Berlin: Arctic Science and Politics Must Cooperate Closer

Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, addresses the Arctic Science Forum.
Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, addresses the Arctic Science Forum. (Photo: Kathrin Stephen)

Scientists from 30 countries, the European Union, and indigenous peoples’ organisations met in Berlin to discuss options for strengthening Arctic research cooperation efforts.

Scientists from 30 countries, the European Union, and indigenous peoples’ organisations discuss options for strengthening Arctic research cooperation efforts.

The Second Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM2) took place on 25 October 2018 in Berlin, Germany, with a full day dedicated to the Arctic Science Forum, a meeting of more than 300 delegates from 30 countries, the European Union, indigenous peoples’ organisations, and international organisations. The results from the discussions from the Arctic Science Forum fed into the actual Arctic Science Ministerial, which happened on 26 October 2018.


Science meets Politics

Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, emphasized in a video message at the beginning of the event the need to strengthen our knowledge about the changing Arctic.

Georg Schütte, State Secretary at Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany (who is the co-organiser of the ASM2 together with Finland and the European Commission) outlined the major challenges of Arctic change. “The Arctic has never been as warm as this year and last winter was the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic”, he said. These changes will affect the entire northern hemisphere, too.

He urged the participants of the Arctic Science Forum to show a high level of ambition since this will raise the ambition of Arctic Science Ministers’ joint statement, to be finally adopted tomorrow.


The face of Arctic change

Sandy Starkweather, Executive Director for the US Arctic Observing Network, outlined the three faces of Arctic change in the form of pace, magnitude, and extent.

The pace of Arctic change is especially mirrored in the rapid ice-melting and the unprecedented warming of the North. Dramatic shifts in fish stocks in Arctic waters and the Greenland ice sheet having lost hundreds of gigatons of mass over the years are illustrations of the magnitude of Arctic change. The massive extend of Arctic change is most visible in its effects on mid- and lower latitudes in terms of weather, climate, and economies.


Observations, Regional-Global Dynamics, and Resilience

The Arctic Science Forum discussed science cooperation in three areas:

- Strengthening, Integrating and Sustaining Arctic Observations, Facilitating Access to Arctic Data, and Sharing Arctic Research Infrastructure
- Understanding Regional and Global Dynamics of Arctic Change
- Assessing Vulnerability and Building Resilience of Arctic Environments and Societies


Focus areas for Arctic science cooperation and policy

Themes repeatedly mentioned as important steps towards the strengthening of Arctic research cooperation and policy were continuity of conduct of science and in the political process. For example, we need continuous data selection since there still is a severe shortage of winter data from the central Arctic.

Another topic was regional integration of observation efforts all over the Arctic, including greater inter-operability between different science systems. Similarly, speakers mentioned the need to integrate data and knowledge across various disciplines, both across time and space.

While science is pretty good at observing current and past developments, we still have to improve heavily in terms of looking into the future, i.e. by enhancing our predictive capacities, for example in terms of the future development of sea ice or of the Greenland ice sheet.

All these efforts require sufficient, stable, and sustained funding sources and increasing efforts for open science so that data is findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

Åsa Larsson-Blind, the President of the Saami Council, emphasized that the remaining gaps in our understanding of the functioning and impacts on Arctic marine and terrestrial ecosystems demand that the precautionary principle is applied in all Arctic activities.


Indigenous knowledge – Calls for inclusion and equality

Monica Ell-Kanayuk from the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada reminded the audience that colonial approaches to research continue globally. Thus, Inuit have not and still do not benefit from the increased research interest in their homeland. She demanded the inclusion and ethical engagement of indigenous peoples in international fora and to end the continuing overpowering of indigenous peoples by western science efforts and approaches.

Ell-Kanayuk from ICC Canada called for the need to avoid redundant and counter-productive research by including indigenous peoples in the formulation of research priorities, provision of funding, and appropriate capacity building for indigenous peoples.

Sandy Starkweather mentioned the need to include indigenous knowledge systems in a co-production of knowledge model. Inga Turi, Vice Chair, Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat, Tromsø, defined indigenous knowledge as “unique survival knowledge for living in the Arctic”, which is indispensable for developing sustainable science for the future of the Arctic.

The role and inclusion of indigenous and traditional knowledge is a recurrent theme in the joint statement that Science Ministers discussed in Berlin on 25 October 2018.


Next ASM 2020

The third Arctic Science Ministerial will be jointly organised by Iceland, the next Chairmanship holder of the Arctic Council, and Japan. The meeting will take place in Japan in 2020.