Arctic science cooperation agreement ‘good for Canada’: POLAR

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The Amundsen coast guard icebreaker. (ArcticNet / CBC)
The Amundsen coast guard icebreaker. (ArcticNet / CBC)
An agreement on enhancing scientific cooperation among circumpolar countries and others interested in polar research signed in Ottawa last week by the representatives of all eight Arctic nations will benefit Canada’s northern communities, says the president of Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR).

“I think this is good for Canada, it will assist us in creating more knowledge about Canada and it will be globally relevant knowledge about Canada,” said David J. Scott. “And from the perspective of the organization that I have the privilege to lead, Polar Knowledge Canada, we really trying to ramp up the creation of new knowledge that is primarily intended to benefit the lives of northern Canadians.”

The ad referendum agreement signed at the meeting of Arctic Council’s Task Force for Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (SCTF) will help Canada to harness scientific resources of other nations, Scott said in a telephone interview from POLAR’s headquarters in Ottawa.

“Canada has about one-quarter of the Arctic in the global context, but we don’t have a corresponding amount of capacity to study the unknowns in that Arctic,” Scott said. “We really believe there is strong interest and need to bring additional qualified folks to Canada to assist us with creating knowledge.”

Globally relevant knowledge
GLACIAL ICE SHEET, GREENLAND - JULY 17: David Shean a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington (R) and Scientist Ian Joughin of the University of Washington place a GPS system into the ice on July 17, 2013 on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland. Joughin and his fellow scientist, Sarah Das, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution use the Global Positioning System sensors to closely monitor the evolution of surface lakes and the motion of the surrounding ice sheet. As the sea levels around the globe rise, researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
David Shean a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington (R) and Scientist Ian Joughin of the University of Washington place a GPS system into the ice on July 17, 2013 on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

That knowledge matters in the global context.

“There is a growing recognition that information about the polar regions, both north and south, is really key to understanding how the environment is changing, how the climate is changing, and specifically how can we be more predictive about that,” Scott said. “Many of the current models that are predicting climate evolution, for example, don’t fully take into account the phenomena that occur in the Arctic.”

Many non-polar nations, including China, South Korea, Japan are keen to learn more about the polar regions and to contribute to the global knowledge and understanding how these global systems are evolving and help us prepare for the changes that are coming, Scott said.

“Immediate beneficiaries would be folks in the North, as well as people in mid-latitudes where most people live, distant from the polar regions but definitely impacted by the phenomena that are happening at both the northern and southern polar regions,” he said.

‘Difficult place to work’
Radar antennas at the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) facility on Breinosa, Svalbard, Norway October 24, 2015. (Anna Filipova/REUTERS)
Radar antennas at the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) facility on Breinosa, Svalbard, Norway October 24, 2015. (Anna Filipova/REUTERS)

The agreement underlines the recognition by the Arctic states, as well as other polar players that “the Arctic can be a very difficult place to work,” said Scott.

“It’s vast, the conditions are often harsh, even in the summertime, and certainly the Inuit have always known that it’s often best to collaborate and work together, particularly in those areas that are quite remote, logistically challenging and are often in some cases dangerous to work in,” Scott said.

Thus the very nature of the Arctic provides a very good natural driver for the eight member countries of the Arctic Council to work together to enhance cooperation on scientific work in the Arctic, he said.

“The real goal here is to make it easier to create knowledge that can be shared about the region,” Scott said. “The climate is changing, we don’t know nearly enough about what exactly is happening in terms of climatic change, how it would impact, and how we can model it in the future.”

Culmination of three years of work
Rebecca Woodgate (R) and Dan Naber prepare a mooring to be deployed into the Bering Strait on board the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov August 25, 2009. (Jeff Jones /REUTERS)
Rebecca Woodgate (R) and Dan Naber prepare a mooring to be deployed into the Bering Strait on board the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov August 25, 2009. (Jeff Jones /REUTERS)

The meeting in Ottawa brought together 57 delegates representing all the Arctic states, as well as three out of six permanent participants (Aleut International Association, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Saami Council), one of the Arctic Council’s six Working Groups (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme), and 11 observer nations and organizations (China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom, the EU, IASC, UArctic, and WWF).

It was the culmination of three years of work, spread out over nine meetings by experts who tried to find a common ground and come up with a text that was acceptable for all, said Scott.

“At the conclusion of the Ottawa round of discussions last week, we were very pleased that were able to come up with a text that addressed all of the important issues basically to the satisfaction of each of the negotiating teams,” Scott said. “And it’s now the responsibility of each of the countries to bring that back, check in with each country’s respective authorities and approval system.”

In case of Canada that means checking with other federal agencies whose mandates are impacted by this agreement, including the Canadian Border Services Agency, because part of the agreement deals with facilitating the entry of foreign scientists who are coming to Canada to collaborate on science research, Scott said.

There is also a need for a thorough legal review of the treaty text by legal experts at Global Affairs Canada.

The goal is to be able to have the eight foreign ministers sign this agreement once it’s finalized at the upcoming ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in May 2017 in Fairbanks, Alaska, which will conclude the U.S. chairmanship of the council, Scott said.

Reducing red tape

Once the document is signed it will become a binding international treaty where the participating agree to facilitate scientific research by making it easier for scientists to cross international borders back and forth along with their specialized equipment, to carry out research and take samples back to their labs, he said.

“Canada has expectations about who’s admissible to our country, we’re not looking to change those rules; Canada has rules about the movement of certain types of samples, plants for example, those existing rules and regulations will need to be followed,” Scott said. “But what we’re committing to under this agreement is to ensure that those processes are very clear and when our participating partners want to get in or out of Canada, when they are planning their project, that they are aware of those expectations and the timelines that go with them.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: The Arctic Council’s capacity challenge, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Iceland:  Iceland blasts Arctic Five for exclusion from fishing agreement, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Arctic Council aims to boost business, Barents Observer

Russia: Japan wants more Arctic cooperation with Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:   Arctic Council – From looking out to looking in, Blog by Mia Bennett, Cryopolitics

United States:  Top Arctic official says cooperation key for Arctic Council under US leadership, Alaska Dispatch News

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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