The Northern Forum - an international body consisting of members from different regions and municipalities from around the Arctic - officially welcomed Lapland back into the fold of its members at a signing ceremony during the Arctic Circle Assembly on Saturday October 8th. Under the patronage of the former President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic bringing together officials, entrepreneurs, experts and indigenous representatives interested in Arctic issues.
The signing ceremony of the membership agreement took place at the end of a breakout session at the assembly entitled “From Alaska to Lapland – Local voices strengthening Arctic Council Chairmanships”, which was organized by the Northern Forum’s business partners - the Institute of the North from Alaska and the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Governor of Lapland Mika Riipi and Northern Forum Executive Director Mikhail Pogodaev formally signed the agreement following comments from a number of distinguished panelists, including the Mayor of Akureyri Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson, and the Alaska Governor’s Arctic Policy Advisor Craig Fleener.
Founded in 1991 by former Alaska Governor Walter Hickell, the aim of the Northern Forum is to improve the quality of life of northern peoples and support sustainable development of northern regions by providing a platform for collaboration, knowledge and experience-sharing and implementation of joint projects. By working together, members of the Northern Forum hope to tackle a wide range of issues, including addressing energy concerns, improving infrastructure and reducing the price of electricity for Arctic residents.
For nearly two decades, the forum grew to include many regions and municipalities from around the Arctic. However due to budgetary issues, many regions left the forum at the beginning of the decade. Yet in recent years, many Arctic regions and municipalities have decided to re-join the Northern Forum, recognising the benefits of closer dialogue and cooperation between Arctic regions.
“We need to work together to find solutions to our problems. We need to forge partnerships with neighbours,” said Alaska Governor’s Arctic Policy Advisor Craig Fleener in remarks he gave during the ceremony. “Problems at national levels don't bother us at the sub-national level.”
Lapland’s return to the Northern Forum closely follows the return of Alaska to the forum this past summer, when Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a membership agreement with the organization at a ceremony in Alaska in July.
In his remarks, Governor of Lapland Mika Riipi emphasized the need for closer cooperation and communication between local and regional governments within the members of the Northern Forum as well as with the Arctic Council (the Northern Forum is an observer organization to the Arctic Council). He also mentioned that “policies that work are policies that are close to the local people” of the Arctic, emphasizing that politicians in capitals far away from the Arctic need to take into account the needs and daily lives of the people who live in the region.
Northern Forum Executive Director Mikhail Pogodaev encouraged other Arctic regions to follow Alaska's and Lapland’s example and join the Northern Forum in his remakrs - a notion seconded by Mayor of Akureyri Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson, who was glad to have another Nordic region in the forum again. “Greater diversity only benefits the Northern Forum,” Björgvinsson remarked.