Arctic thaw – also politically

Arctic thaw – also politically

On 26 June 2013, the temperature hit over 34° C in Arkhangelsk in northwestern Russia at the cusp of the Arctic Circle. This is a record-breaker for the city – and a potent symbol. Both the physical and the political temperatures are warming.

Fifty researchers and rectors from 28 universities in eight countries arrived that day in Arkhangelsk to discuss Arctic research cooperation and how it can bolster the capacity and quality of Arctic research in the future. Joint research initiatives will play a key role.


Arctic challenges require collective solutions

Conducting research in the Arctic is challenging – both financially and logistically. Manoeuvring the Arctic landscape requires specialised knowledge, and researchers must make due with much sparser infrastructure than they are used to in the southerly regions of the Nordic countries. Studying the many areas that have barely  been explored scientifically will also require a major research effort. That is why a wide array of stakeholders met at the end of June at a conference organised by the University of the Arctic (UArctic) to find common ground for a research initiative. Anton Vasiliev, Russia’s Senior Arctic Official in the Arctic Council, participated in the discussions; his views are clear:

“The most important thing is to boost cooperation between universities and research institutions. There is tremendous potential here. When we look around us we see that many of our national research programmes and projects overlap. By joining forces and collaborating, we can lower the costs and raise the efficiency of research. Joint funding instruments will play a key role in this context.”

The Arctic has app. 4 million inhabitants

UArctic is a cooperative network of universities, university colleges, research institutions and other organisations active in Arctic research and research education. It is the organiser of the annual UArctic Rectors’ Forum, which was held for the seventh consecutive year in Russia. The aim of the forum is to provide participants in university leadership positions with the opportunity to share experience and exchange views. Vice-Chair of Knowledge and Dialogue at UArctic Marina Kalinina was one of the coordinators of the conference; her main focus is also on cross-national cooperation:

Marina Kalinina, Anton Vasiliev, Gunnel Gustafsson, Lars Kullerud“Drawing up joint research strategies is essential. Conducting research in the region is expensive, so there is much to gain by cooperating across national boundaries – both research quality and research efficiency can be enhanced. Joint funding instruments will be a boon to everyone involved.”

Research on and in the Arctic is becoming more and more interdisciplinary. Ideally, adds Anton Vasiliev, the Arctic Council would wield a strong hand and have a dedicated budget to develop research initiatives based on shared priorities.

The Arctic is our home and our future

Vice-Chair Kalinina is very pleased that the Arctic Council was represented at the forum, as this will cultivate a deeper understanding and closer ties between the research community and the council. After all, UArctic and the Arctic Council share a common objective.

“Our foremost objective in the Arctic Council is to convince people that the Arctic is our home and our future,” says Mr Vasiliev. “We need to nurture this understanding in people’s hearts and minds. Knowing something is one thing, but truly feeling something is another and it changes the way you act. This is absolutely vital. The Arctic is changing, you can feel it in the temperature outside.”

Very importantly, Russia was heavily represented at the conference. Kalinina says:

“I am eager to show our colleagues at universities in the West that Russia’s attitude towards Arctic cooperation has changed dramatically – we are keen to collaborate internationally and our universities are ready to do so.”

Mr Vasiliev concurs: “Arctic issues are gaining more and more attention. People are beginning to understand just how important the Arctic is, resource-wise and strategically. The situation has changed completely since the Cold War, but we are still using Cold War clichés and talking about conflicting interests. This picture is totally misleading. The interests we share are far stronger than the issues that divide us. There will always be problems in connection with large-scale cooperation, but nothing that can’t be solved. Politics are not the issue here. People are more concerned about the impacts of climate change than political problems.”


The Arctic Council was established in 1996, the council has eight member states: Canada, Denmark Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the US.

The following non-Arctic states have been granted observer status: China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and the UK. The Arctic Council Secretariat was established in Tromsø, Norway, on 1 January 2013.


Future research cooperation

The President of UArctic, Lars Kullerud, underlines the importance of the forum’s function as a facilitator of multilateral research initiatives and interdisciplinary research on and in the Arctic:

Lars Kullerud_400pxs“It is clear that all of the rectors gathered here firmly support collaborative initiatives across national boundaries. And we can even invite non-Arctic countries to participate if they are interested. It became obvious to everyone at the conference that the potential is enormous.”

“The challenge now,” he concludes, “is not to get the ball rolling, but to get it rolling smoothly. To achieve optimal cooperation, universities, university colleges and research institutions must engage in constructive dialogue – after all they are the ones who will be implementing the cooperation. In that context, it is extremely important that the research councils in the countries financing research activities also participate in the discussions.”


NordForsk is in the process of developing an interdisciplinary programme on Arctic research: “Responsible Development of the Arctic. Opportunities and Challenges – Pathways to Action”. Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland have expressed interest in participating, and NordForsk is reaching out to other countries as well. Thus far, NordForsk has decided to invest NOK 30 million in the programme.


Text and photos: Linn Hoff Jensen