The myriad vulnerabilities and uncertainties confronting northern residents in these times of rapid change call for an understanding of trends in Arctic human development to develop policies and practices for addressing these challenges.
The Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR) I and II and their companion reports Arctic Social Indicators (ASI) I and II have made important contributions to our understanding of the state of human development in the Arctic, including methods for measuring and tracking changes in Arctic human development. These reports – produced under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), and with the project secretariat hosted by the Stefansson Arctic Institute since 2002 in Akureyri, Iceland – address critical issues and emerging challenges in Arctic living conditions, global change impacts and adaptation, and indigenous livelihoods, while documenting the disparities that persist between and within regions, and between indigenous and nonindigenous residents of the Arctic.
The AHDR and ASI publications are academic reports – the result of a close and ongoing collaboration of extensive networks of primarily Arctic social scientists – and written for several audiences, including governments, communities and other stakeholders at all levels, as well as students of University of the Arctic and other postsecondary students. The authors also wrote with the Arctic Council very much in mind: the reports aim to help inform the work of the Arctic Council, and in particular that of the SDWG, in furthering sustainable development in the Arctic.
The AHDR process was initiated in 2002 following a mandate by the Inari Declaration to present the most up-to-date information about the state of Arctic human development and the major trends unfolding in the region, in order to provide a comprehensive knowledge base for the SDWG. The first AHDR report in 2004 – the priority project of the Icelandic Arctic Council chairmanship – provided important baseline information for the Council, policymakers and others who deal with issues of human development and societal transformation in a time of rapid environmental, cultural, political, economic and social change. It also has been widely used as an education tool, including as a text in many university courses. The current AHDR-II from 2014 looks at change since the first report’s baseline data and likewise spans a wide range of topics: Arctic populations and migration, culture and identities, economy, politics, legal issues, resource governance, health and well-being, and education and human capital.
New evidence on Arctic human development points increasingly to both disparate and common regional processes across the Circumpolar North, as well as the criticality of the global linkages between the Arctic and more southerly regions, and the complex interactions between different sources and scales of changes. In this regard, AHDR-II highlights a number of major trends including the intensified migrations; the increasing penetration of new ideas, norms and values; the growing interest in Arctic resource development; and changing governance structures that both enable and challenge northern communities.
Major findings of AHDR-II have relevance for policy makers at various levels, including for priority setting by the Arctic Council and the SDWG. For example, the report finds that the rapid and stressful changes highlighted in the first AHDR continue today, but are amplified in rate and magnitude; accelerating urbanization poses multifaceted challenges to human development in the Arctic; interest in the Arctic is growing, while the Arctic is also becoming more marketable; and continued innovation in governance is occurring at all scales, but at the same time the demands on local and indigenous representatives present challenges in terms of human and fiscal capacity.
The AHDR and ASI networks have benefited from their longstanding collaborations with the Arctic Council and the SDWG. Although the Arctic Council did not formally endorse the final AHDR-II due to issues concerning specific wording and scientific independence, the report received notable mentioning in both the Senior Arctic Officials’ Report to Ministers and in the Iqaluit Ministerial Declaration, signaling the importance of this assessment as a contribution to the pursuit of a better quality of life for all Arctic residents and more sustainable futures.