Impressions from the Arctic Circle Assembly 2016, Reykjavik

Arctic Circle 2016, Reykjavik

Arctic Circle 2016, Reykjavik

Attending the Arctic Circle Assembly was a unique experience for me, enabling me to gain a deeper understanding of the multitude of issues that this region faces now and in the coming future. The Assembly has grown in popularity for the four years since its establishment and has become the largest international gathering on the Arctic.

The forum was attended by political leaders, research experts, business representatives, indigenous representatives, NGO leaders, artists and other international stakeholders. In the spirit of diversity, inclusiveness and cooperation, each party was allowed to participate in a panel discussion and sessions, where they could share their actions and experience in dealing with the multitude of challenges that this region faces.

Diverse – it was, Inclusive – too, but how can Oil & gas industry, Shipping industry on one front and Environmentalists and Indigenous people on the other, work in cooperation? While the research community was pleading for de-carbonization of the energy systems, wide adoption of carbon removal methods and ban on the heavy fuel oils used in shipping; the business representatives were exhibiting their future plans for oil drilling, infrastructure development and establishment of new trade and tourism routes.

Many of the panel speakers agreed that the problems of the Arctic call for a stronger cooperation and stronger leadership. Politicians and business representatives always mentioned the win-win solutions that they plan on providing, but kept on ignoring to give an explanation of what could be a “win” option for the Arctic nature. Construction of larger ports, increase in shipping, increase in tourism and drilling for oil and gas is certainly not a “win” option for the polar bears, walruses, fisheries and ice sheet cover. It might provide short term economic benefits for some portion of the locals, but will certainly disrupt their traditional way of living.

The fossil fuel experiment of the generations from the 50’s onwards has left us with no choice but to take action in reducing our impact on the climate. The uncertainty of this experiment leads us to an urgency of action. The data from all Earth observations gives enough evidence that the Arctic ice is melting and this change brings with it changes in the climate pattern, ecosystem functions and social interactions. This rapid change calls for competent decision-making on behalf of every stakeholder. We should not always find excuses for not being able to take firm action. When there is a will, there is a way. The vitality of the future generations depends on our decision to take action on the pressing issues.

The two stakeholders missing on this assembly were Russian government and research representatives, but this could be due to a variety of reasons that I would not discuss. The groups of the indigenous people and young researchers could also have had stronger representation on this forum. The forum could only benefit from a wider discussion with actors who might not necessarily share the same viewpoints as the other.

I would like to conclude with a couple of statements from the assembly that I agree with and find suitable to ponder upon. The Arctic represents 4% of Earth and is the most sensitive natural laboratory; one of the most aesthetic even spiritual places, which is crucial in the fight against climate change. We have the opportunity to NOT treat the Arctic like the remaining 96% of Earth. We need to remember that we are all ice-dependent species and what happens in the Arctic does not stay there…

Giovanni Nikolov

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