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Each week, The Arctic Journal’s Foregrounder takes up an event or issue that we expect to be reading more about during the week ahead. If you have an event you think should be included next week, please contact us.
Other topics we'll be paying attention to this week:
Despite being firmly in the Western camp in nearly all respects, Sweden and Finland are, on paper, militarily neutral. Repeated polls confirm that people in both countries prefer to keep it that way, fearing that joining Nato will provoke Russia. With mounting uncertainty over Moscow’s intentions in the Baltic region, an offer by Britain to join its Joint Expeditionary Force, an informal alliance that includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, may prove an attractive option. The leaders of both countries have left the open the possibility of joining, and after a Nato summit last week in which the alliance took a combative tone towards the Kremlin, this is something they may pursue more seriously. The Baltic is not the Arctic, but should Stockholm and Helsinki openly choose sides militarily, the unavoidable question will be whether it will strain efforts to keep the Arctic a low-tension zone.
Inuit in Nunavut celebrate Uqausirmut Quviasuutiqarniq (Inuktut Language Month) in February. This year’s theme has been unikkaaqtuat, or Inuit legends. “Traditional and modern day Inuit legends offer insight into Inuit spirituality and relationships, while keeping the tradition of storytelling alive. I invite all Nunavummiut to take time to celebrate and learn more about these legends and their related terminology throughout the month of February,” George Kuksuk, the languages minister, said in a statement about this year’s theme. February
What does the future have in store for Greenland? The coming week will give a good indication, when Inatsisartut, the national assembly, holds its annual youth session, which gives thirty 18-24 year-olds get to play politician for a week. This year’s topic will be whether Greenland needs its own constitution.(Although one could question whether there is a point in asking now, since adult lawmakers and experts have already begun the process.) The session ends with participants holding a debate on the topic. February 20-24
As part of the EU’s increasing attention to its potential role in the Arctic, representatives from the European Parliament will be visiting northern Norway next week. The four-day trip, organised by the region’s representative office in Brussels, will involve nine political advisors and focus on issues like climate, culture, fisheres and security issues in the North. On the itinerary: a search and rescue facility in Bodø, the Andøya Space Centre, Tromsø for a visit to Polarinstituttet and Kirkenes, where they will call on the Barents Secretariat. “We want EU decision-makers to learn more about the culture, business and climate in northern Norway so that the decisions they make are based on facts and experience, not on assumption that all of the Arctic is covered by ice,” Trond Haukanes, the head of the north Norway office, told Norweigan media. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on an Arctic strategy on March 2 and has taken an interest in Norwegian policies for the region.
Perhaps the biggest (in more ways than one) example of what Finns like to call ‘snow how’ is the country’s prowess as a designer, builder and operater of icebreakers.
National legislation requiring 20 of Finland’s 60 ports to remain open year-round means the country has had plenty of domestic motivation for sustaining the industry. Emerging international interest in Arctic shipping has opened a broader market. Now, the technology developed in its home waters is increasingly finding its way to traditional icebreakers as well as ice-strengthened and ice-breaking vessels that sail under other countries’ flags.
As a result, some 60% of the world’s ice-strengthened vessels are estimated to have been built in Finland, this despite the country not having an Arctic coastline. Specialising in the niche has helped keep its shipyards and related firms busy. One of them, Aker Arctic, which designs ships, saw its profits rise 40% in 2015 after landing a contract to design the tankers that will transport liquefied natural gas from Russia’s Yamal fields.
Finland is by no means the only place in the world that has been able to turn its cold climate into an industrial opportunity: Greenland and Sweden (and Inner Mongolia, for that matter) are used as winter proving grounds for tyres, cars and other types of durable goods that need to operate outdoors.
Iqaluit Airport, courtesy of its frigid winter temperatures, long main runway, limited traffic and low airport fees, is able to market itself as “the world’s premiere cold-weather aerospace test centre”, a description coined by a former mayor. Airbus, a European conglomerate, has been something of a regular, testing three of its most recent models there, including the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft.
The Arctic, however, should not be satisfied with simply being a place where manufacturers come to learn how to make big machines run better when it is cold out, says Julius Oförsagd, the manager of Arctic Design Week, which begins its ninth annual installment February 20 in Rovaniemi.
Instead, he believes the region ought to be recognised as being at the forefront of coming up with designs that facilitate the function of less industrially oriented products.
Fashion will be on display as one prominent example. A number of less tangible things, like customer experience, public services, infrastructure and architecture, will take up most of the room on the agenda, though. Commercially these topics have greater appeal, according to Mr Oförsagd.
“Design is really creativity and problem-solving. In Finland, this is important because it is how we get things to work in the harsh conditions so we can live here, but this is something businesses everywere focus on,” he says.
Finland’s lessons will be most easily transferrable to other cold-climates, but Mr Oförsagd reckons other things, like a focus on low-environmental impact and the Nordic approach of making design integral to a product will give them a broader appeal.
“We see design as something practical,” he says. “It means thinking about how the people who will use something can get the most out of it.”
Arctic Design Week is organised mainly by the city of Rovaniemiand Lapin yliopisto/The University of Lapland. There is good reason for the effort beyond simple marketing. Policy-makers and academics agree: creating new businesses and diversifying economies helps to make communities more attractive places to live for young people and for women, two demographic groups that are increasingly fleeing the North.
The Finns like to tell you that if something works in Finland, it will work anywhere. Fortunately for the rest of us, this appears to apply to ideas as much as it does to products.