Arctic News Roundup: 4-10 October

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Arctic Council Secretariat, based in Tromsø, Norway, has announced that it is seeking a new Advisor position. Further information can be found via this link.

2) As the Greenlandic news agency KNR reported, the European Union has decided to provide a financial package worth approximately euro 225 million to the Greenland government, of which around ninety percent will go to the country’s educational sector and the rest will be to develop renewable energy, hydrogen production and other related ‘green’ research.

3) According to Reuters, the diamond mining firm De Beers had tasked the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) to conduct an inspection of the seabed off Greenland’s west coast for evidence of potential diamond deposits. The eight-day survey concluded with hopes that the region could be the site of new gemstone mining opportunities, despite questions about the possible environmental impact.

4) An extensive report on the environmental and economic impact of thawing permafrost in Arctic Russia was published by the Wall Street Journal. Siberia has been viewed as a major emerging component to the Russian economy, but weakening permafrost in much of the region has begun to threaten critical infrastructure as well as homes and businesses. The diesel oil spill at Norilsk in May 2020 was also blamed on permafrost erosion which ruptured a holding tank.

5) The Canadian news magazine Maclean’s published an article examining the damage of underwater noise on the Arctic narwhal species. The piece explained that, due to the economic potential of more accessible natural resources in the Arctic region, maritime traffic in the area has been increasing. High volume noise, produced from large ships, under the water can severely disturb the normal behaviour patterns of the narwhal. A specific problem area has been Canada’s Baffin Island, where mining and surveys around Tasiujaq have been accompanied by a sharp uptick in ship transits, which have been blamed for adverse effects on local narwhal populations.

Arctic News Roundup: 27 September – 3 October

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) According to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Arctic Office, a United Kingdom-based organisation, Harland Huset, Britain’s Arctic station located in Svalbard, Norway, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this week. This facility, opened in 1991 on Ny-Ålesund, is the only research site overseen the UK in the Arctic, and has been successfully undertaking various scientific research tasks, including monitoring local climate change.

2) The New York Times published an essay on the difficult choices facing Greenland regarding its nascent mining industry. The island has been at the centre of growing global demands for rare earths and other strategic metals and minerals, but at the same time many in Greenland have expressed worries about the environmental impact of a massive increase in mining activity. The town of Narsaq, which is the closest town to the now-cancelled Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) uranium and rare earths project, was profiled in the report as an example of local opposition to extractive industries.

3) As reported in the High North News, three Scandinavian countries, namely Denmark, Sweden and Norway, have signed an agreement strengthening their defence communication and cooperation, in order to cope with emerging security issues in the Nordic region. Denmark and Norway are members of NATO, but Sweden is not. However, Stockholm has begun to more directly align its security interests towards its Nordic neighbours.

4) Also from High North News, it was reported that despite ongoing frigid relations between the United States and Russia, direct investment from American companies in Russia during 2020 surpassed US$2 billion, according to surveys undertaken by the American Chamber of Commerce and the consulting group Ernst & Young. These numbers reflect the fact that Russia is still seen as a potentially lucrative investment area.

5) As the Greenlandic news organisation KNR detailed, Múte B. Egede, the Prime Minister of Greenland, has also taken on the portfolio of foreign affairs. This change took place after the previous foreign minister, Pele Broberg, stepped down from that post after making controversial comments on the future for the nation to the Danish newspaper Berlingske. During that interview, Broberg suggested that only ethnic Inuit peoples in Greenland and their descendants should be permitted to vote in a future referendum on independence, touching off public criticism.

Arctic News Roundup: 20-26 September

Autumn in Reykjavík [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) In an interview with RÚV, Oddur Sigurðsson, a geologist, expressed his concerns over the future of glaciers in Iceland, which might disappear completely in the next two centuries. He also called for further steps to be taken to record the history of the country’s glaciers.

2) As RÚV also reported, Icelanders voted for the country’s next parliament on the 25 September. According to the initial results, the three parties (the Independence Party, the Progressive Party and the Left Greens), which form the current government coalition attained 38 seats out of a total of 63 in the Alþingi, which suggested that the current configuration will be able to stay in office.

3) The Barents Observer wrote that Norway would be lifting its COVID-19 restrictions, including removing the public one-meter social distancing rule. This announcement has been viewed as a huge step back to normal life for the country.

4) According to Sermitsiaq, a local Greenlandic news service, four Ph.D. degrees were awarded this week at the University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik) on Greenland related topics. In addition, an honorary doctorate was awarded to Aqqaluk Lynge, the founder of the political party Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) and a former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, for his decades of fighting for the rights of Indigenous persons.

5) A Joint Declaration between the Governments of Greenland and Iceland was virtually signed on 23 September. The agreement [pdf file here] calls for increased economic cooperation between Nuuk and Reykjavík, as well as a feasibility study of a potential bilateral free trade agreement. The governments also agreed to examine ways of developing regional tourism opportunities as the global economy recovers from the pandemic.

Arctic News Roundup: 13-19 September

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Journal of the North Atlantic and Arctic (JONAA) published an article on polar bears in the high north, with a focus on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. The piece explains why and how polar bears can be dangerous to humans, and describes the regulations and legal protections of the species, as well as providing practical safety suggestions for travellers when visiting locations where the bears are present. 

2) According to Reuters, Greenland is in the process of preparing regulations against uranium mining on the island, which means the Kvanefjeld (Kuannersuit), a large-scale uranium and rare earths mining project planned in southern Greenland may be unable to proceed. However, some local inhabitants are concerned that this decision might curtail future income from mining. Australian firm Greenland Minerals, the primary backer of the Kvanefjeld initiative, has also expressed determination to defend their interests in the project.

3) As the Canadian news service Eye on the Arctic has written, 19 September marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Arctic Council. The Council was founded in 1996, specialising in scientific and research cooperation among the eight Arctic states and detailing the rights of Indigenous communities, while also excluding military and other hard security issues within the organisation.

4) The United States continues to deepen its economic engagement with Greenland, including with a new aid deal for Nuuk designed to bolster Greenland’s education, mining, and tourism sectors. As Reuters reports, the package, worth approximately US$10 million, is the latest in a series of initiatives undertaken by Washington to raise its diplomatic presence in Greenland, especially due to concerns about future security trends in the Arctic. The US Air Force maintains a base at Thule in northern Greenland.

5) This autumn, as explained in High North News, will be especially busy for elections in Arctic states, as Canada, Iceland and Russia are soon holding votes, and Norway completed its election earlier in September with a victory for the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) under Jonas Gahr Støre. Labour is currently in the process of building a new government coalition, which is expected to move the country’s politics, to some degree, leftwards. Among the major topics in the Norwegian election were the future of the country’s petroleum industry, compliance with global environmental regulations, and relations with the European Union.

Arctic News Roundup: 6-12 September

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) A paper was published, entitled Arctic Indigenous People, co-produced by the German Arctic Office and the Saami Council. This publication describes Indigenous ways of living, including fishing, hunting and herding, as well as how Indigenous groups have utilised their knowledge for generations in societal and cultural development and within local ecosystems.

2) As the Barents Observer reported, Russia and Belarus, with governments which have become closer since post-election protests in the latter country last year, announced that they would soon conduct a joint naval exercise in the Barents Sea. Some vessels working in high-valued fishing grounds in the area faced pressures about financial losses due to the closure of these waters in the coming days, further complicated by the very short notice from Moscow. 

3) The Barents Observer also covered efforts by the Russian energy firm Novatek to obtain natural gas exploration licenses in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, including in the regions of Arkticheskoye and Neytinskoye, which are located in the Yamalsky (Ямальский) nature reserve. Novatek has developed extensive fossil fuel operations in the Russian Arctic, with the most prominent being the Yamal Liquified Nature Gas (LNG) project.

4) The Canadian news site Eye on the Arctic described the results of research detailed in the journal Ecology Letters which warned that climate change and ice losses in the Arctic would permanently alter food sources for marine predators, such as local seal species, in the region.

5) In an opinion piece published by the online journal Polar Connection, Kamrul Hossain, a Research Professor at Finland’s University of Lapland, wrote about the merits of observer status for Bangladesh in the Arctic Council. The author argued that Bangladesh should seek this position in the organisation for numerous reasons, inspire of the country’s location in South Asian, distant from the Arctic. First, rising sea levels and increasing frequency of natural disasters, attributed to climate change, are a great concern for the country, given its low elevation. In addition, the author suggested, the participation of Bangladesh in Arctic affairs via the Council could also contribute to further understanding of the connections of the far north and other parts of the world.

6) This year’s Arctic Circle Assembly was opened for registration. It is an annual event specially focusing on Arctic affairs, with the main venue in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. The 2020 conference was canceled due to the pandemic, and over the past year the organization has held a series on online events. The conference this year will take place on the 14th to 17th of October.

7) The UArctic network celebrated its twentieth birthday this week in Rovaniemi, Finland. The University of the Arctic (UArctic) is a forum for universities, academic institutes and other relevant organisations connecting both the High North and many other parts of the world for joint research in Arctic affairs.

8) A recent report, entitled ‘Risk Assessment of Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq Road Project’ was published by both the Government of Greenland in cooperation with Oxford Global Projects. The document argues that local tourism would benefit considerably should the 170 km long roadway be completed.