A short summary of Arctic Frontiers – Day 1

So, here is a little summary of the opening and first day of Arctic Frontiers conference 2013.  Today was a huge learning experience for me. And I am still reeling a little from new information and the experience of a completely geopolitical perspective.

First up we had welcomes from the Rector of Tromsø University followed by Egil Olli who is President of the Norwegian Sami Parliament.  His emotional talk emphasised the importance of nature to the indigenous people who call the Arctic home. He was also to my great surprise, the ONLY speaker to mention any kind of renewable energy with a brief mention of the fact that extensive wind farms would threaten traditional reindeer grazing lands. I congratulate the organisation of the order of the speakers in having a Sami spokesperson first as it only underlined the fact that Arctic stories must always begin with the people that depend on it directly. It was Espen Barth Eide (Minister for Foreign Affairs) that followed and we learnt that the Arctic council was formed in 1996 to discuss decisions made by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation).  Interestingly, Espen noted that the only Arctic country not to join the Arctic council was the U.S.A., a point that was eloquently addressed to Mead Tredwell, the Alaskan governor, after his speech later by Hans Corell, the former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations. After Espen Barth Eide, the chair of the Arctic Council and Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt spoke and made clear that he was very much on the same page as Espen and emphasised the achievement of the Arctic council in creating a task force which meant that the eight countries in the council explicitly agreed to deal with oil spills in the Arctic. And so continued the theme of the day: Oil. Following this, Leona Aglukkaq, a Canadian Inuit from the settlement of Gjoa Haven a remote town in the heart of the Canadian Arctic at 68 °N and also the Minister of Health and the Canadian Northern Economic Agency told a fitting tale of Amundsen’s crucial training in this very settlement in 1903 which ultimately led to his success in reaching the South Pole in 1911. On a final note: Steiner Vaage. The President of ConocoPhillips tried to convince us on the gleaming success of oil and gas exploitation in the high north. He did not address renewable options or sufficiently answer the question asked concerning the plan in case of accidental spillage.

So, for today that is my summary of day 1! Tomorrow’s speakers will focus on marine production and I’m sure we will all continue to gain from this widening of perspectives on all fronts.

(text by Clare Webster)

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