Published 2019-11-06

This post is also available in Swedish

Mistra’s Arctic programme conclusions presented

The Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development research programme, which ended in 2018, studied how ways of exploiting natural resources have been developed, historically and to this day, through such activities as the forest industry, fishing, oil and gas extraction, mining and reindeer husbandry in the Arctic region of Northern Europe. Now the conclusions from the programme are presented in a report.

‘The historical area of Northern Europe isn’t readily comparable to North America or Greenland, for example. Instead, Northern Norway, Sweden and Finland can best be understood through their long-standing trend of becoming integrated into the Northern European welfare states,’ says Carina Keskitalo, Professor of Political Science at Umeå University and former head of the Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development (MASD) research programme.

The MASD programme, which ended in 2018, involved studying how natural-resource exploitation — forest industry, fishing, oil and gas extraction, mining, reindeer husbandry, etc. — in the Arctic region of Northern Europe developed, historically and up to the present. It included case studies in areas in Sweden, Norway and Finland. The connections between these livelihoods and municipal planning were also studied in the programme. The results have now been collected in a new publication.

‘We want decision-makers and others working on northern or natural-resource issues at national, regional and local levels to gain greater understanding of how varied the areas currently deemed to be “Arctic” because of international political processes actually are,’ Keskitalo says.

Decisions concerning, for example, land use, ecotourism and conservation issues must, she believes, be based on established knowledge of the localities, regions, industries and stakeholders that are affected. Rights to these natural resources have been determined through long processes dating as far back as the 13th century — historical roots that still influence society’s management of and decisions on natural resources today. For example, the mining and forestry industries, which have historically been major land users, still have a special position in legislation, Keskitalo notes.

‘But a younger industry such as tourism doesn’t have the same legal status at all, although it’s now of great economic importance. Freedom of action for reindeer husbandry and environmental interests is also greatly influenced by, for example, the special position of forestry.’

Keskitalo emphasises the importance of understanding these conditions for meeting many current and future challenges, by such means as measures to mitigate climate change or cut emissions.

‘Greater understanding, based on the social sciences and humanities, is fundamental for grasping what has shaped our use of natural resources. It shows what can be done today, but also how various stakeholders are more or less likely to act in the future.’

Facts — Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development

The purpose of Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development was to support sustainable development in Northern Europe and the Arctic. It was the first major Swedish research programme to study the Arctic in terms of the social sciences and humanities.

Programme period: 2014–2018.

Budget: About SEK 40 million, most of which was provided by Mistra.

Main contractor: Umeå University.


The programme’s conclusions are summarised in the publication Natural resources in Northern Europe: Historical perspectives on resource use for better management today.

Download the report

Swedish version