January 9, 2014

Arctic Ambassador — a hot topic

Finland plays a major role in the growing traffic volumes of the Northeast Passage.
Finland plays a major role in the growing traffic volumes of the Northeast Passage.
Eero Kuosmanen

Just looking at his title, you know Hannu Halinen is doing an important job. Finland’s Arctic Ambassador coordinates the Finnish state administration’s Arctic strategy, and is thus responsible for matters that are subject to increasing interest globally. — This is definitely about working for the future, Halinen says.

Arctic Council in a nutshell

The Arctic Council is an international intergovernmental high-level discussion forum.

The Council’s mission is to promote co-operation and co-ordination between the actors in the Arctic region. Its members are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Canada, Russia and the United States, as well as six indigenous peoples’ organisations, such as the Saami Council.

Counsellor for Foreign Affairs Hannu Halinen was appointed Arctic Ambassador in 2009, when the then Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb created the position to put Arctic affairs into the spotlight. A similar position had existed earlier, but this time round the concept was updated.

“Arctic issues came to the forefront when the surprisingly rapid melting of ice was detected in 2007,” Halinen recounts. “This created a new kind of demand for the position of Arctic Ambassador.”

The world’s broadest strategy

Halinen’s role is by no means unique. Similar positions exist in practically all of the Arctic Council member states. Halinen’s annual travels amount to around one hundred days, with frequent trips to Svalbard and Greenland. Co-operation on an international level in various bodies keeps him busy.

Finland’s first Arctic strategy was completed in 2010. At that time, the Government set up an Arctic Advisory Board to support and monitor Finland’s policy and activity in the Arctic region, build awareness for Arctic issues and maintain contacts with the bodies set up in other countries. Halinen serves as Secretary-General of the Advisory Board.

“In 2012, the Government wanted to introduce a new strategy with a broader scope, which was adopted in August last year,” Halinen says. “The strategy includes 50 objectives and 125 actions to be monitored. Compared to the strategies in place in other countries, Finland’s is clearly the broadest, clearest and most concrete. Our strategy has also sparked interest globally, and I have already presented it in many countries.”

Finland – an Arctic superpower?

The core of the Arctic strategy lies in the Government’s vision for Finland to be an active and responsible Arctic actor.

“As the objective is to reconcile the business opportunities provided and limitations imposed by the environment, this can also be seen as conflicted,” Halinen stresses. “However, placing the region under protection is not a realistic option. The use of natural resources cannot be avoided, which means it should be carried out as sustainably and responsibly as possible.”

Finland has inherent expertise in a number of fields, such as Arctic marine technology and maritime transport from engineering to execution, monitoring and assessment of the conditions in the Arctic region, training and research in the field, energy business, as well as mining and combating oil spills in ice conditions.

“New opportunities are constantly emerging,” Halinen believes. “For example in tourism, we already are an Arctic superpower, as around 90 per cent of the region’s hotel beds can be found in Lapland. There will certainly be growing demand for expertise in the Arctic service sector in future too.”

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