Friday, October 13 – the conference’s actual first day – started with a few words of welcome by H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Chairman of Arctic Circle and former president of Iceland.
In his speech, Grímsson mentioned how Arctic Circle forms the framework and the basis for discussions and debates on Arctic topics, as well as a particular focus on sharing knowledge. This, according to Grímsson is fundamental to creating a more sustainable world.
Another speaker at the morning program was Ségolène Royal, Ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic Poles of France, and former Minister of Climate and Environment in France, where she worked with the Paris Agreement. Royal focused on two aspects – the global interest in the Arctic, and how it grows continually. She also encouraged all participants to take responsibility in regards to the climate changes, and all should be aware of the problems we are facing today.
Additionally, Iceland’s president, H.E. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson gave a speech. Jóhannesson mentioned among others that even if the Arctic countries are small, like Iceland, they all make a difference. He highlighted Arctic Circle as a good example of how the conference can accommodate many different countries, which all have current Arctic topics on their agenda that are fundamental for development.
The afternoon program offered over 35 different breakout sessions and several speeches in the plenary. These speeches focused on topics like climate change, sustainability as well as how research can carve out a path for future generations. One of the sessions was about the Nordic universities’ role in the new Arctic. There was university representatives from Denmark, Norway, Greenland, Finland and Iceland. Per Michael Johansen, Rector of Aalborg University opened the session by emphasizing Arctic Circle and similiar forums as elements that make a difference for the Arctic research worldwide. Both the University of Tromsø and the University of Lapland had focus on cooperation as being extremely essential. There was talk of several Arctic areas, and that the Arctic regions have a lot in common, where sharing of knowledge and experience is essential. Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir from University of Iceland emphasized the extreme importance of focusing on the ‘safety’ of the new sailing routes in the Arctic. Monitoring is a significant factor in safety and the University of Iceland has a forthcoming bid for it.
Anne Merrild Hansen from Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland) focused on criss-cross collaboration, which can alleviate the challenges linked to the young in Greenland who choose not to finish their studies. This results in a limited number of students who can actually reach the level of research. At Ilisimatusarfik there are 15 PhD fellows in 2017, which are few compared to the desired number. The dropout rates is the result of a long array of challenges, as for example the travel expenses. Additionally, there is the issue that universities in different regions and countries have differences as their very core element – for example, there are different ways of teaching and the average age is different from country to country – which makes the exchange a huge challenge. Nevertheless, Hansen presented a possibility of gathering students across countries with the help of technology, where there could be teaching sessions via Skype and other applications. Hansen identified a challenge due to people in Greenland and other Arctic regions lacking experience on IT-systems. When this challenge is overcome, there is still a lack of funds and human resources to it.
Another breakout session dealt with the status of infrastructure research in Greenland and the visions connected to it. The speeches ranged from factual observations about a new research hub in Nuuk in Greenland to the website Isaaffik.org, a platform for exchanging ideas, presenting research and planning expeditions to the Arctic areas. It is also a platform for long projects over 25 years of monitoring the climate in Greenland and a presentation of China’s plans on a new research station.
Frej Sorento Dichmann from the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science presented potentials for the hub in Greenland. Dichmann stated that the hub should serve as a center for several activities and a gathering point for research. One condition for establishment is that the desired value of the hub should be on the agenda first. Dichmann expressed that the hub should create development and growth, together with being flexible. Dichmann believes that it has the potential to be self-driven, with results both in the short and long term.
Sten Lund, research coordinator at the Government of Greenland, presented the visions on an international research hub in Greenland. Lund presented the Government of Greenland’s work on a research strategy, where the hub is a part of it. Lund stated that the hub should create an overview of the research and that it should be both physical and online, while contributing to the development of the society. Lund expressed that the essential elements will be to communicate research results, so they can be beneficial to other places in the society, while having an advisory element.
The debate about the future research hub in Greenland went on after the presentations from the panel. Among others, there were discussions about the possibility of establishing more than one hub – possibly several small ones in several regions, as suggested by Bo Elberling from the University of Copenhagen. Jennifer Mercer from US-NSF (National Science Foundation) expressed that the hub in Nuuk should settle on being a place, where research is in focus and used in the ‘real world’ in companies, while being a platform for cooperation and implementation of other initiatives.