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Top Arctic Science Officials to Meet at White House

The White House will host high-level science officials and representatives from Indigenous peoples’ groups from more than two dozen countries to discuss ways to advance cooperative international research in the Arctic, a region undergoing rapid environmental change.

Written by Hannah Hoag Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
President Barack Obama gets a hands-on demonstration from salmon fisherwomen in Alaska.White House/Pete Souza

The White House is hosting its first-ever Arctic science ministerial meeting on September 28, a gathering that will draw science ministers, science advisors and high-level diplomats from 25 Arctic and non-Arctic countries, as well as Arctic Indigenous peoples, to talk through near-term science priorities and create conditions to promote long-term international cooperation on Arctic research.

“The Arctic is changing rapidly and we need to address the changes that have implications for the entire world,” said Mark Brzezinski, the executive director of the U.S. Arctic Executive Steering Committee.

The meeting aims to expand multilateral collaborations focused on Arctic science, research, observations, monitoring and data-sharing in four key themes, including addressing Arctic science challenges and their regional and global implications, strengthening and integrating Arctic observations and data sharing, applying scientific understanding to build regional resilience and shape global responses, and using Arctic science as a vehicle for STEM education and citizen empowerment.

All of the members of the Arctic Council will attend the meeting. China, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Commission will also be present. “A very important output of this ministerial is global recognition. No one country can do this alone. We recognize that the whole world shares this problem, and it is in our self-interest to come together,” said Brzezinski.

The meeting is much broader and more inclusive than the high-level dialogues typically convened by the Arctic Council. “One of the challenges they have is how to accommodate the interests of the international states. Whether they succeed or not will determine whether it has any life into the future,” said Paul Berkman, an Arctic science policy expert from the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

This week’s gathering is expected to be the first of a series of meetings that will continue to focus on Arctic science over several years. “This is not a problem that we can solve in one meeting,” said Brzezinski. “This meeting will sum up what is being done, what we are committing to do together and what is likely and possible. It’s a systematic way to hand off the problem to whomever takes over next, and sets them up to continue forward with the rest of the world.”


The research village Ny Alesund, in the Norwegian Arctic, serves as a platform for the monitoring of global warming. (AFP/DOMINIQUE FAGET)

Before Wednesday’s meeting, John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief advisor on science and technology, will hold a pre-ministerial briefing for Indigenous peoples’ representatives to listen and learn about their priorities. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to talk to some of the people involved,” said Jim Gamble, executive director of the Aleut International Association.

Despite the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the meeting, Gamble said he was “disappointed” that Arctic Indigenous peoples weren’t included in its planning. “We weren’t involved and no one that we know of was,” he said.

Several events running in parallel to the White House meeting will focus on Arctic science issues, including a side event that will center on the role science can play in the empowerment of Arctic communities.

The meeting is expected to culminate with a set of deliverables related to thawing permafrost, melting sea ice, community-based observing networks, renewable energy and education.

“We would expect to see mention of the role that Indigenous peoples play, talking about Indigenous knowledge and its role in science in the Arctic, and I’d like to see something about the role of communities in Arctic activities,” said Gamble.

“The Arctic is very important globally because of the lessons that will emerge over the coming years and decades,” said Berkman. “The relevance of the Arctic in this is that whatever we come up with as a civilization across the coming decades will create precedence for how we respond globally to issues.”

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