Automatgenererad bild.

23 June 2016

Franco-Swedish knowledge exchange about Arctic

In early June, Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development held a workshop on urbanisation in the Arctic region. The country taking the initiative was France, with its geographical location 2,000 km (1,250 miles) from the Arctic tundra. What appealed to the French was the prospect of carrying out social science research on urban issues.

France has no territorial interests in the Arctic, but is an observer state in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum. The country is also highly active in the region and conducts research with its own research ships.

‘The French Embassy produced a proposal and was especially interested in our focus on urbanisation,’ says Peter Sköld, director of the Arctic Research Centre at Umeå University (Arcum).

Sköld is also joint head of the Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development programme with Carina Keskitalo. It was above all social science research in Mistra’s Arctic programme that interested the French. Issues concerning urban development and questions of how to build for the northern climate and how to manage the encounter between the urban environment and the indigenous population are being addressed in an exciting way in Umeå.

The French Embassy is paying particular attention to Kiruna and the relocation of this city.

‘Kiruna’s an unusual city for us in many ways, and we want to know more about how to make the most of the city’s Arctic dimension when it’s moved,’ says Emmanuel Salmon, the scientific and university attaché at the Embassy.

There is keen interest in Arctic issues in France, he relates. Any time now, the country’s Arctic strategy will be released.

‘Jointly with Germany, we have a research station in Svalbard, and we’ve had one in the Antarctic for well over half a century. Especially since COP 21 in Paris, climate and the environment have been extremely interesting to us. What’s happening to the climate all over the world is, after all, occurring to an even higher degree in the Arctic.’

The workshop is part of a four-seminar series with Umeå as the first port of call. The series will then proceed to Finland, where the theme is health. After that, in Norway, the focus will be on the environment. Finally, a seminar in Denmark will address the question of how to take care of the cultural heritage from local populations.

‘For Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development,’ Peter Sköld relates, ‘this is a way of confronting our own ideas with new ones.’

‘It’s always interesting to get an external perspective, from people who haven’t lived here, and seeing where they end up in their conclusions. It broadens our outlook and sows seeds for new joint initiatives. It’s also a way for us to get our research results out.’

Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development is developing knowledge of the social, economic and political aspects of the Arctic region’s future in terms of sustainability. In April, the programme held its annual meeting, which included scientists, purchasers and local residents. The meeting was held in Ylläs (Yllästunturi in Finnish), Finland.

‘We had open meetings with the local population and half a day with our purchasers. Meetings of this kind give rise to countless new ideas that we’re in full swing collecting. We’ve got a long list of suggestions.’

The Arctic programme has a reserve fund set aside in case new research ideas need start-up assistance. This fund is now expected to be used, Sköld says.

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