Relative Gains and Inequities. Too frequently within the report, Arctic regions within one country are compared against those from other countries across any number of metrics, from demographics to GDP and life expectancy. While a valuable exercise on one level, disparities across international borders reflect more the systemic characteristics of national economies and demographic trends – the oft-cited differences, for example, between the “mature” economies of Fennoscannia versus the more rural “frontier” economies of North America, or Russia’s still ongoing post-transitional and energy-based economy. More critical from a human development perspective that prioritizes one’s capabilities, and access to the means necessary to flourish (Sen 1992), would be to more systematically compare Arctic regions with their non-Arctic counterparts within a country. Discrepancies force an explanation as to the precise cause. This happens on some level in the report, but results can be misleading, especially with respect to per capita incomes and GDP, much of which flows outside the region to industrial centers or corporate headquarters.
The report’s would-be flagship contribution, the Arctic Social Indicators (ASI), do in fact deserve special recognition for incorporating progressive and context-sensitive metrics – including “fate control,” “cultural integrity” and “contact with nature” – into their calculus. But the ASIs are subsequently overwhelmed by the rest of the report, and otherwise compartmentalized into irrelevance by AHDR-II itself. While we still foresee their value, we argue that existing data can be utilized more readily, especially in combination with qualitative research that identifies the individual and community assets and obstacles relevant to well-being, in order to more precisely identify pathways to prosperity, however defined.
More conventional human development metrics, therefore, should also be compared systematically with identity and geography within Arctic regions, in turn highlighting the unsettling disparities between sub-groups in public health, educational opportunities, infrastructure and food security – or what might be considered the individual “functionings,” inputs, or key ingredients to a more complete capability set – the toolbox with which to live a prosperous and unencumbered life. A strong overlap between identity and weakened capabilities (ie., poor scores across a wide suite of development metrics) forces a more serious exploration of economic and social policymaking. For example: How do we capture and steer GDP growth, from whatever source, into more localized public health gains? How do we create educational institutions that are inclusive? How do we reconfigure our understanding of rural economies so that the push-pull tensions between subsistence and wage earning are minimized for stress, and maximized for food security and health? In fairness, individual contributors allude to these complications tangentially, if not explicitly, but they are never woven together into a cohesive message, nor even focused on human welfare, which leads us to our next point.
Take down the silos. If there were ever an opportunity to more fully integrate the many strands of Arctic research into a “theory of change,” or better a philosophy of Arctic development that merges the many disparate, but rich, research agendas, AHDR-II was it. Instead, each chapter reconstitutes its more narrow framework, revealing a patchwork of exceptional, but otherwise un-integrated work. Unlike the United Nations, whose development reports must skirt political considerations given a constituency of nation-states that range from authoritarian and even monarchical to social democracies, no such limitations hamstring AHDR-II. But as the UN’s emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) illustrate, an integrated understanding of climate, culture and political viability through inclusion are fundamental to human development, and must be addressed simultaneously and in coordination in order to make sustainable gains against poverty, hunger and substandard health or education (the SDGs will replace the concluding Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, which have steered in some way global development policy making in the last decade). The Arctic is unique of course, and indeed there are shared challenges throughout the Circumpolar North which justify an Arctic approach to development, but it is also valuable to incorporate development thinking, theory and practice as utilized elsewhere; and to more fully merge natural and social sciences and more forcefully incorporate the social and political determinants of inequities into our models of human development.
Re-imagine Governance. An example of this shortcoming is in the report’s exploration of governance. Peculiarly, the governance chapter (Chapter 5) is, however encyclopedic in its depth, limited to a focus on formal institution. Subsequent chapters on legal systems (Chapter 6) and resource governance (Chapter 7) more fully flesh out the reality, and thus the strength I will note, of governance in the Arctic, which is frequently de facto an innovative mix of formal and informal leaders and mechanisms. The division of governance into separate chapters is therefore misleading, but also diminishes the analytical and pragmatic power of what might have emerged had all three chapters been more creatively synthesized. Governance, after all, is the process of collective decision-making that allocates resources and that steers communities through time in order to maximize collective well-being. This means all actors – state, regional, local, formal and informal – collectively influence this process, sometimes unintentionally. AHDR-II, we argue, could have more accurately depicted governance as the fraught and contested process that it is. Within this process some actors are prioritized, or simply have more muscle, but in some questions, or in some towns, an individual’s knowledge or standing is most important. More fully understanding this process, and utilizing its strengths, is essential for development. Of note, the role of non-state, but highly influential actors like transnational energy companies, was not incorporated into the analysis. This oversight dismisses the role of an especially important agent that influences the well-being, for better or worse, of entire communities and regions.
The above comments are quite critical, but stem more from a what we see as a lost opportunity to channel an exceptional degree of knowledge and expertise into a aspirational, but still pragmatic, vision of development – and one that puts the region’s diverse inhabitants first. AHDR-II is an exceptional culmination of region-specific knowledge. But if, as the name implies, it hopes to encourage a cohesive strategy to improve the lives of the region’s inhabitants, it need take a more forceful normative stand on inputs to human prosperity in the Arctic and the barriers to their attainment – which are political, economic and environmental in nature. We also recommend a more forceful revision of status quo development thinking, which challenges resource dependency, including on carbon assets, while exploring the potential for innovation and technology to redefine Arctic economic opportunities. Finally, the myriad, apparently disparate strands of investigation, as presented, need be interwoven into an Arctic development logic – and one that ultimately privileges opportunity, and human flourishing, whatever the means may be.
-Matthew Klick for AMRDI
Sen, Amartya K. (1992) Inequality Re-examined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.