BODO, Norway – “This is my Nobel Prize,” said Paavo Lipponen, Finland’s prime minister from 1995 to 2003. Lipponen was honored last week for his efforts to attract global attention to the Arctic and its economic potential.
“Receiving the first High North Hero award is one of the high points of my life. That the recognition comes from Norway – the country with the most active, advanced and balanced Arctic policy – means that I value it all the more,” Lipponen told High North News.
The 2016 High North Hero award was awarded during the High North Dialogue conference, held in Bodo on May 24–25. Lipponen is the first recipient of the prize, which is handed out by the High North Center, at Nord University, in Bodo.
Sustainability and the Environment
In selecting Paavo Lipponen for the award, the jury highlighted his decades-long commitment to attracting international attention to the economic potential of the Arctic. Lipponen has also personally worked to develop the region’s economy and to create jobs.
“There are many reasons why I’ve sought to promote these issues over the past few years, but the real heroes of the Arctic,” he said, “are the people who live and work there under harsh conditions. They are fishermen, farmers, reindeer herders and hunters. They are the true heroes.”
One of the best things about the award, he added, was that it put Arctic issues on the agenda.
“We need to do something, especially when it comes to the environment. There is surprisingly little being done, especially to eliminate black carbon. We all agree that this is one of the biggest environmental problems we face, but is anything being done about it? Instead of focusing just on economic development, I would like today to focus more on climate. It is the biggest challenge we face, and sustainable development is incredibly important.”
Father of E.U. Arctic Strategy
Lipponen is still an active advocate when it comes to Arctic issues. He is widely recognized as the father of the European Union (E.U.)’s Northern Dimension policy, which led to the development of Brussels’ Arctic strategy.
Most recently, he authored “A Strategic Vision for the North – Finland’s Prospects for Economic Growth in the Arctic Region,” which was published last year. One of the conclusions of his report was that the Arctic can become a lucrative investment area for Europe.
Finland itself considers the region to have enormous economic potential, and, Lipponen believes, the time is right to act to take advantage of it.
Opportunities and Cooperation
“We have enormous resources, but we need to invest more in our infrastructure. The way we see it, there is a lack of investment in all of northern Europe,” he said.
Although not a part of the E.U., Norway, he argues, can play a role in Brussels’ Arctic policy.
“They have begun working with Norway, but more should be done. Next year, Finland will take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and I have worked with the Finnish government on precisely this issue. As chair, we’re going to need to cooperate with our neighbors. Norway has the most intelligent Arctic policy of anyone, and they have been able to maintain a good relationship with Russia,” he said, noting that last week he had met with Tore Hattrem, Norway’s state secretary for foreign affairs, and Jonas Gahr Store, a former foreign minister and now opposition leader.
“They were inspiring meetings,” Lipponen said.
When it comes to the cooling of relations between Russia and the West, Lipponen remains optimistic.
“Things will even out in the end, but we need to approach this in a balanced manner,” he said.
As for the Arctic Council, Lipponen expects that it will continue to be a forum for cooperation for Arctic states, both when it comes to environmental issues and when it comes to political decisions.
In all, the High North Hero selection committee received 37 nominees from all eight Arctic countries.
A version of this story was originally published in High North News and is reproduced here with permission.