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Indigenous Societies Draw Focus of the Arctic Circle Assembly

By Lowana Veal

REYKJAVIK (IDN) — The Arctic region is a unique area among Earth’s ecosystems. The cultures in the region and the Arctic indigenous peoples have adapted to its cold and extreme conditions. Life in the Arctic includes zooplankton and phytoplankton, fish and marine mammals, birds, land animals, plants and human societies.

Reykjavik—the capital of the Nordic Island nation Iceland—hosted the Arctic Circle Assembly (ACA)—nearly four weeks ahead of the UN Climate conference COP27. The Arctic region is not on the agenda of the 2022 annual gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt). ARABIC | JAPANESE

However, the Arctic Assembly drew the attention of 2000 participants who attended over 600 lectures and seminars. Arctic Circle organised the ACA (October 13-16), which has been deemed a “great success”.

Besides the organised events, the format of the ACA in Reykjavik in October provided plenty of time for networking, including publicising and disseminating ongoing research and research results, as well as discussing social and environmental issues. Little-known research was disseminated to a wider audience.

For example, for the second year running, Swedish pharmaceutical billionaire Frederik Paulsen presented an award at the ACA. He donated the award for an action-oriented scientific initiative that aims to reverse the dramatic effects of climate change in a concrete way.

This year, the award went to Hanne H. Christiansen and Marius O. Jonassen, who are based at the University Centre in Svalbard in Longyearbyen. Their research centres on developing an advanced permafrost and climate change response system that is aimed at building resilience in Arctic communities in terms of extreme weather conditions and infrastructure.

Steinunn Thóra Árnadóttir, an Icelandic Left-Green MP and Chair of the West Nordic Council, which held a seminar titled “Green Innovation and New Opportunities for Young People in the West Nordic Region”, admitted that nothing concrete emerged from the ACA. “The ACA is networking and chat—it’s a place to get ideas and exchange opinions. But that’s also the purpose of the ACA: to bring together politicians, academics, researchers and businesspeople,” she added.

Árnadóttir was impressed by the number of seminars involving young people, where they talked about what they felt was important. She said that in one of the seminars, indigenous knowledge was mentioned. “Both how knowledge is transferred between generations and how it’s important that indigenous people can bring across the learned knowledge of past generations in dealing with forces of nature to a ‘language’ that scientists can understand. And that science takes note of indigenous knowledge,” she pointed out.

Ester Alda Hrafnhildar Bragadóttir from the Icelandic Youth Environmental Association is particularly interested in indigenous communities and environmental justice, as well as eco-feminism. She attended several seminars.

She noticed differences in attitude between those from indigenous communities and those from Western nations regarding technical fixes. At one seminar, “Indigenous people from Canada, Greenland and the USA were saying that Western solutions such as nature-based solutions, geo-engineering and such like were not integral solutions that take account of the problems they see and have to face”. But then she went on to the next seminar led by “white, Western individuals who had nothing but praise for all these solutions”.

Nevertheless, Bragadóttir said that some things have changed for the better. A number of events concerned indigenous peoples, and it was said at the meeting that “the situation concerning indigenous issues has come a long way since the inaugural ACA in 2013”.

The same applied to women, she says. Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, presided over a session on gender equality and women in leadership in Arctic countries. However, “I found out later that it took five years to find a place for this panel on the programme—which I find frightful—so it’s good that it happened this year,” Bragadóttir added.

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson started the ACA while he was still President of Iceland, a post he retained until 2016. During his 16 years as president, Grímsson met many political figures, and he always invites a number of high-profile speakers to the ACA.

Some countries represented at the ACA have Observer status as they do not border the Arctic. Take Singapore, for instance. Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Development, said that Singapore was at the ACA because of its geography.

“What happens in the Arctic has a profound and significant impact on a small island State like Singapore. About 30 per cent of Singapore is less than five metres above sea level, making our country vulnerable to warming seas caused by a warming climate… Singapore is keen to set up a collaboration with many Arctic States in managing the negative effects of climate change,” she said in a presentation.

Singapore is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, still Chair of the ACA, said: “The nature of the Arctic Circle Assemblies is to create conditions and contacts which since its foundation has led to multiple actions and projects in many areas of importance to climate action, clean energy development, and a better understanding of the fast melting of the Arctic ice. The 2022 Assembly demonstrated once again the convening power of the Arctic Circle, where different partners, organizations, and governments come together to strengthen their actions in multiple ways.,” he explained.

“According to the democratic nature of Arctic Circle, it is not the task of the organization to create action but to enable others to move forward in concrete ways. In addition, this assembly honoured the most important climate-Arctic research in recent years, the historic MOSAiC expedition, which received the Arctic Circle Prize,” he added.

The MOSAiC project was a year-long expedition on an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean, close to the North Pole. The icebreaker was loaded with scientific instruments, and the aim was to take a closer look at the epicentre of global warming—the Arctic—and to gain insights that should help to create a better understanding of climate change. Hundreds of researchers from 20 countries were involved.

“Thus, the 2022 Assembly communicated the fundamental importance of Arctic science and the understanding of the climate threats,” Grímsson concluded.

Even tropical countries such as Singapore could benefit. Besides the annual event in Iceland, smaller forums are held elsewhere, often focusing on specific issues. The next forums are in Abu Dhabi and Japan in January and March 2023, respectively. [IDN-InDepthNews — 09 November 2022]

Photo: A view of the Arctic Assembly. Credit: Arctic Circle

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