The EU must harness the potential of the Arctic to drive the green transition
The Arctic can provide Europe with knowledge, products, resources and energy which are crucial for achieving the EU's climate goals. At its plenary session on 29 June, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) adopted an opinion drafted by Mirja Vehkaperä (FI/Renew Europe), Chair of Oulu City Board, underlining that EU funding must support the Arctic's potential as a driver of green growth and the digital transition in the EU, while striking a balance with protecting the Arctic nature and fighting climate change.
In the new EU Arctic Strategy, the European Commission highlights the growing strategic and geopolitical importance of the Arctic. According to an estimate published in early 2022, the EU Arctic region has an investment potential of around EUR 150 billion by 2030, a large part of which is linked to delivering on the green transition. The focus is on investments in carbon-neutral steel, battery manufacturing, mineral extraction and processing, as well as the circular economy and bio- and wind energy.
"EU funding must be targeted to support and ensure sustainable investments in the Arctic. At the same time, it is important to strike a balance between responsible development of natural resources and environmental protection, in order to make full use of the Arctic's potential as a driver of green growth and the digital transition in the EU. All activities in the Arctic must be based on nature's resilience, climate protection and the principles of sustainable development as well as respect for the rights of the people and indigenous peoples living in the region", stressed the CoR rapporteur Mirja Vehkaperä.
Climate change poses a major threat to the Arctic. Temperatures rising three times faster than in the rest of the world, melting ice and thawing permafrost have huge knock-on effects throughout Europe and the whole planet. Cities and regions stress that long-term climate policies in the Arctic must be economically, socially and territorially just.
"We need to think about how to implement the Green Deal and the Fit for 55 package, while taking into account the specific features of the EU's Arctic area. For example, the specific conditions of winter shipping in the Arctic must be considered in the context of emissions trading," Ms Vehkaperä said.
In terms of international cooperation, every effort should be made to ensure that the Arctic remains safe, stable and peaceful. Even before attacking Ukraine, Russia had increased military activity in the Arctic and China has also increased interest in ownership of critical infrastructure and in submarine cable construction and shipping in the Arctic Ocean.
"It is important to maintain, support and promote peaceful cooperation in the Arctic through existing cooperation structures such as the Arctic Council. The EU must also recognise the role of international cooperation frameworks at local and regional level in promoting dialogue", said Mirja Vehkaperä, citing as an example the Arctic Mayors' Forum, the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas Network (NSPA), the Northern Forum, the Arctic Economic Council and UArctic.
High-quality research and access to education and the development of transport and network connections are key prerequisites for the vitality and attractiveness of the Arctic. The CoR underlines the role of northern cities in keeping the Arctic vibrant, competitive and populated, and calls for regional education and research institutions and their networks to get involved in developing the Arctic innovation ecosystem based on smart specialisation strategies.
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