Arctic News Roundup: 22-8 November

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Atlantic published a photo essay featuring wintertime views of Churchill, a town in Manitoba, Northern Canada. The pictures were taken by Carlos Osorio, a photographer with Reuters, covering subjects ranging from polar bears to snowy countryside vignettes.

2) Norway’s high prices for groceries were the subject of a story by TheLocal.no, which noted the practice of high import fees to protect local producers, a lack of competition caused by the domination of a small group of national brands, and high taxes and wages as all contributing to food costs being the second-highest in Europe.

3) As RÚV reported, after a long period of negotiations the new coalition government for Iceland has been announced. As with the previous administration, the incoming coalition is composed of three political parties, namely Left Greens (Vinstri Græn), the centre-right Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) and the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn). Katrín Jakobsdóttir retains her position as the Prime Minister, while Bjarni Bene­dikts­son, the head of the Independence Party, remains as Minister of Finance, while Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir was named as the next Minister of Foreign Affairs.

4) According to KNR, Greenland has opened its representation in Beijing, China, which is its first such office in Asia. Due to the pandemic, however, the official opening of the facilities has been postponed until next year. Greenland also maintains representative offices in Copenhagen as well as in Brussels, Reykjavík and Washington DC.

5) The University of Tromsø is advertising a new three-year UiT Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Global Arctic Studies position at the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. The program is supervised by UiT Professor Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen. Please refer to this link for further information.

Arctic News Roundup: 15-21 November

[Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Arctic Yearbook 2021: Defining and Mapping the Arctic has been published. This online work is composed of six sections, along with several shorter notes, covering issues ranging from regional security and sovereignty, Arctic economic development, discussions on Indigenous culture and art and media, and other high north-relevant subjects.

2) The Russian energy firm Rosneft confirmed that construction had begun on oil extraction facilities at the Yenisey Gulf (Енисейский залив) region in the Taymyr Peninsula. The ambitious enterprise will include new pipelines and electrical lines, as well as housing and airstrips for workers. As explained in the Barents Observer, while the project has been touted by local authorities as environmentally responsible, critics have nonetheless pointed to risks to adjacent waters once oil drilling commences.

3) The History Channel published a story about how a Iñupiat woman from Alaska was able to survive alone on Wrangel Island in the early 1920s. In 1921, an international expedition team, made up of four men and one woman, Ada Blackjack, (who was the last member to join), and even a cat named Vic, headed to Wrangel. However, during in the journey she became ostracized and was even mistreated by her male counterparts. What she later encountered was not only severe Arctic climate and temperatures, but also the disappearance and death of the others, and threats from polar bears. Besides fighting against loneliness, Ada also managed to hunt animals and constructed boats. Finally, in August 1923, she was spotted and saved by another ship. Ada Blackjack passed away in 1983 at the age of 85.

4) A symposium on ‘Small States and Great Power Balancing, Affecting Change, and Navigating Dangers – Small State Perspectives in the Arctic and Asiatakes place on Monday, 22 November in Oslo, Norway. The event is hosted by the Peace Research Institute – Oslo (PRIO) and the Nansen Professorship at the University of Akureyri in northern Iceland.

5) As CBC News reported, this week a group of young students, (as well as some of their parents), in Iqaliut, Nunavut, protested against insufficient suicide prevention measures. According to the participants, this march was organized to call for further awareness and support for mental health from territorial authorities.

6) The Reykjavík-based West Nordic Council (Vestnordisk Råd) is advertising the position of General Secretary (Director) for the organisation. Please refer to this link for further information.

Arctic News Roundup: 8-14 November

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) Al-Jazeera featured an introductory video about how Iceland has become an example of sustainable food production, (including greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables), despite its Arctic climate, using an environmentally friendly approach, including renewable energies such as the country’s plentiful hot water supplies.

2) A video report on the Arctic fox was published by BBC Scotland. As the narrator described, the living conditions of the species are greatly affected by both human activities, such as hunting, as well as climate change. Due to warmer temperatures in the far north, the reduction of lemming populations, (the common prey of the fox), has contributed to the declining number of Arctic foxes. However, projects have begun to relocate the foxes in order to bolster their populations in northern Norway and Sweden.

3) To mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iceland and Canada, as part of the celebration the two countries are organising five online seminars looking at various aspects of this lengthy and ongoing relationship, including an opening webinar on bilateral cooperation in Arctic affairs. Further information can be found via this link provided by the UArctic educational network.

4) Oxford University Press is adding The Arctic: A Very Short Introduction to its lengthy publication list. This pocket-size booked, written by two well-established regional scholars, Klaus Dodds and Jamie Woodward, was written to guide readers in developing an understanding of the major issues facing the Arctic, including its inhabitants, governance and discussions of the future of the High North. 

5) In the latest move by the government of Greenland’s Prime Minister Múte Bourup Egede to reform the mining industry in the country, his party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) put forward a resolution in the Greenlandic parliament (Inatsisartut) to formally ban uranium mining on environmental grounds. The law was then passed, as reported by Reuters, but according to the Greenlandic news agency KNR there has been a push, led by the main opposition party Siumut, for a referendum on the matter. The ban is a further blow to longstanding plans to develop a rare earths and uranium mine at Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld), near the town of Narsaq, with IA expressing strong opposition to the project.

Arctic News Roundup: 1-7 November

Happy Birthday Móri! [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) The five Nordic governments, along with official representatives from Åland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, jointly confirmed their commitment to increase cooperation on emergency preparation in the future, according to the Icelandic news service RÚV. At the Nordic Council meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark this week, the leaders of the Nordic nations demonstrated the consensus on the necessity of strengthening further collaboration to address crises and emergencies, including climate change and other security issues. 

2) The Atlantic, an American news magazine, published a photo essay spotlighting twenty-two pictures from the Faroe Islands, taken by the photographer Jonathan Nackstrand from Agence France-Presse. This photographic series features landscapes, fauna, and local communities on the islands.

3) It was reported by CBC News Canada’s Eye on the Arctic that the government of Greenland had agreed to join the Paris climate accords. This move was the latest in a series of environmental initiatives by the administration of Prime Minister Múte B. Egede in Nuuk, as his government had also suspended plans to develop a uranium and rare earths mine at Kuannersuit and called for a moratorium on oil and gas surveys in Greenland earlier this year. Alarms had been raised last month that Greenland’s ice sheet was facing serious strain due to warming temperatures, with concerns that the melt from the ice sheet could contribute to flooding in other parts of the world.

4) As Finland’s Yle News service reported, younger generations of reindeer herders in Finland have been encountering new challenges. First, reindeer husbandry as a traditional livelihood and lifestyle has been threatened by climate change which has affected the reindeers’ access to food supplies. In addition, increasing mental health concerns among younger herders, (as compared to their elders), and insufficient support for the growing number of female herders are also seen as major obstacles to be overcome.

5) 6 November marked the 18th birthday of Móri, who oversees the Feline Affairs Desk at Over the Circle, and also represents the image of Mingming on the site. As a cat, he is not an avid follower of Arctic politics.

Microphones On: The Arctic Circle’s Comeback

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Marc Lanteigne

Following a hiatus last year due to the global pandemic, and instead shifting to virtual presentations for much of 2020 and after, the Arctic Circle conference returned to Reykjavík this year, with a more modest schedule but still with much to discuss. With stringent access rules for participants, including antigen testing on the lower level of Harpa, the conference’s venue, and the wearing of multicoloured bracelets to signify the elapsed time since a last test, the conference was held in person this year, with some guest lecturers also participating remotely.

The event took place in the wake of several pivotal events in the Arctic since the last such gathering in late 2019, including the handover of the Arctic Council’s chair from Iceland to Russia, the return of the United States to regional diplomacy, including talks on climate change, and the much-discussed revised European Union Arctic policy paper which was published shortly before this conference began.

Environmental changes in the Arctic, including ice erosion, shifting weather patterns, and deterioration of permafrost throughout the far north, dominated panel discussions this year, but as with previous Arctic Circles, regional political issues were rarely far from the main agenda. Amongst the keynote speakers were familiar faces from  previous conferences, including US Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska), as well as First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, who emphasised the growing number of Scottish linkages with the high north since Edinburgh released its own Arctic policy paper in September 2019.

The conference venue at Harpa had thorough anti-Covid 19 guidelines [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

Also delivering speeches during the opening sessions was Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, appearing [video] shortly after the parliamentary elections in Iceland which resulted in the likely return of the governing coalition which PM Jakobsdóttir has led. Earlier in October, the Icelandic government published a revised Arctic policy [pdf] which highlighted the country’s concerns about climate change, while also calling for respect for international law and the peaceful settlements of regional disputes.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod spoke about promising examples of regional cooperation [video], including in balancing environmental responsibility with economic development for the benefit of Arctic citizens. Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Union Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, had the difficult task [video] of detailing the new EU Arctic White Paper, which included a call for a moratorium on Arctic fossil fuel extraction, a stance which was met with some scepticism in oil economies Alaska, Norway and Russia.

(Centre left-to-right) Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon [Photo by the Arctic Circle]

During the Q&A session, Mr Sinkevičius responded to concerns raised that the EU was seeking to unilaterally curtail future oil and gas development in the Arctic. He insisted the organisation was not trying to issue an ‘ultimatum’, but rather that climate change would eventually end the fossil fuel industries in the Arctic if serious steps were not taken quickly.

As with the 2019 Arctic Circle, Greenland featured prominently in this year’s panels and debates, including a keynote presentation [video] by Naaja Nathanielsen, Minister for Housing and Infrastructure as well as Justice, Minerals and Gender Equality. She spoke [video] of Greenland’s emergence as a regional partner, as well as outlining the intentions of the new government of Prime Minister Múte Bourup Egede towards banning uranium mining and halting further oil and gas exploration in the country.

Naaja Nathanielsen, Naalakkersuisoq (Minister) for Housing, Infrastructure,
Justice, Minerals and Gender Equality, Greenland
[Photo by the Arctic Circle]

There were also panels examining issues including education, West Nordic security concerns [video], deepening government-to-government cooperation, (and possible free trade), with Iceland [video], and regional diplomacy. As well, participants enjoyed a Greenland Night event featuring local music and culture. The underlying theme of Greenland’s participation in the Arctic Circle this year was the need for the country to be included in the various emerging branches of regional policy discourse, stressing ‘nothing about us, without us,’.

Senator Murkowski was part of a larger US governmental delegation to speak [video] about changes to American Arctic policy under the Joe Biden administration. After a shambolic approach to Arctic affairs by the previous government, Washington is now renewing interest in the region, once again taking part in multilateral regional dialogues, including in regards to climate change (the US re-joined the Paris climate agreement in February this year), while also improving the overall American Arctic presence via new icebreakers and diplomatic strategies. The Russian government presence at the event was muted compared with previous years, but Nikolay Korchunov, the country’s Arctic ambassador, did speak remotely [video] about Moscow’s upcoming Arctic policies as Council Chair.

Another staple of previous Arctic Circle events has been the showcasing of regional policies by non-Arctic states, and this year was no exception. Arctic adjacent governments including the Faroe and Orkney Islands outlined their engagement interests at the conference, while representatives of the European Union, via its new White Paper, sought to underscore its interest in deepening its interests in Arctic diplomacy and environmental discourses.

Discussing Arctic security challenges. l-r, Marc Lanteigne (University of Tromsø / editor, Over the Circle), Egill Þór Níelsson (Icelandic Centre for Research / University of
Iceland and University of Lapland), Sara Olsvig, (Former Vice Premier and Minister for Social Affairs, Families, Gender Equality and Justice / Ilisimatusarfik – University of Greenland), Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, (Member of the Danish Parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit, Greenland), Halla Hrund Logadóttir, (Director General, National Energy Authority, Iceland)
[Photo by the Arctic Circle]

With an Arctic governmental white paper expected to be published by France in the near future, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, Ambassador for Polar and Maritime Issues, spoke about the core of current French Arctic policy being ‘science, science and science again’ [video]. Works by other non-Arctic states, including Britain, Latvia and Poland, were also featured in panels dedicated to regional science diplomacy.

Science was also on the agenda during the presentation by Jongmoon Choi, Vice-Foreign Minister of the Republic of (South) Korea, who accentuated [video] the need for ongoing diplomacy, including via the Arctic Council, between Arctic and non-Arctic actors. He also noted Korea’s contributions to Arctic science, via partnerships, regular dialogues with China and Japan, as well as research undertaken by the Korean icebreaker Areon, (with another research icebreaker, dedicated to Arctic missions, planned for 2027). It was also announced during the conference that Tokyo would be hosting [video] an Arctic Circle Breakout Forum in March 2022, in conjunction with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

Although there was not a high-level governmental delegation from China to the conference this year, the country’s role in the Arctic was nonetheless discussed during several different panels. There were also presentations [video] about the status of the Beijing-backed Polar Silk Road, which was described as progressing, despite several setbacks with proposed PSR projects in the Nordic region resulting in this part of the Belt and Road being more fully concentrated in Russia and East Asia.  

A melting ice block placed outside of Harpa [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

In addition to the Tokyo Forum, another major announcement at the Arctic Circle this year was the inauguration [video] of the Frederik Paulsen Arctic Academic Action Award, which recognises scientific achievement in the combatting of regional climate change. The prize was awarded to Professor Trevor Bell (Memorial University, Newfoundland) for his work in developing the SmartICE Project, an endeavour which integrates Indigenous knowledge with monitoring technology to measure changes in local sea ice patterns for the protection of communities and maritime transits.

As the Arctic Track II network in the Arctic begins to revive following the global pandemic, there will continue to be debates over what has changed and what hasn’t, in the Arctic, during the past two years. With the return of the Arctic Circle, however, the linkages between policymakers and specialists in the region appear poised to be restored at a time when the far north is under an ever-brighter global spotlight.