by Emily Hague (Heriot-Watt University)
In October 2023, the Scottish Arctic Network Early Career Travel Grant supported me to attend the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, Iceland. The Assembly marks the largest international gathering that focuses on Arctic matters, and this year was attended by more than 2000 participants from over 70 countries. There was a rich programme, with over 700 speakers participating, including heads of states and governments, ministers, members of parliaments, indigenous leaders and representatives, officials, experts, scientists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, environmentalists, students and activists, all from an international community united by a shared interest in the Arctic. The 2023 Assembly covered a multitude of topics, including geopolitical tensions affecting the Arctic, the Green Energy transition, exploitation of Arctic resources, and future challenges in relation to protection of the Arctic environment and its peoples. There were also a number of sessions on Arctic shipping, including ones focusing on sustainable shipping, and a theme arising throughout was how current conflicts, such as the Ukraine-Russia war and the recent development of the Israel-Palestine conflict, are leading to impacts on the maritime and security sector.
I was delighted to be able to attend the Assembly and have the opportunity to visit Iceland for the first time. I attended with a number of key aims in mind. First and foremost, to share information, gather interest, and build new and develop ongoing partnerships with regards my own Arctic work. Currently I am working on two Arctic focused projects, both of which I really looked forward to sharing more information on throughout the Assembly; ePIcenter, and ‘Navigating the Future: Collaborative Knowledge-Sharing for a Just and Sustainable Maritime Future’.
My work within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funded ‘ePIcenter’ project focuses on building an understanding of how Arctic shipping can be developed in a more sustainable and ‘wildlife-friendly’ way, with a particular focus on understanding potential impacts to Arctic whales. The Assembly provided me an invaluable opportunity to meet in person for the first time ePIcenter project steering group member Dr Melanie Lancaster, who is Senior Specialist of the WWF Arctic Program, and to also meet co-author and project data provider Dr Jackie Dawson, Canada Research Chair in Environment, Society and Policy. Both of these women are powerhouses in the field of Arctic wildlife research, and great role models that I have looked forward to meeting for some time. It was a privilege to meet both of them in person and to discuss ePIcenter project progression, which includes an expansive review of the literature of vessel impacts to Arctic whales, and a comparative analysis of ship strike methodologies, with a focus on the East Canada-West Greenland sub-population of bowhead whales. If you’re interested in hearing more about this work, you can sign up to my talk, which I’m presenting as part of the Scottish Arctic Network webinar series – scheduled on Wednesday 17th January 2024, 12 -12:45 PM.
The second Arctic project I was excited to share at the Assembly, along with utilising the opportunity to develop new networks and connections which will support the project, is the Scottish Government: Arctic Connections funded project ‘Navigating the Future: Collaborative Knowledge-Sharing for a Just and Sustainable Maritime Future’. The project will run from autumn 2023 to spring 2024, so my attendance at the Assembly was perfect timing to begin developing Arctic-Scotland connections that will be further developed as the project progresses. The project will work alongside Green Marine, North America’s leading environmental certification program for the maritime industry. As part of this project, I will conduct semi-structured interviews with Arctic and non-Arctic shipping and port related actors to explore how the maritime industry can work together to collectively address the climate crisis across the sector. The project aim is to ensure that any transition to green vessels, ports or infrastructure within Scotland, the Arctic and further afield can be successfully supported to move forward in a just and sustainable manner, that properly considers the wider holistic impacts of greening, including those on local communities. I was delighted to attend a number of Assembly sessions that focused specifically on topics relevant to the project, and to build a number of new connections who will be interviewed as part of the project.
Along with sharing my ongoing Arctic research based at Heriot-Watt University, an additional goal of attending the Assembly was to join the ‘Team Scotland’ representation there, and to help showcase the value and richness that Scotland, the self professed ‘most northerly non-Arctic nation’, can offer to the Arctic community. I was delighted to kick this representation off to a stellar start by representing members of Scotland’s academic community at a drinks reception hosted by Iceland-based British Ambassador Dr Bryony Mathew’s. I attended with my supervisor, Dr Lauren McWhinnie, and really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other representatives from the UK that were taking part in the Assembly. Following this, ‘Team Scotland’ held a stall in amongst the bustling 2nd floor of the Harpa Concert Hall Arctic Circle Assembly venue, which provided a brilliant way to meet and greet many Assembly delegates and chat to them about the various ways Scotland is contributing to Arctic research, and to develop connections with our Nordic and Arctic neighbours. This extension of collaboration and friendship was further extended during a number of plenary and sessions speeches by Minister for Energy and the Environment and Member of the Scottish Parliament Gillian Martin.
The MSP gave a number of rousing speeches and calls to develop Scottish-Arctic connections throughout the Assembly that really resonated with me, especially as on a number of occasions the shared challenge of the green transition for shipping and ports arose. To help develop such Scotland-Arctic connections, it was great to be present for the British Ambassador’s announcement of the new ‘United Kingdom-Iceland Arctic Science Partnership’ funding scheme, which will open during winter of 2023, and aims to support researchers in both countries to build new science partnerships. This news will only serve to strengthen science collaborations that have been developed as part of the 2023 Arctic Circle Assembly. I especially look forward to capitalising on those by developing Scotland-Iceland connections with like minded researchers (e.g. Whale Wise), and developing connections and future funding applications that can continue to strengthen the Scotland-Arctic bond. I am extremely grateful to the Scottish Arctic Network Early Career Travel Grant for supporting me in building these connections and sharing my own Arctic research, and I very much look forward to sharing my work with the wider ScAN community during my webinar in January 2024. Sign up here.