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Striking a balance: Sustainable development in Finland’s arctic municipality of Inari

In the vast and sparsely populated region of Finnish Lapland, above the Arctic Circle in the municipality of Inari, tourism and cold-weather testing of automobiles, tires, and components are the primary sources of income.

Drawing visitors year-round, the European Route E75 brings in travelers seeking the tranquility and natural beauty of the area, which experiences twilight in winter and 24 hours of daylight in summer. In 2019, an estimated half a million people visited the region.

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Inari is also known as the capital of Sámi culture in Finland, with reindeer herding being a fundamental aspect of indigenous life. This presents a challenge in balancing traditional customs with modern economic activities.

Recognizing the importance of preserving indigenous traditions while fostering economic growth, a research project called ArcticHubs, led by Pasi Rautio, a research professor from Finland, has been funded by the EU. The project aims to reconcile the competing demands on Arctic resources from both local and external stakeholders.

The researchers are focused on ensuring that economic activities such as mining, fishing, and tourism do not negatively impact local communities and traditions. They have been conducting interviews and collecting data across Arctic countries to guide policymakers at the local, national, and EU levels.

One of the key findings of the project is the importance of involving affected communities, local institutions, researchers, and policymakers in decision-making processes regarding the use of land and water resources. In Finland, for instance, consultation with the Sámi herders is required before any projects, such as logging in reindeer grazing areas, can proceed.

Another EU-funded project, JUSTNORTH, led by Dr. Corine Wood-Donnelly from Uppsala University in Sweden, examined the viability and impact of various economic activities in the Arctic. The project brought together researchers, indigenous communities, and local business owners to assess the risks and benefits of activities such as mining, transportation, and tourism.

Through case studies and policy briefs, the project highlighted the need for sustainable development that considers the long-term well-being of both local communities and the environment. It emphasized the importance of community involvement in policy decisions to ensure fair and equitable outcomes.

As the Arctic region faces increasing interest and investment from both national and international players, projects like ArcticHubs and JUSTNORTH play a crucial role in shaping policies and practices that promote sustainable development and respect indigenous rights in the region.”

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