Has it really been twenty years? In many ways it seems now that the Arctic Council and our current era of globalization and cooperation have always been with us; they are a part of our daily life in the same way that we cannot imagine a world before the internet and smart phones. In reality, however, the change from the previous era was rapid and dramatic.
The University of the Arctic (UArctic), for which I have worked almost the same twenty-year period – although it did not officially launch until 2001 – was very much a child of the Arctic Council. UArctic’s creation as an initiative of the Arctic Council was similar to the recently established Arctic Economic Council (AEC). The idea for an ‘Arctic university’ was first proposed in a session of the Arctic Council in 1997 and included in the Iqaluit Ministerial Declaration in 1998. Following its launch, UArctic became one of the earliest observer organizations. UArctic would not have been possible without the Arctic Council, nor the same conditions of the ‘Arctic Window’ that led to its creation. Following the Cold War, a new era of globalization and political mobilization towards issues of the environment, sustainable development and human rights made the Arctic states and the Arctic peoples global leaders.
We in UArctic have been closely intertwined with the history of the Arctic Council and share a common vision of the Arctic: a region of cooperation, resilience, peace, respect and diversity. In particular, both organizations are founded on the need for decision-making based on scientific research as well as on the knowledge of northerners and northern peoples. For these reasons, it was not only logical but also an honour to accept the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s invitation to produce a special issue of our Shared Voices magazine to celebrate twenty years of the Arctic Council.
As a northerner from the small town of Sodankylä in northern Finland, I had to leave the North to become a global citizen, but was lucky enough to return. I am happy that we now live in this Arctic era in which – thanks to our collective efforts – other northerners will be able to stay in the North and still be fully engaged internationally. The Arctic Council is a symbol of this change, and we look forward to celebrating another twenty years of its success.