A visit to Rovaniemi Finland - Dr. Andrew Jennings

Thoughts from UHI Shetland's Dr Andrew Jennings on his recent visit to the University of the Arctic Thematic Networks Meeting held by the University of Lapland (UL) at the Arktikum Centre in Rovaniemi on 25 and 26 April 2023.

On both days the current geopolitical situation featured several times, as Russia has been kicked out of the University of the Arctic, the claim by the UArctic to be circumpolar is challenged without them. However, even without Russia the UArctic has 173 members in the network, and about 20 more institutions are getting ready to join. Intriguingly, Scotland is very well represented with twice as many members as Sweden!

On day one the ongoing militarisation of the Arctic and its transformation into a hard security area was noted. This may mean in future that it is more difficult to address the needs of indigenous peoples when security concerns take precedence. A trace of the terra nullius description of the Arctic seems to be creeping into current discourse.

Climate change was also discussed. The feeling expressed by Professor John Moore was that it is too late to fight climate change. We need to adapt. The Arctic cannot wait for mitigation. Radical solutions are needed now. For example, introduce measures to preserve the permafrost and the stop the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers calving into the ocean wherever possible. The cost would only be c.$50 Billion, a snip at the price! There was also discussion about the intersection of climate mitigation and indigenous rights. The green transition can cause problems in the Arctic too. Similarities with the Shetland here I think.

What about growth? The possibility of alternative approaches to economic growth were also discussed. The Arctic is often approached in international relations as merely an economic resource. However, 4 million people live in the Arctic too, what about them? Professor Julian Reid suggested that we need a new way of thinking globally if we are to survive. We need to see ourselves as more than just units of GDP. However, Petri Muje suggested that people would not be happy to see a decrease in their standard of living, even if they wanted to work less. Concepts of green colonialism, degrowth and rewilding were all mentioned.

In the discussion about education, the point was made that we have to think about what is education for? It has had a troubled past in Lapland, where it was a colonial enterprise. However, it was felt vital that indigenous languages, values and ideas should be taught, and indigenous people should be making the choices about what form of education they were receiving. All in all, a thought-provoking day!

On day two, the discussions were also intensive and constructive. It began with a workshop exploring the ideas that ought to feature in the Fourth International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP IV) https://icarp.iasc.info/. The workshop was part of the process of the UArctic seeking community engagement about research priorities. The UArctic has already run an online survey which highlighted socio-economic, geopolitical, environmental, scientific cooperation, climate change, cultural and demographic challenges that should be addressed. However, at this time the Thematic Network leaders got the opportunity to contribute their ideas about the focus of ICARP IV. I managed to insert the fear about the collapse of the North Atlantic overturning current, which would lead to colder weather in the Atlantic islands, making Shetland more akin to Newfoundland. I also mentioned the opportunities offered by the lack of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, which might make the Atlantic islands like Shetland into trading hubs.

In the afternoon there was session on next year’s Arctic Congress in Bodø, Norway 29/5 – 3/6/24 https://www.uarctic.org/members/meetings/arctic-congress-and-assembly-2024/. There is a Call for Sessions out now with a 15/06/23 deadline. The main themes are Oceans, Climate and environment, Sustainable developments, People of the North, and Other. 

The afternoon finished off with a final session dedicated to citizen science, which proved to be very interesting and clearly a valuable methodology, with relevance to research being undertaken in the islands. The main focus is ensuring the active engagement of local communities in research.

All in all, two valuable days of meetings and a great opportunity to meet other Thematic Network heads and hear about the ongoing work of their networks. To see the full list of networks see here https://www.uarctic.org/activities/thematic-networks/