The future for people in the Arctic discussed at large international conference
Temperatures are rising, and life on earth changes. The fastest change takes place in the North, in the Arctic. That is a fact. But what societal challenges await? Will the Arctic still be habitable for humans? Is this a new hotbed for emerging diseases and conflicts? On 8-12 June 2017, world-leading researchers will gather in the hundreds at Umeå University in Sweden to discuss the future for people and societies in the North.
The Arctic is suffering, and global warming must be mitigated. Unfortunately, the projected temperatures are still pointing too sharply upwards. As a response to these issues and as a forum for discussions on what challenges await us, and how to tackle them, the preparations for the conference ICASS IX, or in full: the 9th International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences, is now going full speed ahead.
On 8-12 June, hundreds of Arctic researchers from northern countries will meet at Umeå University in northern Sweden in what will become the largest research conference on the future of the Arctic of all times. Participants come from the Arctic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. However, the conference will also have participants from Australia, Japan, China, Switzerland and Austria.
"The Arctic is highly topical in many ways, but during this conference, focus will not lie on climate data, but rather on their consequences to people and the place. Our ambition is for the conference to result in tangible suggestions on how to prepare and adapt our Arctic communities on what the future has to bring," says one of the main organisers, Peter Sköld, also director of the Arctic Research Centre (Arcum) at Umeå University.
All in all, it will be a record-breaking conference with over 650 registered participants so far, which will be the largest ICASS conference to date. And it is no coincidence it is being held in Umeå – a small town in northern Sweden with a population of 121,000 and a thriving university with great breadth. Apart from Peter Sköld having been the president of the International Arctic Social Science Association for the last three years, which is the organisation behind the conference, Sweden has also taken a huge leap within the Arctic research field over the last years. And Umeå University is in the lead.
"We are positioned in the North and run Sweden's only arctic research centre conducting research spanning across all scientific fields. This makes us the right university to shoulder the burden of being the main source of information within the Arctic field," says Hans Adolfsson, Vice-Chancellor of Umeå University.
This year's conference goes under the title People and Place and consists of 22 parallel themes and over 950 sessions on subjects such as indigenous rights, the environment, tourism, migration, health, education and the spreading of diseases in the Arctic. A debatable issue is how the Arctic – in which eight countries with several indigenous peoples and nationalities are included – should be governed and coordinated, and what rules and regulations should apply. Another financial and political hot potato is how the once so inaccessible natural resources such as minerals, natural gases, oil and fish should now be extracted and used in a sustainable way, and who should own the rights to it.
"Territorial claims when it comes to rights to sea beds are naturally intricate, but the Arctic is a highly strategic area also in other ways. Researchers can present scientific facts and theoretical know-how, but our politicians make the decisions in the end. That's why we're hoping to welcome both policy and decision-makers at the conference," says Peter Sköld.
Participating international leading profiles are Gail Fondahl, Canadian human geographer who has long studied health development in the Arctic population; Anna M. Kerttula de Echave, Arctic programme manager at the American National Science Foundation; Sverker Sörlin, Swedish history of ideas researcher, author and professor in environmental history, and Björn Dahlbäck, director of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat. Another two participants are the Arctic ambassadors Andrés Jato, representing Sweden, and René Söderman, representing Finland together with several representatives from various organisations and research funding bodies.