The fall Social Development Working Group (SDWG) meeting took place over the course of two days, 21-22 September 2017 in Inari, Finland and it was hosted in the Sámi Cultural Center SAJOS. It was the first SDWG meeting under the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (AC) and the new chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group, Pekka Shemeikka, began by welcoming everyone, including many new representatives from the United States, Kingdom of Denmark, Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Aleut International Association (AIA), and from the Gwich’in Council International (GCI). The meeting gathered also almost the record number of Observers – around 60 persons, both from Observer states and organizations.

After approval of the agenda, the meeting continued with the first presentation by the chair of Finnish Saami Parliament, Tiina Sanila-Aikio, who spoke about the cultural center Sajos, Saami people and the land of Sápmi as well as on the Saami Parliament and the Saami Language Act. Next spoke representatives of Finland. First, Finnish Senior Arctic Official (SAO), Rene Söderman, spoke about, among others, the SDWG Strategic Framework that was approved by the SAOs in March 2017. The Strategic Framework provides context for the SDWG’s activities in the period 2017-2030 and is the first document of this type for the Sustainable Development Working Group, which so far has worked solely on the basis of the biennial work plans. The new Strategic Framework provides the frame for the SWDG with respect to its priority and project areas (including community vitality, economic assessments and science and research for sustainable development), its guiding principles and stakeholder engagement. It also outlines current and emerging challenges and opportunities for the SDWG, among them the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the same time, more details on the implementation of the framework can be found in the SDWG two-year work plan and the framework might be also updated in the future as necessary, to reflect the decisions of the AC ministers, who determine the SDWG mandate.

The Finnish SAO also mentioned the work of the Arctic Council on resilience, and in particular the Arctic Resilience Action Framework (ARAF), that will now find its ‘home’ in the SDWG, even if its scope understandably encompasses work of the other working groups of the Council as well. One of the major events to advance realization of ARAF will be the Arctic Resilience Forum that will take place in September 2018 in Rovaniemi, Finland.

The Finnish Chair of the SDWG, Pekka Shemeikka, provided the overview of the goals of Finland’s AC chairmanship and the SDWG activities. He stressed the importance of the SDWG Strategic Framework as a new tool to enhanced strategic planning within the SDWG and pointed how the priorities of Finland’s chairmanship – especially education and connectivity - support work of the SDWG. He also listed the upcoming meetings of the SDWG (all to take place in Finland):

  • In Kittilä on March 19-20, 2018;
  • In Rovaniemi on October 22-23, 2018; and
  • In Kemi on February 5-6, 2019, with intersessional consultations in between those.

The next presentation was given be the invited guest, Saami Pirkkala, the senior specialist on sustainable development in the Finland’s Prime Minister’s Office. Mr. Pirkkala spoke about what has changed with the adoption of the Agenda 2030 and about the country’s efforts to advance its realization. Most of all, the major change for many countries, including all developed countries, has been the comprehensive character of the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs which, in contrast to previous Millennium Development Goals, require actions and adjustments also in economies and lifestyles of developed states. The Agenda 2030 has provided the new impetus to work on sustainable development (in February 2017 Finnish government adopted Implementation Plan for Agenda 2030), it has expanded the focus from environmental sustainability to all three dimensions of sustainability (economic, social and environmental), and made citizens and stakeholders more aware of sustainability issues. Moreover, the key institutions like Parliament or National Auditor’s Office have become more interested and involved and the Government has committed itself to an external evaluation on sustainable development in 2019. The presentation was very well received and got a lot of attention, unsurprisingly, seeing how central to the discussions of the Arctic Council are now Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are also in focus of work of the SECEG SDWG expert group (see below) and the SDWG views its work as an opportunity to contribute in concrete terms to the implementation of the Agenda 2030. One point worth stressing came in the discussion from the AAC that noted lack of reference to cultural sustainability in the SDGs – the issue of, obviously, huge importance in the Arctic.

The meeting followed according to the agreed agenda, covering both projects that continue from the US to Finland’s AC chairmanship as well as the new ones. The novelty introduced was that the projects were presented and discussed, rather than separately, under the thematic areas identified in the SDWG Strategic Framework. This solution is intended to assist implementation of the Strategic Framework and it might, arguably, also facilitate identifying in the future areas that might require more focus or attention. It certainly makes things easier to follow for the Observers, which – and that should be highlighted -  were also this time given an opportunity to present their statements or comments after each of the agenda items (so thematic areas), and not only once at the end of the 2-day meeting as it was practiced in the past. Such approach certainly serves increasing the active participation and engagement of Observers and hopefully will be continued throughout the entire Finnish chairmanship.

In addition to presentations of various projects and activities, the SDWG received also the update on work of its Social, Economic and Cultural Expert Group (SECEG), chaired in the period 2017-2019 by prof. Timo Koivurova (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). The SECEG group held two meetings in Inari: a closed session on 21 September and a full-day workshop “Co-Producing Sustainability: Knowledge Co-Production, International Collaboration and Sustainable Development in the Arctic” on September 23, already after the end of the official meeting. Among others, SECEG work in 2017-2019 might focus on the SDGs in the Arctic and while the scope of SECEG activities remains to be confirmed, following the meeting in Inari, the Observers were invited to a video conference with the SECEG chair to discuss potential input and contributions of Observers to this expert group. Gosia Smieszek participated in that call on behalf of IASC.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that all the meetings of the Arctic Council organized by Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – like the SDWG meeting in Inari – are environmentally sustainable meetings. This means they are organized following the standards that cover provision of catering, procurement and evening programs. In result, there are no plastic cups nor cutlery in the meetings, transport is either public or on foot and whenever possible, served food is local.

For more information on the SDWG follow its website, which not only is the main source of information on the work and activities of the Working Group, but also includes all relevant updates and links to additional materials as well as serves as the main point of contact with the SDWG.

This meeting report was contributed by Malgorzata (Gosia) Smieszek, 2014 IASC Fellow and current CASP Action Group Co-Chair.
If you are interested in representing IASC at an upcoming meeting, please contact the IASC Secretariat.