Gateway to the Arctic – VII

Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges for the world’s populace in the 21st century. Finding solutions is the concern of all academic fields and disciplines, and therefore calls for the collaboration of experts with a diverse range of backgrounds, who can compare and combine their approaches and perspectives. In debates over climate change, the Arctic is now receiving more and more attention – partly because it has a significant yet still poorly understood influence on the global climate, and partly because the effects of climate change are far more prominent there. The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world. Experts predict that, due to this intensive warming, within the next few decades the Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free in the summer. Not only is this trend most likely influencing processes around the world, it also has very real consequences for people living in the Arctic.

“Gateway to the Arctic” is a workshop series that focuses on precisely this topic. A joint effort of the Helmholtz Research Initiative ‘Regional Climate Change’ (REKLIM); the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, especially the Climate Office for Polar Regions and Sea Level Rise; and the University of Versailles, it is supported by the Franco-German University in Saarbrücken. The seventh Gateway Workshop was held in February 2020. The event offers young researchers from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities with an interest in the circumpolar regions the opportunity to discuss with and learn from one another. This transdisciplinary approach is intended to not only foster exchanges between the disciplines, but to also pave the way for new collaborations, by exposing young researchers to research areas and perspectives with which they normally have little contact.

This year, the University of the Faroe Islands was a partner for the workshop series. Guided by the question “Leaving the beaten path – how can sustainable development be reconciled with environmental protection and climate change?”, the participants discussed how climate change is concretely affecting life in the Arctic, and particularly in the Faroe Islands. In addition, they considered the options available to small societies with regard to innovation and sustainable development. Founded in 1965, the University of the Faroe Islands is the only institute of higher learning in the islands. Its research and educational activities especially focus on the topics most relevant for the local populace, including the regional impacts of climate change.

Director Dr Chic Collins explains how the workshop has helped the University to expand its international network: “We’re a small university, and highly focused on the needs of the Faroe Islands and their populace. The only way we’ll only find suitable responses to the effects of climate change on our region is by strengthening our international relations and keeping up with the international debates on the most pressing global problems, especially those problems that can already be seen in our region.” On the Faroe Islands, these include questions on how growing tourism is affecting the land and its people, and how worsening marine pollution could affect local fishing and the health of the local populace.

These global debates were addressed on the first day of the three-day workshop, in a series of expert presentations on various topics, from the cultural histories of diverse Nordic regions, including the Faroe Islands, to political relations and science diplomacy, to the concrete impacts of climate change on the Arctic regions (e.g. on their denizens and ecosystem). The presenters were experts actively exploring historical, cultural, literary and political science aspects, as well as anthropology and climate research, to name but a few.

The second day included visits to two local companies, with a focus on sustainable development and the challenges involved in its implementation. The first company, Bakkafrost, is one of the world’s largest producers of aquaculture salmon, and the largest employer in the Faroe Islands. Bakkafrost is committed to doing business more sustainably, in order to conserve natural resources. The second company was SEV, the largest energy provider in the territory, which has set itself the ambitious goal of exclusively using renewable energy sources to meet the islands’ energy needs by 2030. Both companies have developed concepts for eco-friendlier and more sustainable operation, and have taken measures toward achieving their goals. Though commercial interests remain their top priority, they are two examples of firms that see ecological and social sustainability as part of their corporate mission.
On day three of the workshop, the participants split into groups to discuss the concrete challenges now facing the Arctic states, both due to climate change itself, and to the growing economic interest in the Arctic regions. To do so, they relied on PHINEO, a causal analysis method used to better understand the nature of a given problem and arrive at a suitable solution. In this regard, the workshop series’ transdisciplinary nature not only made it possible to identify a range of problems, but also to consider them from various standpoints. The challenge touched on during the previous day’s visits, namely how to reconcile sustainable development and commercial interests, was also discussed intensively, and put in perspective. In this part of the workshop, the young researchers had the chance to talk with the experts as equals, and to work with them to find potential solutions. The approaches developed during this phase are to be refined in follow-up workshops.

In the course of the three-day event, the participants covered a number of relevant topics in connection with the Arctic regions, but also what the future of research could look like. This included the need for researchers to move away from specialisation somewhat, and to embrace transdisciplinary exchange and collaboration, so as to solve the most pressing problems. Yet implementing transdisciplinary research, as productive as it may be, also entails additional difficulties; the participants agreed on this point. In this regard “Gateway to the Arctic” marks an important contribution to exploring and promoting the ‘path less travelled’: transdisciplinary collaboration. The Managing Director of the REKLIM initiative, Dr Klaus Grosfeld, closed the event with the following words: “Establishing a dialogue between the different disciplines and pursuing a holistic, transdisciplinary approach will be vital to finding solutions to climate change based on damage mitigation and adaptation. Thanks to the workshop, young researchers are learning to look beyond the borders of their own research field and to consider problems holistically, right at the beginning of their careers.” The seventh instalment in the series not only produced new ideas and participants who now know a bit more about new research areas and directions, but also inspirations for new collaborations and research projects.

For further information:

You can find the workshop programme here

Musical accompaniment from the “Uummannaq Children’s Home” in northwest Greenland

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