Investors and environmentalists work on sustainable development of the Arctic

Polar climate change has brought along opportunities for diverse organizations to work together to meet the needs of sustainable development.
Sustainability is a word buzzing through talk about preserving the health of the environment, but what is it in that context? Sustainability is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.
The goal of sustainability in use of resources that are becoming available with temperature changes and receding ice is drawing together organizations to focus on cooperation in matching community and indigenous values to science and technology.
For example, Guggenheim Partners, a global investment and advisory group controlling assets of more than $250 billion has linked up with the World Wildlife Fund, a leading conservation organization of over five million members. This union has produced an opportunity for the two organizations to focus on the importance of protecting the Arctic and ensuring sustainable development in the area.
At last month’s Arctic Circle meeting in Reykjavik, the Guggenheim Partners and the WWF Global Arctic Program organized a plenary session where their representatives stressed the need to develop relevant and solid decision-making tools to meet the challenge of sustainable development in the Arctic. To this end, the organizations explained the new project concept between WWF’s Natural Capital Project and Guggenheim Partners as a way to ensure that investments pave the way to sustainable development that helps the Arctic reach the sustainable development goals by 2030.
The project, according to Carter Roberts of the WWF, stems in part from a conversation between himself and Scott Minerd of Guggenheim Partners at a meeting last year, concerning the need to fashion an Arctic investment protocol to inform sustainable development. “You really need an inventory of all the values of the Arctic to go next to an inventory of investment projects so you can hold those investment projects accountable for how they influence the values that are here, whether that is ecological values, community values, or cultural values and to make decisions on that basis,” Roberts said.
“That started a year-long conversation between our team at WWF and the team at Guggenheim and many others. We are working very hard on developing a database that builds on the extraordinary amount of science that is already out there in the field, but tees it up in a way that decision makers can use it,” Roberts said. “We are by no means ready to launch. We ask anyone who is working in science, who is in a position to make decisions, whether in the private sector, government sector, nongovernmental organizations or local communities to help us develop this tool so it doesn’t just paint a picture, but it [lines up] data to help make decisions.”
Roberts gave an illustration of using the data not just in an academic exercise but in terms of real decisions on the ground.
“Imagine mapping the qualities in the picture of fisheries in the Bering Strait; imagine mapping those values that are important to conservation groups like WWF. Imagine mapping shipping lanes in that same region and modeling what happens, if you change the shipping lanes slightly, to all the values that are there,” Roberts said.  
Michael Perkinson of Guggenheim Partners voiced agreement that the group intended to invest in common ideals.
“I represent an outfit that manages $230 billion of pension funds,” Perkinson started off. “We would like to provide financing solutions to sustainable development in the Arctic and elsewhere.”
As the rapid change in the Arctic occurs along with societal change in the high north, “ it seems to me the concept of development and developmental finance is also changing,” Perkinson said at the October meeting in Iceland. “Perhaps an era where development was the sole purview of international financial institutions and sovereign governments may be coming to an end.”
While Western governments were saying they had no money for traditional infrastructure development, “there’s $35 trillion worth of pension fund money in the world, so called patient capital that’s sitting on the sidelines in a global search for yield,” Perkinson said. “We believe that infrastructure investment, whether traditional hard infrastructure, such as bridges and airports, or social infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and broadband Internet and medical service technology, is in fact a proxy for traditional fixed-income investment.”
In taking investment opportunities in the Arctic sustainable development, Guggenheim Partners would be pleased to work with World Wildlife Fund on devising a protocol to stay on track with sustainability, Perkinson said, along with government regulatory officials, scientists, nongovernmental organizations and others.
“It seems to me the Arctic Investment Protocol … really did nothing more than begin something to set a minimum standard as a code of conduct for private organizations that wish to invest in the Arctic,” he said. “It seems to me that what it really does is align the values that governments have, that societies have, and that private stakeholders have.”
When the values are aligned, individual projects could be assessed in four key areas, according to Perkinson:
• Are the projects environmentally sustainable?
• Are they economically viable?
• Do they fit in with social norms in the area?
• Do they fit in with the regulatory framework?
From a historical point of view, Roberts said, a lot of the biggest decisions in the Arctic have been driven by singular concerns—how to get the most oil out of the ground. However, “you can’t just approach those issues without taking into account the wishes of the people who live there, and we know if we are going to think about the lives and the cultures of the people who live there, you can’t just think about that without understanding the ecosystems upon which their lives and their cultures depend,” he said.

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