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Is the Arctic Council’s One Health Initiative Necessary for Finland?

August 23, 2017


Brandon Ray

Aug 2017 - Ray blog Photo
Brandon Ray (Senior Arctic Official, Finland), Nicole Halseth (Sustainable Development Working Group, Iceland delegate), Sean O'Rourke (Aleut International Association delegate), and Leehi Yona (Arctic Athabaskan Council delegate) deliver statements in the Model Arctic Council simulation recently held at Dartmouth College. (Photo: Val Muzik).
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Finland is proud of its past and present work on climate change. In 1989, Finland initiated the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), whose efforts were codified in Rovaniemi in 1991. [1] The AEPS produced five of the six working groups that were subsumed into the Arctic Council, and focused primarily on monitoring environmental conditions, reducing pollution, and preserving the environment. Finland has remained a leader in environmental issues over the past 25 years, pledging to reduce domestic emissions 40 percent by 2030 along with other European Union countries as part of the Paris Climate Agreement. [2] This focal area falls under the broader European Union (EU) goals of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in the 2016 EU Policy for the Arctic and builds on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. [3] Most recently, environmental protection also became a core tenet of Finland’s Arctic Council Chairmanship priorities, with goals of assuring implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, organizing the second Arctic Biodiversity Congress and the Arctic Resilience Forum, and developing an Arctic-specific environmental impact assessment. [4]

Finland has also been a leader in Arctic health, both programmatically and in practice. Finland prides itself on its Centre for Arctic Medicine through the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu. The UArctic Thematic Network on Health and Well-Being in the Arctic is also coordinated through the Thule Institute. [5] Arja Rautio, one of the principal researchers at the centre, was one of the lead authors of “Human Health and Well-Being,” a chapter in the 2015 Arctic Human Development Report. This report highlights that Finland, as a Nordic country, ranks highest in health indicators with little North/South or Indigenous/non-Indigenous variation.[6] Finland has low incidences of infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer, while injuries, homicides, and suicides in the Finnish Arctic are comparable to national averages. This report does acknowledge, though, that there are higher incidences of cardiovascular disease in the Finnish Arctic and that Finland has limited scientific knowledge of Sami health compared to North America’s or Greenland’s knowledge of its Indigenous health issues.

Given this leadership and excellence in addressing both climate change and health, what additional benefit would the Arctic Council’s One Health initiative provide Finland? The One Health approach is not foreign to Finland, as it was established by the Nordic Council in 1957 as a holistic way to approach health in the Arctic. [7] Prior work on this effort to “identify, prevent, and mitigate health risks in humans, animals, and the environment” has led to success at the international level, with the Arctic providing a strong voice in the development of the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and the Minimata Convention on Mercury. [8] New chemicals, however, beyond mercury and POPs, are aggregating in the Arctic due to atmospheric and oceanic patterns, and threaten food and water security. [9]

Finland’s 2013 Strategy for the Arctic Region stated the need to “secure the necessary preconditions for the health and well-being of the population in northern Finland through the re-allocation of existing resources,” [10] a desire that remained in the 2016 revision. Finland has continued to support this work as the chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), which sponsored the One Health program, and will assume co-chair of the Arctic Human Health Expert Group for 2017–19. Finland was one of only four Arctic nations to participate in the One Health tabletop exercise, which the United States hosted in Anchorage, Alaska, in February 2017. The SDWG will continue to expand the framework established through the One Health project by increasing ties with other working groups. Furthermore, the establishment of One Health Hubs and the launch of Arctic One Health Collaborative Projects will be carried out under the Finnish Arctic Council Chairmanship. [11]

The projections of future climate change in the Arctic have been captured in the 2004 Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment, the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, and the 2017 Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic Summary for Policy-Makers. However, the recent Fairbanks Arctic Council Ministerial meeting showed that climate change has become a tenuous subject matter with the change in U.S. administration. With the need to maintain collaboration and cooperation within the Arctic Council, One Health provides a way to operationalize climate change impacts without focusing on the term “climate change” and is consistent with Finnish priority of environmental protection. The impacts of these changes are already being felt in Arctic communities, [12] and the entire Arctic region is susceptible to numerous emerging threats to human health: climate change impacts on food and water security and spread of infectious disease. [13] Freshwater sources are increasingly subject to contamination through changes in the hydrologic cycle and the spread of pathogens from the South. [14] These topics provide a means to address climate change impacts without having to engage in political debates on the science. The One Health initiative provides an opportunity for Finland to exercise its leadership on Arctic health and climate change and to achieve its strategic priorities for the Arctic Council while maintaining the cooperation for which the Council is known.

  1. John English, Margaret MacMillan, and Robert Bothwell, Ice and Water: Politics, Peoples, and the Arctic Council (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2013), 105–40.
  2. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Submission by Latvia and the European Commission on Behalf of the European Union and Its Member States,” March 6, 2015, Published%20Documents/Latvia/1/LV-03-06-EU%20INDC.pdf.
  3. European Commission, “Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council: An Integrated European Union Policy for the Arctic,” April 27, 2016,
  4. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, “Exploring Common Solutions: Finland’s Chairmanship Program for the Arctic Council 2017–2019,” accessed June 14, 2017,
  5. UArctic, “Health and Well-Being in the Arctic,” 2014, accessed June 14, 2017,
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers, Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages, ed. Joan Nymand Larson and Gail Fondahl (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2015),
  7. Arctic Council, One Health: Operationalizing One Health in the Arctic, Achievements Report (May 2017),
  8. Arctic Council, One Health, 6.
  9. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, “Exploring Common Solutions.”
  10. Prime Minister’s Office Finland, “Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region 2013,” August 23, 2013, 49, Arktinen+strategia+2013+en.pdf/6b6fb723-40ec-4c17-b286-5b5910fbecf4.
  11. Arctic Council, One Health. 11.
  12. Joshua Glasser and Cody Chipp, “One Arctic, One Health: Arctic Health Challenges in an Era of Rapid Change,” World Policy Blog, June 29, 2016,
  13. Nordic Council of Ministers, Arctic Human Development Report, 310–12.
  14. John A. Warren, James E. Berner, and Tine Curtis, “Climate Change and Human Health: Infrastructure Impacts to Small Remote Communities in the North,” International Journal of Circumpolar Health 64, no. 5 (2005): 491.

This post is part of the International Policy Institute Arctic blog series, IPI Arctic Fellows travel to Dartmouth and Busan. To overview the series, read the introduction

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.