Dialogue across Borders in the Circumpolar North: Highlights from the 2012 Calotte Academy on Water in/and the Arctic
Hanna Lempinen & Joël Plouffe
This year's Calotte Academy (CA) programme focused on "Water – Globally and in the North Calotte," a broad but timely theme inspired by the multiple functions and meanings of water for human and non-human beings alike. Indeed, water in its various forms can serve as a transportation channel, a basis of cultures, identities and livelihoods, a living environment and a precondition for life, and health and well being, as well as a traded commodity in itself. Therefore understanding the geopolitical issues of water in the Arctic, and water in relation with the Arctic is imperative in the context of Arctic change.
This brief feature of the CA seeks to expose the main discussions undertaken in 2012 by the Academy participants, and to point out some of the key research outcomes resulting from this year's weeklong dialogue in the Arctic.
The Calotte Academy: Bringing People & Ideas Together
The CA is an annual international travelling cross-border symposium in Europe's North Calotte region (Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Western Russia), designed to foster dialogue among members of the research community, academia, and northern experts and stakeholders. Arranged for the first time in 1991, the annual Academy takes a focus on important and acute themes emerging in the European and Circumpolar North, with a goal to promote effective discussions and sustainable international relations in the Arctic. Building on the Northern Research Forum (NRF) platform, it is a "school of dialogue" that brings together researchers and regional actors and representatives with an aim to integrate the research community and findings in local and regional planning and policy-making. Participants from around the world (as far as Mexico in 2012) travel together across borders to towns and cities of the North Calotte to meet with local stakeholders in informal but intensive and constructive discussion settings.
In spring 2012, the CA was arranged from May 28th to June 4th in Rovaniemi and Inari, Finland; in Kiruna, Sweden; and in Tromsø, Norway. In total, 26 presentations focusing on water in/and the Arctic were made during the lively sessions at these four locations. In this open-dialogue setting, the knowledgeable group of international participants (coming from Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom) generated hundreds of questions and comments that fed and guided the discussions during the whole week together.
Water, Locally & Globally
During the Academy, questions and aspects related to water were discussed both on the local level and in global contexts as well as from a multidisciplinary perspective. Some presentations focused on water as a commodity and raised themes related to 'water markets', the role of transnational corporations (TNCs) in the commercialization of water, as well as different models of water management around the globe, notably in major markets like Europe. Meanwhile, others focused on water as energy, inside and outside the Arctic; issues related to the advantages and downsides of hydropower, hydropower advertising and hydropower construction in development aid programs were discussed.
From Ice to Water to 'New' Geopolitical Spaces
Furthermore, discussions continued during the week on water in the form of ice and, especially, in relation to climate change. In the context of decreasing sea ice in and around the Arctic Ocean, Arctic change can be considered as a process generating new narratives of geopolitics and competing discourses of the region. In addition to new discursive spaces and practices, the concrete implications of a changing climate and retreating sea ice were highlighted in several presentations. Among themes raised by the experts, issues related to health and resilience of human and natural systems, shipping regimes and routes, fisheries policies and management as well as industrial activities were addressed in several presentations. The 'phenomena' of emerging new state and non-state actors in the context of Arctic change, who seem attracted to the region for its economic benefits, lucrative possibilities and security challenges, was also underlined by many presenters. In addition, also (changes in) policies and strategies of states and other actors both within and outside the Arctic were discussed carefully.
Dialogue in the Field
In addition to the presentations and sessions, the Academy and its local partners also organized field trips inside the host countries. These experiences raise awareness and foster a better understanding of the local/regional/international dynamics of the towns and municipalities visited by the participants. For example, in Sweden, the Academy was invited to visit the LKAB mining company in Kiruna and the research station in Abisko, as well as the Siida Museum in Inari and the Kemijoki Oy hydropower headquarters in Rovaniemi, Finland
Future(s) for Research
The 2012 CA was characterized by a strong future orientation, and a wide range of potential areas for further research both in relation to water as well as to other issues associated to regional development in and around the Arctic.
Where's the Water?
Questions were raised notably on the specific burning issue of (fresh) water security. Despite direct linkages between freshwater, human and ecosystem health, water security is currently not extensively addressed in states' Arctic policies, while the lack of monitoring is well known as a widespread challenge within and outside the region.
In the broader context of the Arctic, several questions related to power relations in the Arctic were identified as requiring urgent attention. Issues associated to the range of actors, and their various roles and objectives in ongoing developments taking place in the region were amongst the most emphasized. The changing power relations between local, regional, national and transnational actors on different political and economic levels are often associated to the growing interest(s) from state and non-state actors in relation to the perceived economic value of various northern spaces. Observers have underlined the fact that the regional landscapes of Arctic spaces are changing due, in part, to new economic factors brought by external pressures (e.g. emerging markets). In that context, the role of TNCs and their related activities in the region were highlighted and discussed by various Academy participants. Additionally, from an economic development perspective, both adequacy and efficiency of existing legal arrangements and (management) regimes as well as their conceptual and ideological underpinnings were also raised among topics in need of enhanced investigation by researchers.
'Challenging' Arctic Futures
Participants also underlined the need to attract more attention on how different depictions of the Arctic, framed as a rapidly changing space/place, remain unchallenged. Indeed, further research should be dedicated to challenging the 'discourse of inevitability' as well as investigating the historical connections and future visions of Arctic narratives. Such research would increase knowledge on alternative regional futures/scenarios, in contrast to constructed visions by and for Arctic stakeholders. Furthermore, the dire need to re-evaluate and revise existing methodologies, theories and approaches to the Arctic was exhaustively elaborated by expert participants reacting to the idea of Arctic change as a status quo. Addressing the rapid changes taking place in the region calls for both new theoretical and conceptual tools within the field of IR as well as an emphasis on inter- and trans-disciplinary research projects.
Inclusive & Open Dialogue
In addition to the potential research themes brought up by the week-long discussions, participants also engaged on the role(s) and impact(s) of political sciences in the world of policy-making. The debates involved twofold views. On the one hand, research was seen as a crucial step forward in terms of improving the implementation and efficiency processes of policies; on the other, critical approaches were also seen as to have a valuable (but often underestimated or misunderstood) role in questioning the basis and projected outcomes of political decisions and developments in the Arctic. Nevertheless, both of these differing viewpoints highlight the guiding principle behind the Calotte Academy – dialogue is not only essential between researchers and within the scientific community, but equally importantly with (regional) policy-makers and northern societies.
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The next edition of the Calotte Academy will take place in May 2013 as a travelling symposium in Finland, Sweden and Norway with a focus on 'Resource Geopolitics – Energy Security,' an engaging multidisciplinary theme for thought provoking and insightful discussions.
More information on the Calotte Academy and its past editions' Final Reports and presentation abstracts can be found at the Northern Research Forum website (www.nrf.is).
The Calotte Academy is led by Dr. Lassi Heininen, Adjunct Professor, University Lecturer, at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland. He is also Chair of the NRF Steering Committee and Head of the University of the Arctic Thematic Network on Geopolitics and Security.
Hanna Lempinen is researcher at the Arctic Center in Rovaniemi & PhD Candidate at the University of Lapland, Finland. Joël Plouffe is researcher at the Raoul Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and PhD Candidate at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada.
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