Maine and the Arctic: Why Maine Should Develop an Arctic Strategy

(Two-minute read)

Policy in Brief:

Despite recently being in the spotlight as an Arctic player, Maine does not currently have a formal published Arctic strategy.  Due to disinterest at the federal level and other near-Arctic subnational entities creating their own Arctic strategies, it is a good time for Maine to articulate its own Arctic strategy.

Fascinating Features:

Maine’s success as an Arctic player, 2013-2016:

The period from 2013 to 2016 is arguably the high-water mark in Maine’s Arctic influence.

  • Portland hosted the Senior Arctic Official meeting in 2016 which allowed Maine to highlight its successful pivot towards the north beginning in 2013.
  • Senator Angus King became cochair of the Arctic Caucus in 2015.
  • Maine sent a large delegation to the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland during 2015.
  • Maine sends over 50% of its exports to Canada.
  • Maine struck a deal with Iceland’s largest shipping firm, Eimskip, to locate its North American headquarters in Portland.

Changes in policy, 2016-2019:

Despite these successes, Maine failed to capitalize on this Arctic momentum from 2016-2019. Further, on the national stage, priorities for the Arctic changed from improving economic and living conditions in Arctic communities; Arctic Ocean safety, security, and stewardship; and climate change to addressing Chinese investment, Russia’s militarization of the Northern Sea Route, and resource extraction.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, cochair of the Arctic Caucus, introduced legislation to make the Department of Homeland Security the chair of the Arctic steering committee. Though this legislation was not adopted, it did signal to the rest of the world a change in United States foreign policy in the Arctic from cooperation to hard security leadership.

Renewed interest in Maine regarding Arctic cooperation, 2019 and beyond:

As administrations in Maine’s executive office changed in 2019, Maine’s priorities toward Arctic cooperation and influence were renewed.

  • Governor Mills placed herself on the international stage by addressing the Climate Action Summit before the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Governor Mills  attended the 2019 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik.
  • Governor Mills signed an MOU with the Prime Minister of Finland regarding enhancement in forest-sector collaboration with focuses on:
    • bioeconomic innovation;
    • enhancing forest health;
    • and sustainability in the face of climate change.
  • Governor Mills is currently negotiating an MOU with Norway in regards to common economic interests including:
    • renewable energy technology;
    • forest-sector collaboration;
    • and scientific cooperation surrounding climate change.

Strategic Considerations:

Maine can look to other near-Arctic regions, such as the Faroe Islands and Scotland for examples of Arctic strategies. These regions have prioritized the following strategic priorities:

  • economic opportunities
    • fisheries
    • shipping
    • clean energy
  • research and education
  • environmental concerns
    • climate change
    • ocean stewardship
    • sustainable development
  • maritime safety
  • emergency response
  • rural connections


Much needs to be considered for a state-level Arctic strategy, however, the Scottish framework as a near-Arctic region can provide some guidance. Maine’s Arctic strategy should involve:

  • Recognition of current and historical connections:
    • similarities in the forestry industry
    • similarities in the fishing industry
    • shared interest in fisheries management
    • shared interest in climate change policies
    • shared interest in sustainable development
  • Outlining existing partnerships and exchanges:
    • describe existing academic partnerships and exchanges
    • describe existing research partnerships and exchanges
  • Place people at the heart of the Maine-Arctic dialogue:
    • mutual learning to improve resilience of communities
    • mutual learning to improve well-being of communities
  • Consult widely with organizations, business, and citizens
  • Identify areas of strategic importance:
    • climate change
    • fisheries
    • forestry
    • rural connectivity
    • rural economies
    • renewable energy
    • business connections
    • shipping
    • cultural heritage
  • Acknowledge the threat of climate change:
    • Climate change challenges cannot be tackled in isolation
    • neighborly engagement is necessary to mitigate climate problems
    • increase collective climate action
    • accelerate shared decarboniztion
    • build a sustainable future together

Dig Deeper:

Wood, Jonathan. “Maine and the Arctic: Why Maine Should Develop an Arctic Strategy.” Maine Policy Review 29.1 (2020): 56-61.

From MPR’s Archive:

Canarie, Dave. “Maine’s Journey into the Arctic: Why the Arctic Council Matters to Maine.” Maine Policy Review 25.2 (2016): 14-15.

Johnson, Eileen S., Esperanza Stancioff, Tora Johnson, Sarena Sabine, Haley Maurice, and Claire Reboussin. “Preparing for a Changing Climate: The State of Adaptation Planning in Maine’s Coastal Communities.” Maine Policy Review 28.2 (2019): 10-22.

King, Angus. “Margaret Chase Smith Essay: Maine and Climate Change: The View from Greenland.” Maine Policy Review 25.2 (2016): 8-13.

Related Resources:

Bell, Tom. 2016. “How Maine is Turning Itself into an Arctic Player.” Arctic Today, October 7, 2016.

MacLean, Marnie. 2018. “Maine Has More in Common With Nordic Countries Than New Jersey.” Journal of the North Atlantic & Arctic, February 2018.

Office of Governor Janet T. Mills. 2019a. “Speaking Before the Arctic Circle Assembly, Governor Mills Pledges to Work with Arctic Nations to Combat Climate Change, Strengthen Economy.” News Release, October 11, 2019.