Facts & Figures

AC member since 1996

Active Polar Icebreakers: 3
Coordinates Helsinki: 60.1708° N, 24.9375° E
Rovaniemi: 66.5039° N, 25.7294° E

Population Finland: 5.4 million
Lapland: 181,815

Land Area Finland: 338,424 km2
Lapland: 98,984 km2

The area defined as Northern Finland covers three provinces that together form 44% of Finland: Northern Ostrobothnia (Pohjois-Pohjanmaa), Kainuu, and Lapland (Lappi).  When talking about the Finnish Arctic, the area most commonly referred to is Lapland as the Arctic Circle crosses the province at approximately the same latitude as its capital, Rovaniemi. This puts one third of Finland’s territory above the Arctic Circle.

The total area of the three provinces of Northern Finland is 160,851 km2, of which Lapland covers 98,983 km². Despite being the largest province in terms of territory, Lapland remains sparsely populated with only 180 thousand people. These people are spread across Lapland’s 21 municipalities which, in turn, form six sub-regions. The Sámi Homeland in Lapland is legally defined and includes the municipalities of Enontekiö, Inari and Utsjoki and the northern part of Sodankylä.

Lapland has a typical subarctic climate with cold, snowy winters and reasonably mild summers. The average temperatures range from -13.5 °C to 14.5 °C whereas during the winter months temperatures can dip below -30 °C. The record low -51.5°C was measured in Kittilä in 1999.

Lapland’s nature and scenery is dominated by fells, forests and waterways. There are several fells in Lapland, with the most well-known being Halti, Saana, and Korvatunturi. About 30% of the land in Lapland is either national parks or other nature conservation areas. Around 90% of the Sámi homeland area is government controlled and 80% falls within nature conservation areas. These areas are important for traditional reindeer husbandry and tourism.

Finnish Lapland has been upheld as an example of how ecosystem services can help prevent ecological problems caused by human action, as well as a way to resolve land-use questions in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. Finland has attempted to position itself as a leader in sustainable development in the Arctic region. Moreover, Finland is often rated among the world’s top countries in terms of environmental protection standards. In spite of these impressive achievements, Finland’s ecological footprint is still quite high when compared to its Nordic neighbors.

With over 70% of the country covered, Finland is Europe’s most forested country. Of these forests, about 17,000 km2 of it is strictly protected. Finland’s forest resources are increasing as the natural growth of forests more than compensates for the amounts of timber logged. Finland’s contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions are small in global terms, but very high when measured per capita. Renewable energy sources account for about a quarter of all the energy used in Finland. A large part of this renewable energy is produced from residuals generated in the pulp and paper industry, including bio-sludge and wood chips. Almost half of the wood used in Finland is burnt to produce energy.

The Regional Council of Lapland has developed a climate change strategy for  2030. The strategy lists goals for Lapland in order to better mitigate climate change in the region. Lapland’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2009 were about 2.8 million tons, which is more than the Finnish average in proportion to population density. The province of Lapland sees climate change as bringing both economic opportunities for development, but also as a threat to traditional livelihoods.

The Finnish Environment Institute, SYKE, is represented in the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) studying contaminants in lake sediments and the movements of harmful airborne substances. SYKE also takes part in the Arctic Contaminants Action Plan (ACAP). The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and Environment (ELY Centre) in Lapland also takes part in AMAP and other international environmental management initiatives.

Helsinki, Finland’s capital and largest city, has a population of 630,225. Most of the largest cities in Finland, including Helsinki, are located in the south. These include Espoo (270,005) and Tampere (225,269). The biggest cities in Northern Finland are Oulu (198,570), Rovaniemi (61,866), Kajaani (37,636), and Tornio (22,209). As of 2014, 181,815 people lived in Lapland.

The majority of Arctic residents in Finland speak finnish, with 1,526 speaking Sami, 387 speaking Swedish, and 3,467 speaking some other language as their mother tongue. Much of the current population of Finland’s Arctic predates the country’s modern independence to its time as part of the Swedish Empire (~1249-1809). Many Finns and Swedes moved to Lapland to build villages around isolated dwellings in the wilderness, both claiming land and cultivating parcels. These settlers sought to capitalise on the wilderness and its hunting and agricultural potential. Eventually, new industries like forestry and mining drew southerners to the Arctic for economic gain.

There are approximately 10 thousand Sámi living in Finland. Only about 35% live in or near their original Sámi homelands, and those that do live in Lapland compose only 5% of the population. This represents a challenge to the Sámi community and culture. Other major challenges facing the Sámi in Finland are maintaining the Sámi language,  the limited health and social services available in their remote communities, as well as problems of social exclusion.

The Sámi in Finland are represented by the Sámi Parliament established in 1995 as an independent legal entity subject to public law with its own governing body. There are 21 elected representatives and 4 deputies in the Sámi Parliament who are elected every 4 years. The Sámi Parliament can make initiatives, proposals and statements representing the official view of the Sámi in Finland on issues concerning them in both national and international contexts.

The Finnish Constitution was amended to include stronger rights for the Sámi in 1995. The amendments recognized the status of the Sámi as an Indigenous people and gave the Sámi additional rights to maintain and develop their languages and culture. The new legislation guaranteed that Sámi language and culture in their Homeland would be managed by the Sámi and not the Finnish government. The Finnish authorities thus have to consult with the Sámi Parliament in all matters affecting the status of Sámi as an Indigenous people.

In Finland, the definition of a Sámi is laid down in the Act on the Sámi Parliament and is mainly based on the Sámi language. According to this official definition, a Sámi is a person who considers him- or herself a Sámi, has learnt Sámi as his or her first language, or has at least one parent or grandparent whose first language is Sámi. There have been some issues with the definition lately as the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland still has the right to define the Sámi status. The Sámi Parliament considers this a violation of their rights to define their own identity and community membership. Finland has still not ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169—a binding UN document dealing specifically with Indigenous rights.

The Sámi culture has maintained its traditional elements but faces challenges today as people become integrated with global industries, growing tourism, and technological development. To adapt to the changing economic opportunities of Finland’s North while keeping indigenous traditions alive, the two major occupations in the Sámi Homeland are tourism and reindeer husbandry. The Sámi Parliament advocates and works together with the municipalities to revive and maintain the Sámi language and education. All the middle school and high schools within the Sámi Homelands are legally obligated to offer education also in the Sámi languages; North Sámi, Skolt Sámi and Inari Sámi.

The Sámi of Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden are represented in the Arctic Council by the Saami Council, a non-governmental organization founded in 1956. The Saami Council actively deals with policy related tasks advocating the Saami rights and interests in the four countries as well as to an international audience.

From an economic and business point of view, Finland has a lot of potential within its own Arctic region as well as in the larger Arctic. The biggest industries in Northern Finland are forestry, mining, tourism, renewable and bio-energy, technology, and metal industries. Finland also takes pride as a leading expert in shipping and shipbuilding. Facilitating these commercial activities, the infrastructure above the Arctic Circle in Finland is fairly advanced with roads between cities, towns and villages as well as airports in the major cities. Northern Finland is thus well connected to the rest of Finland, Europe and Russia. The Lapland Chamber of Commerce is the northernmost chamber of commerce in the European Union. It plays an important role advocating northern businesses and international cooperation.

In 2013, the forestry industry directly employed a total of 3,200 people in Lapland. Additionally, forestry provides a supplementary source of income to numerous forest owners. In Lapland, the forest sector accounts for a much larger percentage of the overall economic activity than in the rest of Finland. Mining is also attracting investment in Northern Finland because of the infrastructure capabilities and a close link to the European market.

One of the biggest employers in Lapland besides forestry and mining, is the tourism industry. Northern Finland is a very popular winter destination, especially its Arctic capital Rovaniemi and the Santa Claus village. The most popular winter downhill skiing resorts in Finland are located in the north and the annual number of overnight stays in Lapland is well over two million. The Finnish Lapland is easily accessible and there are four airports above the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Kittilä, Ivalo and Enontekiö.

Finland has a strong interest and well developed expertise in Arctic maritime technology, shipping and shipbuilding. Even though Finland does not border on the Arctic Ocean, it possesses five ice breakers and two multi-purpose vessels operated predominantly in the Baltic Sea by Arctia Shipping. The Finnish icebreakers are also lent to other countries and companies. An example of this, Finnish icebreakers were part of Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil and gas explorations in Alaska.

Finland is looking towards international partners for potential exports of Arctic offshore industries, especially with regards to technology and construction. Finland has approximately 150 companies working within offshore industries and 67% of those revenues come from technology. Finnish companies maintain their competitive advantage with their strong technological expertise, high quality products and innovation. The main partner in offshore industry for Finland is Norway whereas exports to Russia are mainly for Arctic offshore development.

Finland’s energy politics is based on securing energy availability, competitive price of energy and keeping emissions within the international quota. Natural resource development and extraction in Finland is mostly concentrated on mining. Finland is, however, the least oil dependent of the industrialized OECD countries. With a growing renewable energy industry, Northern Finland is increasingly attracting foreign investment. A Chinese company, Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group, recently announced its plans to invest in a bio-energy refinery in Kemi creating more jobs for the community.

The area in Lapland is also well suited for wind power plants. Building wind farms has proven to be a challenge as those areas are important for communities as well as for tourism and reindeer herding. As a result, some of the planned wind power plants have been resisted by local communities. Oulu in Northern Finland is one of the fastest growing technological hubs in Finland with companies and start-ups  attracting foreign investment.

The annual Arctic Business Forum is held in Rovaniemi to introduce the latest business developments and the future prospects of the Arctic economy. The forum attracts both Finnish and international participants from different industries, companies and governments. Helsinki hosts the annual Arctic Shipping Forum.

The CEO of Arctic Shipping, Tero Vauraste, is also committed to the Arctic Economic Council (AEC)—an institution designed to facilitate Arctic business-to-business activities and responsible economic development. The AEC also recently appointed a Finn, Anu Fredrikson, as the Director of the AEC Secretariat.

Finland’s first “Strategy for the Arctic Region” was completed in June, 2010. In 2013, the Finnish Government presented an updated version of the country’s strategy for the Arctic region. The revised strategy is more business oriented and built around four key pillars: (1) Finland as an Arctic country, (2) Arctic expertise, (3) sustainable development and environmental considerations and (4) international cooperation.

Finland has long been an active member of the arctic community and played a key role in calling the first minister-level meeting for Arctic countries in 1991. The initiative for international cooperation in environmental protection in the Arctic was already formed in 1989. The meeting in Rovaniemi was a stepping stone for international environmental cooperation in the Arctic region and was followed by the ‘Rovaniemi process.’ This eventually led to the founding of the Arctic Council—an effort co-led by Canada.

Finland will chair the Arctic Council from 2017 to 2019 following the current American Chairmanship. The previous Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2000 to 2002 focused on launching projects designed to advance economic and social development as well as strengthening the Arctic Council and its international reputation. Finland also initiated an evaluation process for the Arctic Council’s activities to enhance environmental protection and promote sustainable development. During its Chairmanship, Finland attempted to encourage closer cooperation between the European Union and the Arctic Council.

After joining the European Union in 1995, Finland promoted itself as a northern nation with good relations with Russia and advocated the Northern Dimension of EU foreign policy. This encouraged more southern countries in the EU to turn their attention towards the north. Finland’s Arctic Ambassador and Senior Arctic Official to the Arctic Council, Aleksi Härkönen, has highlighted the EU’s role in the Arctic and, for Finland’s upcoming Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2017, wants the agenda to be in line with Finland’s Arctic strategy and EUs policies. Finland considers the EU as one of the major stakeholders in Arctic affairs.

Finland is also a member of the Nordic Council and the Barents-Euro Arctic Council. Finland currently holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers for 2016, where they are promoting the theme “water, nature and people.” This will contribute aid in removing obstacles to cross-border freedom of movement, promoting digitalisation and strengthening the importance of the Nordic countries jointly in the European Union.

Finland’s interests in the Arctic region are mainly concentrated on sustainable development, business opportunities, Indigenous issues as well as promoting the European Union as a stakeholder in the Arctic. The main objectives of Finland’s Arctic Policy are to strengthen multilateral Arctic cooperation, take part in shaping EU’s Arctic policy and to raise Finland’s profile as an expert in Arctic issues.

Emmi Ikonen

Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland:

Arctic Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland:

Regional Council of Lapland:

Finnish Environment Institute, SYKE:

The Finnish Sámi Parliament:

Arctic Centre, University of Lapland:

Arctic Finland: