Friday 26. October 2018

Climate Change and Sustainability: CMM´s Trip to the Arctic Circle

Each year UW offers two courses centered on the attendance of Arctic Circle Assembly, the largest Arctic gathering of its kind. In these two Coastal and Marine Management courses, “Arctic Ocean Governance” and “Communicating Climate Change”, students undertake projects based on the sessions they attend at the Arctic Circle Assembly. Last weekend Coastal and Marine Management students, students from the new SIT master’s program Climate Change and Global Sustainability, as well as undergraduate students from the SIT semester program on climate change and the Arctic, attended the Arctic Circle Assembly. The trip gave students the chance to network with and gain insight from over 2,000 academics, diplomats, and other representatives from the public and private sectors from all over the Arctic. The students attended a multitude of cross disciplinary forums and had the chance to meet influential leaders from both the academic and political spectrum. To mention one highlight students had the opportunity to have a private meeting with leading climate scientist Professor Stefan Rahmstorf and former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

Bus ride from Ísafjörður to limit carbon footprint

To limit our carbon footprint UW students and staff members left by bus early Thursday morning  from Ísafjörður, arriving at Harpa conference centre in the evening where they registered for the conference and took a group photo. They then headed to the Reykjavík Art Museum where they joined other conference guests for the welcome reception. At the reception students had the chance to hear former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, make the opening remarks for the conference and they had the chance to start to mingle with all the conference attendees. The night was then capped off with a stellar performance by a former Arctic Youth Ambassador and U.S. State Department Arts Envoy, Byron Nicholai, from the Yup´ik community in Alaska.

Opening remarks - a firm statement about the issue of climate change

On Friday morning students attended the opening session where top officials from Arctic interest states met to discuss issues related to Arctic development. A recurring theme throughout the opening sessions was the need for worldwide co-operation in the future development of the Arctic region. Some leaders put a strong emphasis carbon neutral development as well as the need for ethical and sustainable utilization of the Arctic. This set the stage for more detailed discussions related to climate change, ethics, and the future of the Arctic region.

The assembly opened with speeches from former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir. One of our students, Eliza-Jane Morin, was especially impressed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir´s speech noting that, “The most memorable moment from Arctic Circle Assembly for me was during Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir opening speech. The Prime Minister called for serious action against climate change, stating that it was time to stop disputing what science has already proven and to take immediate action now, before it is too late!’’, Eliza also stated, “…it is so refreshing to see a political leader make such a bold and firm statement about the issue of climate change.’’

“Everyone was represented and given an opportunity to speak”

The morning sessions were followed by an excellent lunch where students once again had the opportunity to network with top scientists, academics, and artists, as well as diplomats and heads of state from throughout the Arctic region. Three plenary sessions were held after lunch where the focus was on Alaska and Arctic Transport, as well as on China and the future of the Arctic. Following a short coffee break the students had the opportunity to choose from over 26 different breakout sessions. These sessions featured diverse topics including tourism in the Arctic, predicting future trends in the Arctic, and Aquaculture in the Arctic as well as talks by the indigenous people of the Arctic, Arctic research scientists, PhD researchers, artists, heads of state and diplomats.

Celeste Biles, a student in our CMM masters program noted that it was encouraging to see that, “...everyone was represented and was given an opportunity to speak, from indigenous people, politicians, industry leaders, scientists, and environmentalists.”The evening was then capped off with several cultural events which highlighted such things as: Greenlandic cultural heritage through music, arts, and food tasting; The Arctic Youth Network; Cooperation between Arctic and Non-Arctic countries as well as film screenings from the Arctic Film Series.

In depth dialog between Sir David King and Iceland’s Minister of Environment

Saturday was another busy day for the students as the day started with five different breakout sessions. These sessions focused on Arctic Journalism, building strategic partnerships for a healthier north, inclusive and sustainable Arctic, data management in the Arctic, and collaboration between Indigenous communities, indigenous businesses, government agencies and universities.

Saturday´s plenary and breakout sessions were held until lunch time with the plenary sessions focusing on Russian science in the Arctic, Scotland and the Arctic, and France and the Arctic. The highlight of this was an in depth dialogue between Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and the Icelandic Minister of the Environment and former teacher here at UW, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. Our students were amazed that this assembly provided them the opportunity to meet, have dialogue with and even start to build professional connections with such influential people. As Amy O´Rourke, a UW student stated,  “This conference was a tremendously valuable experience because it was a chance to interact with and learn from brilliant people. There were a multitude of perspectives brought to the table, highlighting how complex Arctic issues are. They demand so many people: businessmen, scientists, politicians, students, teachers, and Indigenous knowledge holders. The Arctic Circle Conference brought all of these people together.”

Eye opening multidisciplinary approaches

The Saturday Breakout sessions focused on topics such as issues important to the Indigenous people of the Arctic, promoting healthy communities in the Arctic, community adaptation in the Arctic, climate change in Arctic Iceland, Arctic economic development, geopolitical issues in the west Nordic area, investments in the Arctic. These sessions also highlighted the importance of considering the impact of growth and infrastructure in countries such as Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Needless to say, the schedule was packed and multifaceted, providing our students with an wide array of topics to choose from.

Michelle Valliant, a student at UW pointed out that, “ is eye opening to realize the importance of multidisciplinary approaches when trying to find the best solutions for issues pertaining to climate change and the Arctic…I look forward to being part of future conferences that focus on a multidisciplinary approach to tackling such important issues”. This multidisciplinary thinking is the cornerstone of our programs here at UW and is exactly the kind of culture we aim to promote.

Saturday ended with several sessions as well as a reception hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. During the reception our students had the opportunity to taste Chinese specialty dishes and experience Chinese culture. They were also treated to performances by the Face Changing of Sichuan Opera, Kong Fu performers, as well as Chinese Magic and Ethnic Dances. These performances were conducted by representatives of one of China's oldest ethnic groups, the Yi people, from China's southern provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Guangxi.

Face to face meeting with Professor Rahmstorf and former president Grímsson

Sunday morning before heading back to Ísafjörður the students had the additional honor of attending a meeting with the Chairman of the Arctic Circle board, former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Mr. Grímsson grew up in Ísafjörður and emphasized to the students that small educational institutions like UW can be very important players on the global level. Such institutions play a vital role in providing enhanced understanding of coastal communities and conducting important research on coastal and marine sustainability in the Arctic and beyond.

The students also had a private meeting with Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, a lead author of the IPCC reports and influential pacesetter in the field of climate change communication. These two meetings were perhaps the highlight of the conference for the students, as Kerstin Frank, a student UW stated, “ Attending the Arctic Circle Assembly made me proud - proud of having made choices in the past that have led me to this event and provided that chance for me to listen to and meet so many influential leaders in their fields!’’

Students, staff and faculty at the Arctic Circle in front of Icebergs from Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq Municipality in Greenland.
Students, staff and faculty at the Arctic Circle in front of Icebergs from Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq Municipality in Greenland.
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