Automatgenererad bild.

18 June 2015

International impetus for
Swedish Arctic research

Sweden has now well and truly joined the international policy and research arena for the future of the Arctic, as the conference The Arctic – Hot or Cold, held in Washington DC in May, showed. Peter Sköld, Programme Director of Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development, was one of many well-known delegates at the conference, which was a Swedish–American initiative.

‘It was a well-designed programme, with many proficient and influential people. Just that made it feel meaningful. What was more, the discussions were open. They were not just for show: it really felt as if many people were trying to put their own views across,’ says Peter Sköld, who is also Director of the Arctic Research Centre at Umeå University (ARCUM).

Attendees at the conference at the House of Sweden in Washington DC on 19–20 May also included the Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson; the US Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski; Björn Dahlbäck of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat; and Johan Kuylenstierna of the Stockholm Environmental Institute. Various other researchers and decision-makers from the US, Canada and Sweden took part, and the photographer Mattias Klum’s images from the Arctic were also shown.

‘One thing that has become increasingly clear is that Sweden has now entered the Arctic arena and the other stakeholders have expectations of us. We were late in joining, and the last country to take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. We were also the last to issue a national strategy for the Arctic. But now we are included in all the international processes and we feel they are giving us a strong impetus,’ says Peter Sköld.

The conference had two clear lines of discussion: one academic and one political. There have been claims that Russia’s war in Ukraine would make Arctic collaboration more difficult, but according to Peter Sköld this does not appear to be happening.

‘There seems to be a strong wish, among all those involved, that the Arctic should be an area in which peace prevails. It must be said that not everyone agrees with this picture, though. Canada presented a more negative picture of the security situation in the Arctic.’

What was your own contribution?

‘I was a member of a panel that discussed research in the natural and social sciences, and how to build bridges between them. My point was that quite a lot of this is being done, but if you look closely it’s doubtful whether these approaches can be called “interdisciplinary”. It’s often a matter of researchers located in different places, all doing their own thing, and then giving it all a joint label.’

The US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council is next. How did this shape the discussions?

‘The US presented its programme and they have high targets for their two years. But I couldn’t see a human dimension. It’s very much a matter of science, space exploration and technology. True, they also included health aspects, but I do think they could do more.’

What place did Scandinavia have at the meeting?

‘A lot of discussions were about the areas that are traditionally regarded as the Arctic. But there were programme points about mining, and issues relating to indigenous peoples were discussed. Our polar research ship Oden was also cited as a tremendous asset. There are numerous research stations in the Arctic, including several in Sweden. And the Interact project is all about these stations sharing data with one another. That’s interesting.’

Otherwise, what’s happening in Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development?

‘We’ve just had a big workshop in Pajala and we’re planning the next in Kirkenäs in October. There we’ll present results and build bridges among the working groups, and there’ll be a host of activities from the 30–35 researchers who are coming. Articles and books will be written, presentations made and contacts forged with researchers outside the programme. Things seem to be going our way in that direction as well,’ concludes Peter Sköld.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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