This interview was done in January 2022, and the discussion describes the state of affairs at that time. The consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine currently reflect on both UArctic’s and the Arctic Council’s collaboration and work.

Interconnected Issues with Relevance to All

“The Arctic is an important part of a global system,” says Anne Husebekk. Many of the scientific or educational questions that are valuable in the Arctic are equally valuable in the rest of the world. Through international engagement, Arctic institutions and organizations can take what they have learned in the Arctic and project their knowledge to a global scale. “If we think about the climate crisis, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), questions of freedom and responsibility in science - they are valid all over the world, including the Arctic. But it's also important for us think the other way round, from the global level back to the Arctic.”

Melody Burkins also argues for bringing UArctic expertise to other platforms. ”UArctic has set up a governance system and a way of expressing itself that could be an example for research and outreach organizations elsewhere. Inclusion is a big part of the Arctic - Indigenous knowledge, gender, youth inclusion. Some of these ideas are now moving into the global scientific sphere, but in the Arctic we have been talking about it for thirty, forty years. It has become part of the structure and fabric of Arctic research and policy.” As an example, she points to the 2018 UArctic Congress Declaration and its references to the Paris Agreement, SDGs, Indigenous knowledge, and gender equality. This was UArctic saying its principles out loud through a Declaration endorsed by the whole network. “Of course, these Arctic principles did not come from research and policy. First and foremost, the principles were set by Arctic communities, and UArctic must continue to represent those voices as it engages globally. In fact, I think this is what makes the UArctic organization distinctive: it can speak for models of inclusive governance and innovation that other global organizations could emulate to ensure that more diverse ways of knowing are part of global solutions. UArctic’s model of inclusion and equity is a model for others to learn from and adopt, and I'm quite proud of that.“

Representation with Influence

The relevance of international representation is a topic all the interviewees agree upon. Over the years of working in Arctic issues, Kirsi Latola has seen concrete changes taking place all around. One of them is the inclusion of Indigenous and local knowledge and participatory methods in research. Having worked with large EU projects, Latola has seen how people in southern and central Europe are starting to realize that people living in the Arctic have valuable input and knowledge relating to their work. “It's still a process. And it's not easy to work across disciplines or actors, but it's happening more and more. It will be interesting to see where we are in five or ten years from now.”

One of the big roles of UArctic, and a key element in the network’s strategy, is to educate people from outside the region to understand what the Arctic is. Latola hears the need especially in discussions with colleagues from non-Arctic countries. “Students don't even know that there are people living in the Arctic. They think it's polar bears and icebergs, which to some extent is our fault for presenting only the beautiful nature. But the Arctic is a homeland for many people. That is something I've needed to remind a lot of people about over the years, again and again.”

It is not only the students that the network is educating, Latola also points out. “When I started working for UArctic, I didn't know anything about the Arctic people or communities. UArctic has taught me to understand what the Arctic is, and now I’m trying to pay that forward. And I’m not alone: there are many others who have also been taught by UArctic and who are now training the next generations. UArctic has a good reputation for that; we are acknowledged and appreciated as a partner and collaborator.”

“UArctic is and will continue to be an organization that is influential also outside the Arctic,” Anne Husebekk agrees and points to the various audiences within and outside the network. Knowledge about the Arctic and Arctic ways of thinking are spreading through UArctic’s membership in the non-Arctic countries, and thanks to our connection to and engagement with the Arctic Council, also through the Council’s observers.

Science Diplomacy Without Borders

As part of her work in science diplomacy, Melody Burkins has been closely following the Arctic Council and its operations. “Strengthening and maintaining the Arctic Council’s principles of inclusion, equity, and respect is vital. UArctic is one of its great resources in supporting those core principles. I hope that UArctic can continue to educate people about Arctic values and amplify the core values of the Arctic Council. This includes making consensus decisions with Arctic Indigenous Peoples. There are not many governance systems on earth that prioritize the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and co-production of knowledge in decision-making outside of the Arctic Council and UArctic.

Husebekk describes science diplomacy as a tool for non-political, easily approachable collaboration between people. It is a way for UArctic and its committees to maintain education and research collaboration without addressing the tense geopolitical situation. Burkins echoes this idea: “We can be inclusive, share knowledge, and continue to build trust and be a place where people can talk and have meaningful conversations across cultures and boundaries. That is really powerful and important.”

As proof, Latola points to the long-standing good relationships that people have in the Arctic after years of working together and getting to know each other. “Someone has said that we are all friends, and we are working with friends in the Arctic. I think that's true.” As UArctic expands to include more and more people, however, there is a risk of the network becoming less collaborative and more competitive. “UArctic could do even more to showcase how it has built the trust and friendship which mirrors the Arctic Council's way of growing up,” Burkins suggests. “This culture of trust, patience and friendship is the best way to work together and get more sustainable and long-lasting equitable outcomes.”

New members, both Arctic and non-Arctic, are quickly introduced to UArctic’s values and way of collaborating. “They are now part of a network that thinks differently. We take care of one another and also think about communities beyond the academic sphere,” says Burkins. “It’s a real opportunity to create change.”

From UArctic to the World

Cooperation within UArctic and mutual understanding are the starting points for spreading our values and influence outside the Arctic context. Involving international and non-Arctic actors as members or partners contributes to raising awareness on the Arctic and also on the importance of community-based and participatory approaches. The Arctic can be an example for the rest of the world, and UArctic highlights that through its governance model, initiatives and impact on an international level.

Husebekk believes that the future of the Arctic can be brighter with the support of UArctic. As a member of the Board of UArctic, she is also actively involved in the network’s fundraising efforts. “With successful fundraising, we will have more money to do things that are beneficial not just for UArctic but also for the whole world. That's the way it works. If UArctic can support good initiatives without heavy competition, but still having quality and excellence as a goal, that is an interesting future we move into.”

Over the past fifteen years Dr. Kirsi Latola has worked in several polar coordination activities. She currently holds the position of UArctic Vice-President Networks, and is a research coordinator at the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu, Finland. She also served two terms as Chair of the European Polar Board. She has managed several national and international projects on Arctic research and coordination and knowledge sharing, including organizing several international events and graduate education. She has managed the UArctic Thematic Networks strategic area since 2005.

Anne Husebekk served as Rector (Chancellor) of UiT The Arctic University of Norway from 2013 to 2021. Both her research and education are particularly focused on climate and environment and sustainability in the Arctic and globally. She currently serves as Vice-President for Freedom and Responsibility in Science in the International Science Council. She is also a member of the Board of UArctic (2021-2024).

Melody Brown Burkins is the Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth, where she also serves as Senior Associate Director in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies. Trained as a polar scientist, she focuses on issues of Arctic and global science diplomacy, climate change, sustainable development, and inclusion. In UArctic, she serves as Assembly Member, is Vice-Lead to the Thematic Network on Model Arctic Council (MAC), and is a founding member of the Thematic Network on Gender in Arctic Knowledge Production. In 2022 she was appointed as the UArctic Chair in Science Diplomacy and Inclusion.

By Francesca Stoppani, Intern, UArctic International Secretariat

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2022. Read all articles here]