As part of our continuing efforts to bring you as much information about our region as possible we offer readers a press release service that allows private firms, public agencies, non-governmental organisations and other groups to submit relevant press releases on our website.
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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 in the coming week:
- We recognise International Polar Bear Day on February 27 with an excerpt from the book Ice Bear, as well as a few reflections from its author Michael Engelhard. This will mark the first instalment in an on-going Author of the Month series, in which we highlight the author of a current Arctic-related release, or an author with a body of work relating to the region.
- In 2005, the four Barents countries (Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden) agreed to work together to clean up all environmental ‘hot spots’ in the Russian part of the region. Five years later, 42 had been identified. So far, six have been ‘excluded’ from the list (that is to say cleaned up). On March 3, representatives from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council will gather in Murmansk to decide whether another six are ready to be taken off.
Cleaning up hot spots involves things like environmental modernisation of the pulp and paper industry and municipal wastewater treatment plants. Some towns have converted heating systems from fuel oil or coal to natural gas. Underpinning the whole process is the continued co-operation of the countries involved.
- Iditarod may bill itself as the last great race, but it is not the last one to accept that change is inevitable . For spectators, the most visible change when the ceremonial start gets underway on March 4 in Anchorage will be the decision to move the March 6 ‘restart’ (the official start of the race)to Fairbanks. This is the third time the race will skip over the Alaska Range for an inland start. This year, as in 2003 and 2015, the reason is lack of snow. Less visible, but perhaps more controversial, if equally unavoidable, will be a decision to allow, but not require, mushers to carry two-way communication devices (think mobile phones). Organisers say the change will help ensure the safety of mushers and their teams. The rules still say a musher is disqualified for receiving any outside help. Safety first. Tradition always.
- The first session of the Future of Arctic Entrepreneurship symposium series is held in Whitehorse on March 3-4. The meeting will focus on the bilateral partnership between Canada and the US aimed at promoting development of clean-energy projects.
- The third and final workshop of the Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups – Strengths United through Networks (RISING SUN) project is slated to take place in Iqaluit. March 1-2
- The Nunavut Legislative Assembly continues with the second week of its winter sitting. Through March 14
Beyond geographic location, finding something that all Arctic territories hold in common can prove elusive. So clearly defined are their differences that Tara Sweeney, the chair of the Arctic Economic Council, suggests there are as many as four Arctics – European, North American, Russian and indigenous. Differing national, natural and societal conditions sets the contours of the economic outlook for each one.
One area where those contours all overlap, however, is mining. “It is maybe the most Arctic thing of all,” one executive quips. Though this is only partially correct (neither Iceland nor Greenland have active mines, though the former smelts bauxite into aluminium and the latter expects two operations to come on-line this year), the statement gets at how important many believe the sector is for the region’s future.
Our executive is enthused: commodity prices generally rose in 2016, and, if past trends hold, this will mean increased demand from existing operations, as well as more exploration investments.
We will learn more about whether others in the industry are of the same outlook after this year’s PDAC, a huge mining convention, gets underway in Toronto on March 5. An annual event, PDAC – shorthand for ‘the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada International Convention, Trade Show and Investors Exchange’ – is, as its size suggests, one of the most important events for the sector. Its stated goal is to bring miners and financiers together.
Involving this second group is crucial: mining is a risky business, financially speaking. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, for every 500-1,000 exploration projects, just one becomes a profitable mine. Another common industry statistic that underscores why the sector is not for those who give up easily: the success rate for exploration is less than a tenth of 1%.
Miners themselves compare this narrow success rate to the pharmaceutical industry, where many drugs are tested, but few are approved. For those that do make it to market, there are handsome profits to be made.
The analogy overlooks the fact that most illnesses are not tied to the business cycle. The demand for commodities, on the other hand, suffers when the economy dips.
There are number of reasons why the industry may be on a high heading into PDAC. Chinese demand, both among its consumers and its exporters, appears to be on the increase. In America, the Trump administration’s promise to refurbish the country’s infrastructure would likely require foreign commodities. This, and a global economy that is doing much better than in recent years, has share prices so far continuing last year’s gains.
Mr Trump, however, is also viewed as something of a wildcard: should his focus on protecting American jobs take a toll on global economy, it would weaken demand, putting mining back on the skids.
Still, mining firms continue to make the argument that their sector is worth governments putting effort into. In addition to things like exports, tax revenue and royalties, they also cite job creation and training, as well as the investments they make in the communities where they operate. Detractors, on the other hand, say pollution, environmental degradation, lack of respect for indigenous cultures and the failure of firms to live up to their promises are reason to be wary.
Should the sector take off again, Northern territories look well positioned to benefit. In Fraser’s most recent annual survey of how attractive jurisdictions are to investors, Finland and Alaska were rated fifth and sixth, respectively. Most other Arctic territories land in the top third. Russia, ranked 47th out of 110 jurisdictions, brings ups the rear, but its rating has improved in four of the past five years. We should see if they can keep this up in the coming week: Fraser normally releases the new survey during PDAC.
If there is a dark linking to be found, it is that doing well as a region may be a curse for individual territories. The mining sector, according to Fraser, is competitive, and capital highly mobile; to attract investments, governments must be ready to compete with each other.
In the end, that which binds Arctic territories may also drive them apart.