Letter from the President
By Lars Kullerud, President, UArctic
The UArctic Board condemns all acts of war. As a result of the current Russian military actions in Ukraine, the collaboration between UArctic and Russian institutions is paused until the situation allows for continuation.
This decision is taken without Russian Board members.
The UArctic network is strongly committed to strengthening the North through circumpolar collaboration in higher education and research with special attention to students and young researchers. UArctic works hard for a strong, engaged, informed and dynamic North creating better lives and environment for all northerners. UArctic looks forward to a future when the entire Circumpolar North can benefit from this collaboration.
(UArctic Board statement, April 2022)
It makes no sense to speculate on when and how this war will end. It can take months or years, and we know very little about the outcome. Eventually it will end, and we all look forward to a future where we can rebuild northern and Arctic relations for the benefit of its peoples as well as the world.
What is predictable is that the new future of the Arctic will not be a continuation of what we had before the attack on Ukraine. The war has established a profound distrust of Russia, with a particularly significant impact on the countries that depend on resources from the Russian Arctic – oil and gas, as well as minerals. This distrust does not end with the war.
Western countries are now initiating the green shift to become independent of gas and oil from Russia at a speed not even optimistic environmentalists would have predicted only months ago. This high-speed transition increases the need for metals and minerals to enable fossil fuel-free supply chains, and the distrust implies that the minerals and metals need to be found outside Russia and other potentially untrustable regimes.
The European Union has over the past few years conducted thorough studies to identify regions that could deliver necessary raw materials with minimal dependency on non-Western countries. An important conclusion in those reports is that most of those materials exist in the Precambrian shields of northern Europe, Greenland, and Canada.
The war will lead to strong pressure on minerals and metal extraction in the Arctic parts of the Western Hemisphere. The need for fast transition to safe and sustainable supply may lead to very challenging rights, land use, and decision-making processes in the Arctic. This is potentially in conflict with the need for thorough social and environmental impact studies, as well as decent distribution of benefits and sharing with the local communities. This will shift priorities in education and research in and for the Arctic.
Climate change was identified as a major area of scientific cooperation in the Arctic before the invasion of Ukraine. The urgency, the importance of continuing research, and finding solutions to reduce the impact of climate change in the Arctic and the rest of the world have not gone away. This will not be easy to do with half of the Arctic “paused” from participation in this important scientific cooperation.
The new future of the Arctic will for sure be different from the past. In the Western Arctic, we face new pressure on extractive activities, while the Russian Arctic will face a reduced demand for the resources that so far have been important to secure local economies.
The organizational framework will likely also be different from the past. The Arctic Council, very much the basis for UArctic, is paused, and even if we all wish so, it may not easily return to its former status as the guarantor of peace and cooperation in the Arctic. Fortunately, the Arctic Council has created some offspring, including the binding agreement on scientific cooperation in the Arctic, the search and rescue agreement, the ban on fisheries in the High Arctic seas, as well as organizations like UArctic and the Arctic Economic Council. The binding agreements have a better chance to be put back in operation when cooperation is again possible. As for UArctic, science cooperation might prove to become important to re-establish operations for the whole Circumpolar North.
No matter what the outcome of this unpredictable development, the future cannot exist without education and research cooperation. The future of the Arctic needs to be handled by coming generations, and it is up to the present generation to make their task as manageable as possible.