Arctic shows what science diplomacy can achieve, Montreal forum hears

“The Arctic provides a very good platform to understand the successes and challenges of science diplomacy,” says Neha Bhutani, right, one of the organizers of the Negotiating the Arctic forum, with her co-organizer Tina Gruosso (left). (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Science diplomacy will become increasingly important in a globalized world, and the Arctic is a prime example of what is possible, heard a public forum in Montreal on Wednesday.

Negotiating the Arctic: A science diplomacy perspective, was put on by Science and Policy Exchange, a non-profit group run by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in Montreal, that works to expose students to issues concerning science and policy and to foster exchanges between them and a variety of experts.

“The Arctic is a very good example of what is possible,” said Neha Bhutani, a neuroscience researcher and one of the forum organizers.  “Despite all the tensions at an international level, the polar countries have decided the Arctic will be about peaceful corporation and have all come together to do scientific research and address things like climate change.

“It’s very impressive and means the Arctic provides a very good platform to understand the successes and challenges of science diplomacy.”

Speakers at the one-day forum at McGill University included ArcticNet’s Louis Fortier from Laval University in Quebec,  Paul Berkman, a professor from Tufts University in Massachusetts, and Angela Nuliayok Rudolph, a policy advisor at Polar Knowledge Canada who spoke on the importance of Indigenous knowledge and how it is often still misunderstood by scientists.

Science can build bridges between nations despite international tentions said ArcticNet’s Louis Fortier on Wednesday: … when it comes down to it “We’re all just scientists freezing our rear ends together in the Arctic.” (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Arctic Council an international example?

In the afternoon, a closed session was held where two-dozen select students and early career researchers participated in a mock Arctic Council session.

The Arctic Council is a consensus based forum made up of the world’s eight circumpolar nations and six Arctic Indigenous groups.

It was established in Canada in 1996, with the Ottawa Declaration, as a way to foster cooperation in the North. From the beginning, military issues have been excluded from the council’s mandate to allow members to focus on sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

In January, sixty academics from over 20 different countries, nominated the forum for the Nobel Peace Prize citing its ability to continue work on climate and environment,  including an international science agreement signed in 2017, despite tensions between Russia and the West.

“People look at Indigenous traditional knowledge as something simple, but there are elements of science, engineering and technology,” said Angela Nuliayok Rudolph from Polar Knowledge Canada at the forum. ” If you recognize that you can use Indigenous knowledge to its fullest potential.” (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Tina Gruosso, a cancer biologist and other forum organizer, said even though the majority of students were studying areas un-related to the Arctic, exposing them to the consensus style framework of the Arctic Council, as well as the role of  Indigenous voices and perspectives in the forum, was an important window into science diplomacy at its best.

“To train students for science diplomacy you needs hands on experience and to see what is possible. No matter what kind of scientist you are; chemist, physicist, biologist, you can relate to the Arctic. In my opinion, it’s a success story.

“That’s why me and (co-organizer Neha Bhutani) are both science diplomacy enthusiasts because we believe science goes way beyond academic research . It’s not just about accumulating knowledge, it’s about what do you do with it for the common good of society.”

Write to Eilis Quinn at Eilis.Quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: International academics nominate Arctic Council for Nobel Peace Prize, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: While West and Russia feud, council of hobbits quietly saves North, Blog by Timo Koivurova

Greenland: Inuit in Canada and Greenland seek co-management of crucial Arctic habitat, Radio Canada International

Iceland:  Can environmental diplomacy save Arctic languages?, Blog by Takeshi Kaji

India: From the south, keen interest in the Arctic and the Arctic Council, Alaska Dispatch News

Norway:  Keeping Arctic stable and peaceful is top priority, says Norway’s foreign minister, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic Forum – Norway and Russia exchange diplomatic smiles about Arctic cooperation, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Arctic Council presents united front as Finland takes over from U.S., Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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