By: Kendra MacDonald, CEO, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster
Over the last couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Arctic exploring both the opportunities and challenges. Last week, with the much-appreciated support of our local partners, including our host sponsor Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, we held our first Ocean Innovation for a Sustainable Arctic workshop in Iqaluit, Nunavut. This week I attended the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway. The theme of the conference was Actions and Reactions, our responsibility to be proactive in shaping the future of the Arctic despite the challenges we are facing.
These provided me with an important opportunity to connect with communities in the North – to listen and understand more about opportunities and priorities in ocean. We heard from Government, communities, NGOs, researchers and industry and focused discussions both on the significant opportunities that exist across the Arctic but also the significant challenges.
While there are certainly many differences across Arctic nations, I was also struck by the consistency of several of the messages over the last two weeks including:
- Arctic has unique challenges – there are harsh weather conditions, communities are small, remote, and widely spread, there is a very high cost of operations and development, and there are infrastructure and data gaps. At the same time, Northern communities have a long history and experience facing these challenges and much can be learned from their experiences. Challenges bring opportunities, therefore innovative approaches and solutions are needed. The Arctic needs long-term thinking and long-term funding commitments and partnerships.
- Climate – the Arctic is warming at least 4X as quickly as the rest of the planet. One speaker referred to the Arctic as the canary in the coal mine, giving us a glimpse into the impacts of climate to come to the rest of the world. There was much focus on changing sea ice, biodiversity loss, vulnerable ecosystems, and significant impacts on traditional ways of life. Any solutions must be sustainable. How do we move quickly given the urgency of the climate challenges but also with respect?
- Solutions or programs must be co-designed and co-led with communities – this was repeated throughout the two weeks. Every community is different, and solutions must meet them where they are at. However, we must balance engaging communities and overburdening them. Communication with communities must be culturally relevant. Priorities of the communities can be season dependent and organizations that wish to work with them must have a good understanding of these priorities. Traditional knowledge within communities must be respected and can bring significant value to any partnership. There must be ongoing dialogue with those who call Arctic home, Indigenous communities are partners and rightsholders, not just stakeholder consultations that tick a box. Looking at the opportunity in inshore fisheries for example – this is important both for food security and market opportunities and solutions must be co-led by communities. Solutions need to consider the broader challenges facing communities including food security, day care, housing, health care and education. As more than one Indigenous speaker shared “nothing about us without us.
- Significant gaps in data – it is hard for decision-makers to make the right decisions without access to the data. There is a lack of baseline data, shortage of publicly accessible data exchange platforms, no interoperability of existing datasets, as well as capacity and training on visualizing raw data. This is a significant challenge across the Arctic. Knowledge must be at the centre of decisions. There is a need to leverage technology to collect more data but there was also a reminder that gathering data should not be extractive, companies and researchers need to be mindful of the CARE principles, data should be for the Collective benefit of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous people should have the Authority to control the data, those working with the data have a Responsibility to share how that data is being used and data should be used Ethically with Indigenous People’s rights and concerns a primary concern throughout. There is much opportunity for artificial intelligence to support better decision making but this is more difficult with missing data.
- Increasing access – Melting sea ice is increasing access to shipping lanes and natural resources. There is significant focus on maintaining peace across the North but also risk with Russia as a key Arctic stakeholder. Regulation plays on important role in ensuring appropriate activity in the North and Arctic governance continues to evolve.
- There is a meaningful value in enhancing collaborative innovation by bringing people together where ideas happen. Additionally, it creates opportunities to offer novel technological solutions to support the traditional knowledge.
It is our hope that the discussions that began in Iqaluit will continue to grow and flourish into opportunities to work together in the Arctic in a way that benefits Arctic communities. More than half of Canada’s coastline is in the Arctic, and meaningful relationships with Inuit communities are critical to achieving Ambition 2035 for our ocean economy. As we work towards a 5X growth potential in ocean, it is more important than ever that we first understand the unique opportunities across all three oceans, and find ways to work together to deliver important solutions for communities, as well as generate significant economic opportunity in the process.