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Timo Koivurova

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The concept of the Arctic as a geographical area bears a resemblance to another concept, the circumpolar area, with the difference that the latter applies to both poles. A circumpolar area is defined in Webster s Dictionary as an area around or near one of the poles of the earth . This definition represents an inclusive method of defining a physical space, and it also avoids any clear-cut demarcation of the southern or northern borders of the polar areas.

Even though this approach can be used in defining the Arctic, many have tried to define the southern boundary of the Arctic . A fine-grained definition is that made by ecologists, who divide the region into three zones on the basis of climate and the presence of certain flora and fauna: the high Arctic, the low Arctic and the subarctic. Another criterion for defining the southern limit of the Arctic is the 10°C July isotherm; i.e., the southern border is where the average temperature in the warmest month of the year is below 10°C degrees. The tree-line criterion, i.e. the southern limit above which trees cannot grow, and the Arctic Circle (66°32°N), an area which approximates to the southern boundary of the midnight sun, have also been used as a basis for defining the southern limit of the Arctic.

It seems obvious that no clear-cut definition of the southern boundary of the Arctic can be found on the basis of natural science definitions. So what about political processes? Can states agree on what constitutes the southern boundary of the Arctic? Arctic cooperation was launched in 1987 in Murmansk by former Soviet Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet leader proposed that the Arctic states could initiate cooperation in various fields, one of these being protection of the Arctic environment. This idea was partly made concrete when Finland convened a conference of the eight Arctic states, which led to the signing of the 1991 Rovaniemi Declaration, in which the states also adopted the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. This so-called Rovaniemi Process concentrated mainly on protecting the fragile environment of the Arctic, but nowhere in the documents was the concept of the Arctic defined; the terms Arctic and Arctic environment were used throughout the constitutive documents without any definition.

The same trend continued when the Arctic Council was established in September 1996 in Ottawa, Canada. The eight Arctic states transformed the structure and mandate of co-operation but did not define the southern boundary of the Arctic. On the other hand, it can be argued that it was the criterion of the Arctic Circle which in reality defined which were the Arctic states that were entitled to participate in the Rovaniemi process, and later in the Arctic Council. This is due to the fact that all the other definitions of the Arctic than the Arctic Circle criterion leave out some of the Nordic members of the Arctic Council. This is because of the warming effect of the Gulf Stream and the consequently different climatic conditions in Northern America and Scandinavia. All eight member states of the Arctic Council exercise territorial sovereignty in areas above the Arctic Circle.

One salient characteristic of the Arctic is its small population. Many people living in the region can be considered members of indigenous peoples, and of the eight Arctic states only Iceland does not have an indigenous people living in its territory. The indigenous peoples in the Arctic have frequently settled in the territory of more than one state, and, increasingly, have established international organizations of their own. Many of these international organizations have been accepted as permanent participants in the Arctic Council.

In the final analysis, the southern boundary of the Arctic cannot be abstractly defined in a clear-cut manner, but it can, of course, be defined in a similar manner to that in which the circumpolar areas were defined above, i.e. the areas around or near the North pole. Functionally, the Arctic can then be defined in such a way as best suits the goals and purposes of environmental management and other political processes in these areas.

Timo Koivurova

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