Indigenous Peoples, local communities and biodiversity are central to the future of the Arctic

Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) has published a policy brief focusing on comprehensive sustainability in strategy work in the Arctic. The policy brief highlights the need for integrating different dimensions of sustainability and better including Indigenous Peoples in decision-making.

Comprehensive sustainability combines different dimensions of sustainability in order to ensure that current and future generations have opportunities for a viable planet. However, promoting different objectives of sustainability may be contradictory in some cases, including in the Arctic. For example, promoting a transition towards cleaner forms of energy production may at times be in conflict with safeguarding the rights and means of livelihood of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. 

Responding to the change and ensuring a sustainable future requires consolidating different dimensions of sustainability. The now published research-based policy brief supports decision-makers in policy development on the Arctic. 

The Arctic is changing already

Due to environmental change, the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world and in the scale of human societies the change is permanent. The changes are particularly evident in the weakening of biodiversity and cultural vitality. These changes are closely interconnected given that human societies, embedded in nature, are constantly changing their environment. 

– It is evident that already in the coming decades the operational environment is changing – habitats of species are moving and extreme weather events are plaguing communities as well as livelihoods. Adapting to the situation, slowing down the rate of change and moving towards a less environmentally harmful direction are needed to advance sustainability transition, including in the Arctic, Associate Professor Jussi T. Eronen outlines.

Sustainability transition is about re-thinking our entire current system from different viewpoints to achieve comprehensive sustainability. It requires the simultaneous advancement of different dimensions of sustainability, including the ecological, social, cultural and economic dimensions of sustainability. For this reason, strategies concerning the Arctic should identify and recognise more strongly, comprehensively and from the perspective of different cultures the different dimensions of sustainability. 

Safeguarding the engagement of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making

About 40 Indigenous Peoples live in the Arctic. The fulfillment of their rights is at the centre of a sustainable future for the region. According to the researchers, the fulfillment of Indigenous Peoples’ rights requires that their ability to engage comprehensively in decision-making is increased. Opportunities to engage in decision-making are made possible by including representatives of Indigenous Peoples and local actors into decision-making and executive bodies. 

– Advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples is closely connected to preserving biodiversity. For example, research that integrates local knowledge on the environment and climate, can significantly support finding solutions to wicked problems. Specifically, they are problems that intertwine into large and complex challenges which are difficult to solve, such as biodiversity loss caused by climate change, Professor Reetta Toivanen, one of the writers of the new policy brief, explains. 

Policy brief supports decision-makers 

According to the researchers, the sustainable future of the Arctic is based on preserving the biodiversity of nature as well as local livelihoods and culture. Therefore, the central goal in the development of Arctic strategies is to recognise the need to promote the different dimensions of sustainability holistically. 

Further information:  

Reetta Toivanen, Professor, HELSUS,, +358 (0)503185281

Hanna Guttorm, Senior Researcher, HELSUS,, +358 (0)2941 40043

For questions regarding the launch event and orders of the policy brief, contact Linda Lammensalo or +358 294157853. 

Read more about HELSUS policy briefs.

Welcome to the Launch of HELSUS Policy Brief Series!

Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) is organising a launch event for the new HELSUS Policy Brief Series. The launch event will be held online on Monday the 11th of October 2021 at 10am-11am (UTC+3).

Further information and registration: