10 May 2010

Mistra Arctic Futures to build networks of researchers with international ties

Mistra has announced a new programme with the emphasis on social sciences. Its vision is that, by applying scientific knowledge, policy makers and those living in the Nordic countries will contribute their ideas to sustainable development in the Arctic—for the benefit of society.

The Arctic is a region undergoing tremendous changes and is, therefore, rapidly developing into a major political arena for the entire world. Many countries and organizations have a stake. This applies especially to the people living in the Arctic, whose habitat is being adversely affected.

A more ice-free Arctic could for example lead to long-range transport could be done over the Arctic Basin instead of through the Suez or Panama Canal as is the case now. Natural resources are also rich and could become attractive to develop in this sensitive natural environment.
Many different interests
“The Arctic is unique because there are so many special interests pulling in different directions and because there is great uncertainty about the future in terms of climate change. The Arctic coastal states are directly affected by the development and Arctic countries with territory above the Arctic Circle—among them Sweden and Finland—are indirectly impacted. Countries within the European Union also have their interests and there is a significant geopolitical concern from the East, including China. So it is a fairly large and complex game with many players and it would be unwise not to build up a competence in the field from the Swedish side," says Anders Karlqvist, director of the upcoming program Mistra Arctic Futures in a Global Context.

“We have a vast experience in extreme environments, with about a quarter of Sweden above the Arctic Circle. However, we are not directly affected in the same ways as the Arctic coastal nations. In addition, we have experience and training to analyze the development and to contribute to knowledge and decision support," says Anders Karlqvist.

Sweden has active ongoing science-oriented research in the Arctic but, in his views, the Arctic has not attracted the same strong interest when it comes to the social sciences.

“Therefore it is urgent that Sweden invests in order to build its own knowledge and analysis. That way Sweden can act in a qualified manner on the international scene. Mistra would therefore be part of building a network of Swedish researchers with international connections," Karlqvist explains.

Anders Karlqvist previously worked as director of the Polar Research Secretariat, the hosting organization responsible for coordinating the research program. Mistra Arctic Futures in a Global Context is not intended as a single massive program but is instead calling for a number of smaller projects.

“One can see this approach as a test to find out what the appeal in this research field looks like. From Mistra's perspective, it is about breaking new ground and we do not know in advance how quickly you can build up strong research environments," says Anders Karlqvist.
From security to trade politics
It is important to give the research a historical perspective. The Arctic was not long ago a friction area with the politics of national security at stake.  According to Anders Karllqvist new tensions are currently ratcheting up—this time concerning issues of access to the area from an economic and trade policy perspective.
“We can not rely exclusively on international research regarding the application of international law or our need to protect Swedish business interests. In addition, our own strong research is a prerequisite to gain access to high level international scientific networks," he says.


The call is addressed to Swedish researchers who can submit proposals for research projects on Arctic global change with specific relevance to the geopolitical, economic and technical circumstances from an environmental perspective.

Mistra will invest up to 30 million SEK in 3-5 projects over a three year period. The hope is to build a strong Swedish research effort with international connections. The call will continue until August 9 at 16:00.

The applications will be evaluated by an international panel of judges appointed by the Program Committee in consultation with Mistra's Office. Both scientific quality and user benefits are assessed in accordance with Mistra's guidelines and requirements.

During the fall, the Program Committee will decide which applications are awarded funds. Hopefully, the first projects will start before the end of the year.

Mistra Mistra