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Arctic Portal - Expert to expert initiative

The second webinar of the Arctic Expert-to-Expert Initiative, titled “Arctic expert-to-expert cooperation for the future,” was part of the Nord University High North Dialogue 2023. It took place on April 18th and streamed online. The primary focus of the event was to underscore the vital importance of Arctic expert-to-expert cooperation, particularly given the climate crisis and the complex geopolitical circumstances faced by the region.

The speakers in the webinar with diverse backgrounds and expertise in international science cooperation in the Arctic included Halldór Jóhannsson, Alexandra Middleton, Anton Vasiliev, Paul Arthur Berkman, Ekaterina Uryupova, Lassi Heininen, and Andrey Mineev.

The webinar included the following questions:

  • How has scientific research been impacted after 2022? Personal stories
  • What are the blind spots in the Arctic scientific data? (for natural sciences, social sciences and Indigenous Knowledge)
  • How can the scientific community (natural sciences, social sciences, and Indigenous Knowledge) operate with pan-Arctic inclusion to address the global questions?

Knowledge will be lost if it is not shared

The speakers discussed the impact of the pause in multilateral scientific cooperation on the Arctic. The experts noted that the tensions in the Arctic region mirror many of the dynamics and dramatic challenges present in other parts of the world. The phenomenon of societal polarization, characterized by a reduction in tolerance and the impediment of critical thinking, puts pressure to the realm of science, also in the Arctic. Pressure from the public opinion in combination with politically driven restrictive regulations on academic cooperation puts Arctic scientific community into a difficult situation. Would it become fragmented or find new creative ways to reintegrate and share knowledge?

The experts emphasized that it is crucial for the international scientific community to work together to maintain personal and professional ties and continue to make progress in Arctic research. They addressed the critical importance of global issues, such as climate change, environmental challenges, and sustainable development for the Arctic states and its people. Interruption in research collaboration will result in a deterioration of research quality and will decrease our ability to face today's challenges. Thus, researchers have a special responsibility for sustaining and enhancing scientific research continuity.

To tackle these concerns, it is crucial to prioritize the restoration of dialogue and knowledge exchange among experts from all Arctic states. This can be achieved through direct, personal expert-to-expert cooperation, fostering a form of grassroots scientific diplomacy that operates independently of official institutions while respecting existing legal limitations. The speakers highlighted the importance of sharing knowledge and protecting it, as "knowledge will be lost if it is not shared and protected."

Blind spots in Arctic scientific data

During the discussions, the speakers shed light on the various data gaps prevalent in Arctic scientific research. These gaps encompass a range of critical areas, including the scarcity of shared information pertaining to the state of the Arctic marine ecosystem, climate patterns, and effects of phenomena such as permafrost degradation, and oil spills. Additionally, limited data exist on the health and well-being of Arctic Indigenous communities as well as the progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within these populations. The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated these data gaps as reduced in-person meetings and field trips have stifled the exchange of experiences and ideas.

Data gaps pose significant challenges for scientists, impeding their ability to gather essential scientific data from the field, engage in fruitful information exchanges and discussions, access funding, and travel to research hotspots. Without access to this crucial information, comprehending global processes and making accurate predictions regarding the impact of climate change on the Arctic and the planet as a whole have become increasingly challenging.

Addressing these data gaps necessitates a collaborative effort on an international scale, fostering cooperation among researchers and promoting cross-disciplinary studies. By working together, researchers can strive towards a more comprehensive understanding of the Arctic region and its multifaceted challenges, paving the way for informed decision making and effective responses. At the same time, the international science community has become more exclusive, causing divisions among researchers and experts under pressure to align with global and national political agendas.

The strategic plan of the Arctic Council for the next decade acknowledges blind spots in Arctic scientific data related to climate, resilient ecosystems, sustainable development, and knowledge-sharing. Addressing these challenges requires cross-disciplinary research; however, the current mechanisms for facilitating such collaboration are lacking.

The work of the Arctic Council resulted in three legally binding international agreements on oil spill response, search and rescue, and scientific cooperation in the Arctic. “Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation” was signed in 2017. The parties to the agreement expressed a desire to contribute to and build upon the existing cooperation and to actively work toward developing and expanding international Arctic scientific collaboration. The purpose of this Agreement is to enhance cooperation in scientific activities in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency in the development of scientific knowledge about the Arctic.

How can the scientific community operate in time of crisis and geo-political divide?

During the discussions, the speakers delved into several important topics, highlighting the significance of Pan-Arctic inclusion in addressing global questions and emphasizing the potential benefits of integrating Traditional Knowledge from Indigenous Peoples into scientific research. The idea of organizing the 5th International Polar Year in 2032-2033 was put forward as a unifying initiative for international Arctic scientific cooperation.

The speakers emphasized the need for independent researchers and experts to continue their important work while actively collaborating with other fields of expertise, including Indigenous Knowledge. They recognized that these experts may need to take the lead when necessary. During the webinar, speakers explored the challenges and opportunities of scientific cooperation within the context of global politics, which is currently shaped by great power rivalries and the pressing climate crisis.

Amidst the discussions, the participants explored the delicate balance: whether researchers could align with national policies and at the same time maintain their independence? This conversation thoughtfully acknowledged the profound significance of science while also considering the potential of science diplomacy to play a constructive role in mediating such considerations. To foster scientific cooperation in the Arctic region and prevent the loss of valuable knowledge, the speakers have proposed several recommendations. They urged researchers to prioritize their main task of conducting international research, maintain their freedom of expression, and uphold their independence. They emphasized the importance of active engagement in research and communication while keeping communication channels open, fostering connections between individuals involved in Arctic research.

Overall, the discussions underscored the crucial role of scientific cooperation and inclusion of Traditional Knowledge in addressing global challenges. The speakers emphasized the need for collaborative efforts that transcend political boundaries, promote open dialogue, and leverage the expertise and insights from Indigenous communities. By following these principles, researchers can make meaningful contributions to effective solutions for complex issues facing the Arctic and the wider world.

It was proposed that scenario modelling workshops could be a concrete task for Arctic scientists at the expert-to-expert level, enabling them to contribute effectively. In addition, it was highlighted how crucial it is to promote constructive dialogue and employ conflict resolution strategies to bridge mindset gaps within society.

The role of Science Diplomacy

Science diplomats can serve as brokers of dialogues among allies and adversaries alike to enable informed decision-making. By bringing together the natural sciences, social sciences, and Indigenous Knowledge, science can provide a common ground for different stakeholders to work together towards shared goals. For example, the International Polar Year program has been endorsed by both the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the International Arctic Science Committee and can help build trust among the scientific community, natural sciences, social sciences, and Indigenous knowledge. By promoting international scientific cooperation, science diplomacy can be a path for the benefit of all on Earth across generations, especially when nations need to operate across a continuum of urgencies now and into the future.

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