Arctic report a dense snapshot of Northern life

Jargon-filled document a “road map” for politicians, officials and the curious


AKUREYRI, Iceland – If you read the Arctic Human Development Report, a new, sweeping look at the state of Arctic people and societies, you won’t find many surprises.

That’s because the AHDR is based on existing information and research.

“A lot of what’s in the AHDR is not big news, except for the analysis, but it’s not known to the greater audience of people who live in the rest of the world and affect what happens in the Arctic,” said Niels Einarsson, head of the Steffansson Arctic Institute in Akureyri, who spent the past two years coordinating the report project.

Einarsson said the AHDR is supposed to be a tool, a kind of Arctic “road map” for politicians, officials, researchers and the curious.

About 2,000 copies were printed for distribution and sale to the public. An electronic version will also be available later at

“I hope it will be read by different kinds of people,” Einarsson said. “It’s a good starting point to understand the region as a whole.”

In its evaluation of the Arctic, the AHDR decided to scrap the standards used by the United Nations to rate human development in the rest of the world.

These standards include life expectancy, literacy and economic output – categories for which Arctic Council member countries like Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden regularly receive high rankings from the U.N.

Instead, the AHDR identifies “characteristics” of human development that would shed some light on life in the Arctic.

In 11 loaded chapters, the report takes on specific issues, such as international relations, focusing on three to five trends within each area.

The scope of the AHDR is extremely large. It covers eight per cent of the surface of the earth and includes four million Arctic residents who live in eight different nations, not just indigenous peoples.

“We have to face the fact that most of the people who live in the North aren’t indigenous. In the North we are a melting pot of multi-diversity these days,” Einarsson said.

The AHDR refers to non-indigenous residents of the Arctic as “settlers,” a term used in other regions of the world to describe non-indigenous residents.

Einarsson said the AHDR, unlike the recent Arctic Climate Impact Assessment reports, wasn’t a politically negotiated policy document and didn’t try to avoid “hot” issues.

Any discussion of marine mammals is taboo at the Arctic Council’s table, but the AHDR touches on the importance of marine mammals to Arctic residents and even features photos of dead pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.

The AHDR also attempts to focus on positive success stories in the Arctic, such as co-management and telehealth, to show, said Einarsson, that the region is not all “gloom and doom.”

Academic in tone, the AHDR contains a heavy dose of social science jargon. The text includes many generalized statements and observations about everything from health and education to political, cultural and legal concerns.

Members of the public who try to read the report may feel they don’t understand what it says or lack enough information to judge whether what it says about “gendered violences” is true, or they may disagree with statements such as “traditions do not and should not hinder development.”

But every indigenous permanent participant member group of the Arctic Council, many other groups, government officials and individuals had a chance to comment on the AHDR before it was published.

Producing the report was the top priority for Iceland during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and the AHDR will now be used as a framework for the council’s Sustainable Development Working Group and in the University of the Arctic’s program.

Einarsson, who is originally from a coastal fishing community in Iceland, said the team behind the AHDR tried to be sensitive.

“Whatever the outcome, our intentions were noble,” Einarsson said.

The 240-page AHDR was released last Sunday in Reykjavik at a half-day launch where authors discussed the report, admitting there was “more hole than cheese” in the data available on circumpolar peoples and suggested future topics to study could include regional institutions and the role of alcohol in the North.

Hugh Lloyd of Iqaluit, who contributed to the report, said its broad themes were comparable with the way the GN wants to fit Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit into the government.

But the president of the Saami Council, Geir Tommy Pedersen, said the AHDR, like the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, had sidestepped the issue of human rights.

Magne Ove Varsi, the Saami director of the Resource Centre for Indigenous Peoples, said the AHDR raised more questions than it answered. He also pointed out that many would not be able to read the English-only text.

Copies of the report can be ordered from the Steffasson Arctic Institute at or by emailing [email protected] or by fax at 011-354-4630589. The cost per copy is $28 USD.

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