3. An overview of the literature

What are the studies focusing on? What is their central subject matter? We have clustered the literature into three groups according to the major topics: Climate change, new economic activities, and issues related to politics, governance and security.

Climate change and its social impacts

Almost all of the studies include some sort of outlook on Arctic climate change. As the type, magnitude and speed of climate change has a profound bearing on ecosystems and society, a certain understanding of the changes of the climate system is required. The issue is, nevertheless, treated differently in our literature.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (Arctic Council 2004a) is the report that draws most heavily on natural scientific research. Here, knowledge about changes in the physical climate is treated in parallel with impacts upon society, and the two issues are partly integrated in the popular summary report. Some specialised studies on climate adaptation also contain nuanced analyses of current and future changes in temperatures, precipitation, sea levels, etc. (cf. Øseth 2010). Likewise, many reports on Arctic shipping elaborate on shifting sea ice volume and extension as a condition for increased Arctic shipping (cf. Brunstad 2007; Mariport Group 2007; Arctic Council 2009; DNV 2010; Stephenson et al. 2011).

In the broader oriented literature on the Arctic, some authors summarise main findings from the natural sciences and even interview climate scientists about the processes involved and their predictions about future climate change. But most typically, climate change just constitutes the backdrop. The authors present some general statements about a warming Arctic, which then serves as a starting point for their discussion of particular topics. Yet, changes in the political-economic climate regime may be mentioned as a framing condition that will influence the development in the Arctic in general or affect sectors such as petroleum or shipping in particular (cf. Brunstad 2007, Oljedirektoratet 2007, Ecologic Institute 2010).

Natural resources and economic activity

Economic development is a major topic in the future-oriented Arctic literature. Some sectors clearly stand out:


The future potential for petroleum development is covered in all the general books on the Arctic and several of the reports and articles (e.g. Anderson 2009; Howard 2009; Sale & Potapov 2010; Harsem et al. 2011). The Arctic Oil and Gas Assessment (Arctic Council 2007) is a thorough pan-Arctic study, but it is surprising­ly weak on future prospects. The bulk of the studies seem to concentrate on single regions. The Barents Sea has attracted significant attention in Norway, and we have found seven studies that try to foresee how proven and unproven resources can be developed and the economic benefits that might accrue, especially to Northern Norway (Barlindhaug 2005, 2006; ECON 2006; Arbo et al. 2007; Hernes et al. 2007; Blakkisrud 2008; Oljedirektoratet 2011). A comprehensive study of Northwest Russia has also been undertaken, with oil and gas development as the central topic because of its relevance for Norwegian industry (Brunstad et al. 2004). We expect that many similar studies have been performed in other regions, but our survey only contains two reports from Alaska and one from Canada (Northern Economics 2009; Rabinowitz 2009; Fekete Associates & Vector Research 2005).


Mining is frequently referred to as a growth industry in the Arctic. However, it is mostly discussed at a general level. We have identified only two studies that provide overviews of known resources in sub-regions and discuss potential future developments (Slotfeldt-Ellingsen & Sandvik 2009; Lian 2010). Again, we will assume more specialised literature is avail­able, both in each of the Arctic states and in different types of economic analyses. Nevertheless, mining is a rather new topic on the Arctic agenda, and more studies will probably be undertaken in the next few years.


Shipping and the prospects of new shipping routes is a topic extensively covered. Most prominent is the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (Arctic Council 2009), a comprehensive assessment of most aspects of Arctic shipping. Fairhall (2010) mainly gives an historical account of the maritime activities in the Arctic, and Brunstad (2007) provides a good analysis of drivers behind Arctic shipping including three scenarios. We have also reviewed four reports that can be labelled feasibility studies of Arctic shipping (Niini et al. 2006; Mejlænder-Larsen & Espeland 2009; DNV 2010; Stephenson et al. 2011).


This sector is not well covered in the literature we have surveyed. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (Arctic Council 2004a) has a chapter discussing possible effects of climate change on selected fish stocks and fisheries. Opportunities for new fisheries are also briefly touched upon in, for instance, Emmerson (2009). There is a biological literature on Arctic fisheries that we have not surveyed, but as far as we are aware of, no newer or more in-depth assessments of Arctic fisheries have been undertaken after the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (Arctic Council 2004a).

Politics, governance and security

Maritime delimitations, international relations and governance issues play a prominent role in the literature. A core element in many of the stories about the Arctic is that there is a race for territories taking place. Some authors, like Emmerson (2009), give a retrospective account of how the borders between the Arctic nations were established, and we learn about the great polar explorers and adventurers. Today, the remaining delimitation issues are related to marine boundaries and the extended continental shelf. Several books explore the unresolved issues and explain the law of the sea. Most of them also contain predictions about the future, considering the likelihood of peaceful collaboration versus rivalry and great power games (cf. (Seidler 2009; Howard 2009; Sale & Potapov 2010; Fairhall 2010). Here it is emphasised that conflicts and security problems can have other roots than border issues, like competition for resources and conflicts over shipping routes and access to marine areas.

Some studies go more in detail on security issues. Byers (2009) focuses on Canadian sover­eignty over its Arctic territories and potential threats to it, making a case for the need for better response capabilities. In military planning, the Canadian air force has studied future challenges for the defence of the Canadian Arctic, while changing patterns of maritime traffic has been explored in order to give recommendations to the US Navy (Billyard et al. 2010; Ducharme & Brightman 2011). International Institute for Strategic Studies has provided a broad analysis of security threats in the Arctic, also originating outside the region (IISS 2008). Diesen (2008) goes into thinking the unthinkable; what is the regional conflict potential in the Arctic, and what would a possible military conflict look like?

Holistic studies

A few of the books explores what are considered to be the major driving forces that will shape the future. Smith (2011) looks at the Northern hemisphere in 2050 and predicts a completely new role for the Northern regions. Rasmussen (2011) also explores which driving forces that will shape the future of the Arctic. Similar approaches are found in studies of Northern Norway (Blakkisrud 2008; Olsen & Iversen 2010). Brigham (2007) represents a rare and bold attempt at making broad scenarios for the future of the whole Arctic. We have found only one similar study, though it is narrower in scope by mainly concentrating on the EU – Arctic relations (Ecologic Institute 2010).