. It then takes the form of compensation and corporate social benefit to cater to the harm suffered. In the meantime, a win-win outcome will only be accomplished if all parties are engaged in the decision-making process to disclose their specific needs regarding the benefit of enhancing the indigenous livelihood towards community development.

Indigenous Control and Implementation of International Standards

Various international partners have been discussing international standards on human rights and Indigenous peoples’ protection for the sustainability of the environment. As a result, resource production’s social and cultural issues are of significance, and the lack of community participation in the early stage of resource development and active engagement of indigenous communities in decision-making strategies violates the FPIC rights of Indigenous peoples.

The precise interpretation of the theory can be determined by breaking down the meaning of the terms that make up the FPIC principle. The UN Guidelines on FPIC describe “free” as a system that is not subject to externally imposed deadlines. As a result, aboriginal peoples should not be forced, intimidated, or threatened into consent (Hughes, 2018). According to (Pillay, 2020), “prior” means that approval should be obtained sufficiently in advance of any permission or start of operations, and that indigenous consultation or consensus procedures should be respected in terms of time constraints. Thus, the engagement must take place well ahead of planned events to give Indigenous peoples and communities enough time to establish and create relationships, consider all key information, and make decisions with the aim of successful relations (Hughes, 2018).

(Pillay, 2013) further explain that “informed” implies that information is provided on a variety of topics, such as the nature, size, pace, reversibility, and scope of any proposed project or activity; the project’s purpose as well as its duration; the locality and areas affected; a preliminary assessment of the likely economic, social, cultural, and environmental impact, including potential risks; personnel likely to be involved; and the locality and areas affected. The possibility of refusing consent may be included in this procedure. The approval process must include consultation and participation.

Therefore, a fragile Arctic environment is of concern because of the adverse consequences of extractive practices, which are now turned into industrial “green movements,” resulting in the invasion of indigenous lands (Wilson, 2020) and causes danger to their ways of life, such as herding, fishing, and farming. The focus on indigenous rights is on FPIC principles. FPIC may take many forms but is an important sustainable development corporate governance framework. It is a right set out for Indigenous peoples in international treaties and declarations, especially ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and some national legislation (Buxton & Wilson, 2013).

The interpretation and implementation of international norms and values will enhance shared understanding and meaningful stakeholder participation. In recent years the call for respecting indigenous privileges concerning a set of criteria in resource development has grown stronger and stronger. According to Wilson (2019), the lack of respect for Indigenous peoples’ control, rights, and consents in resource exploration has urged local communities in the Arctic regions to encourage governments and companies to allow them to take greater control and do more in adhering to international norms/standards. To achieve these objectives, there exist the calls for FPIC to create fairness/equity, in addition to guiding and applying the spirit of FPIC in industry projects through existing laws/international standards around the world.

However, (Buxton & Wilson, 2013) argue that, for effective implementation of FPIC, first, it must be enforced by deliberative mechanisms in which fair viewpoints based on shared data are weighed through gathering information from all parties. Second, the procedure must be structured in a flexible way for societies concerned in order to fulfill customary practices, human rights, and to reach joint decisions. Finally, the process must enable local citizens to participate on equitable footing and make responsible decisions constructively. Indigenous control, in many ways, has been pointed out by Wilson. She further explains as the ability a) to ascertain how organizations envision their future about extractive industries and whether they want resource development to occur on their lands and b) to ensure appropriate decision-making powers and fair benefit sharing if products appear as stated (Wilson, 2019).

As Wilson explains, these demands are indicated in the ILO Conventions on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which suggest, among other things, it is the right of Indigenous peoples to decide their priorities and to exercise control over their development; yet, as the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, agrees, this particular indigenous right is rarely respected in practice (Wilson, 2019).

Strategies for Achieving Control through Free, Prior, and Informed Consent

As noted earlier, there are some debates on the right methods to address the lack of control in achieving fairness and equity: the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, identified a ‘preferred’ model, based on greater levels of indigenous control over the nature of the development and the sharing of the benefits, emphasizing, in particular, the indigenous right to determine priorities and strategies for the product or use of their lands and territories. Also, elsewhere, the ‘prevailing’ model of resource development has been termed by some as ‘extractivist’ which in turn means indigenous relations with the natural environment should be based more on the partnership, respect, and entitlement through ‘knowing’ rather than ‘owning’ the resources (Wilson, 2019).

Anaya’s ‘preferred’ model adds more voice and corresponds to Tysiachniouk and Petrov’s ‘shareholder’ model that envision greater indigenous control over decision-making, including strategic planning (Wilson, 2019). The notion of ‘indigenous control’ also extends to decision- making about whether a project goes ahead. However, in cases where Indigenous peoples do not own the mineral resources in question, this requires a process of FPIC before critical development decisions get formulated in these communities (Wilson, 2019). Therefore, for the standard of good practice in stakeholder participation, the FPIC must be established from discovery to completion over the project life cycle in line with obtaining the social license to operate for a transparent and timely procedural process.

The Impacts of Covid-19 on Benefit-Sharing Agreements Concerning the TBL 3 Ps Initiative

The Covid-19 global crisis is worrying and poses a threat to health care for all, including to Indigenous peoples worldwide. Indigenous populations are still facing inadequate access to hospitals, a substantially higher incidence of infectious and non-infectious diseases, lack of access to necessary facilities, hygiene, and other main prevention steps, such as drinking water, soap, and disinfectants. Vulnerable populations may suffer discrimination and stigma in accessing healthcare and may only be considered if programs and amenities are offered in indigenous languages. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples’ cultural lifestyles are a pillar of their resilience as most indigenous groups frequently hold large traditional meetings to mark special occasions, which can pose a danger at this moment in preventing the spread of the virus.

As stated in (“COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples | United Nations for Indigenous Peoples,” n.d.) the number of COVID-19 infections worldwide grows, with high mortality rates in some vulnerable communities with underlying health conditions. However, statistics on the prevalence of infection in indigenous populations are not yet available (even where ethnicity records and tests are available) or are not reported. It is also not available in indigenous languages for important information on infectious diseases and prevention steps. This means that aboriginal communities became incredibly fragile during the global pandemic since they face a high degree of socioeconomic neglect and are at excessive risk of public health crises. The Arctic indigenous communities are not left out of these devastating issues. In contrast, “A report from the Centers for Disease Control found that non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) account for 0.7 percent of the U.S. population, but 1.3 percent of COVID-19 cases”(“Vulnerable Communities,” 2020).

Meanwhile, industrial resource activities are ongoing in their territories. It means that the benefits provided by extractive industries are not meeting the need and desires of the local communities. Infrastructure such as adequate and modern health facilities is not available. Corporations must adhere to the benefit-sharing mechanism that can promote community development. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic is also creating chaos in extractive economies worldwide because of decline in the selling price of oil. This is due to the decrease in demand and decrease in production and profitability caused by running physical distancing protocols, all of which has resulted in a substantial decrease in the share price of many large mining firms (Bernauer & Slowey, 2020).

As claimed by Bernauer & Slowey, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought conflicts over the benefits and harmful effects of extraction activities in Canada. Three conflict issues include:

Community Health (People)
As a result of chemical pollution by extractive industries, physical and mental health conditions have been an issue for Indigenous peoples in the communities. Additionally, new diseases can be contracted from immigrant workers, local lifestyle changes, and disturbances in relationships with the community. Such migrants, however, are agents by whom the coronavirus could spread to remote communities.

However, the reaction from mining firms initially varied as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. Although some companies responded by shutting down, some, such as in British Columbia, continue to operate. Criticism from some Indigenous elders and activists is that this is because the companies still operating value corporate revenues more than the people’s health and safety, condemning their decisions to keep operating during the pandemic as not thinking of the well-being of their workers and the community at large. Nevertheless, in Nunavut, the Baffin Land Iron Mines-operated Mary River iron mine drastically reduced activities and sent all Nunavut workers home with pay as a benefit to help deter the transmission of the disease to Inuit communities.

Environmental Protection
Environmental impact mitigation is the concern of Indigenous peoples regarding activities of extractive industries. More tension is likely to develop since the pandemic interrupts production and impact global commodity prices. For instance, the oil price is affecting the exploration of Russian Arctic oil compared to competitor producers. In the sense that demand for February – June of a particular form of oil supply was seen to have traded below zero at about $40 per barrel (/bbl_.28) in May (“Isolation and Resilience of Arctic Oil Exploration during COVID-19,” 2020). Besides, this is not a complete reflection of global demand. Meaning, the extreme conditions, and instability indicate the effect the pandemic is having on the oil markets. As a result, enterprises may call on the Indigenous people for environmental sacrifice to give them more space to adjust and return to profitability for the share of the benefit.

Economic Benefit (Profit)
The income generated by oil and gas industries would continue to bypass indigenous communities, including revenues, royalties, company contracts, and employee salaries. Benefit- sharing arrangements incorporated in new agreements and Indigenous Industrial Agreements are essential tools for capturing Indigenous peoples’ local economic benefits. In the post-Covid-19 world, the businesses may request not sharing benefits for the communities’ development. They will propose reducing rentals for resources and salaries for employees regarding the global economic recession and incentives. Indigenous groups have embraced extractive industries as an engine of community development and as a way of promoting self-determination goals. These economic developments are also impacting industry-indigenous relations (Bernauer & Slowey, 2020), resulting in many others getting trapped in their territories with extractive schemes that continued either with or without their consent. Therefore, to negotiate agreements that will support community development, Indigenous peoples must pursue consultation (Wanvik & Caine, 2017) regarding equity in distributing the benefits sharing to address the needs and desires of the people, the communities, and for future generations.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Benefit-sharing is a useful tool for community development and demands high indigenous participation throughout extractive industries negotiation. Fair benefit-sharing is a legal requirement and part of good governance and corporate social responsibility, which encourages sustainability in the environment if managed properly. Benefit-sharing arrangements enhance human well-being and preserve or compensate for ecosystem degradation. Meanwhile, the broadest benefit-sharing mode and mechanism in the Arctic may not ensure sustainable development in the communities (Petrov & Tysiachniouk, 2019).

Therefore, the absence of Indigenous peoples’ representation in policy decisions on creating the extractive sector in their territories, including decisions on the allocation of land for extractive industry operations and the awarding of exploration licenses, threatens the possibilities for fair development results. It is advised that there should be an informed decision to monitor the benefit-sharing scheme, and total community control of benefit-sharing and management must exist to eliminate any controversy. As a result, companies and the state must collaborate with indigenous and other impacted populations to develop local institutional capacity and human resources as part of benefit-sharing obligations. This will ensure that the policies that share benefits are transparent, sensitive, empowering, and lead in a just and equitable way to Arctic populations’ sustainable development. Thus, corporate social responsibility and Triple Bottom Line initiatives should be monitored and enforced in every Arctic state’s soft laws. Every mining and oil industry player operating in the Arctic must report companies’ financial, social, and environmental performance over time by protecting businesses amid future uncertainty.


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