Arctic Innovators discuss Arctic challenges with the President of Iceland | Photo courtesy of author

Innovative Science Diplomacy: Finding Solutions for Arctic Challenges

By Halla Hrund Logadottir

We are increasingly experiencing the changes and challenges that climate change poses in the Arctic. The region’s ice sheet is melting at a record rate, affecting weather patterns around the globe and contributing to sea level rise in cities such as New York and Singapore. A new ocean is emerging around the North Pole. As the ice disappears, the living conditions of indigenous people decline and fragile ecosystems are threatened. Local traditions, such as hunting, are increasingly harder to maintain. But this new reality also means increased access to the region’s oil, gas, and mineral resources and shorter shipping routes between Asia and Europe, both of which reinvigorate tensions between environmental preservation and economic development.

These complex Arctic changes will not be solved individually by any one person, organization, or country.

They require collaboration on all levels for successful outcomes. They also require science diplomacy — both locally and globally. The Arctic dialogue often fixates on the region’s dramatic challenges, with too little time spent developing possible solutions.

Credit | Pexels

The second Annual Arctic Innovation Lab, hosted at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík in 2017, is a project designed to promote solution-oriented discussions. The Lab brings together scientists, policymakers and tech experts to discuss new ideas and policy improvements that can contribute to solving Arctic challenges, with an eye to potentially turning some of those challenges into opportunities overtime. Another critical component of the Lab’s mission is to engage and inspire young people to join the Arctic dialogue. Part of the Lab in Reykjavík included a working session for young people to present their ideas to multiple experts, receive feedback, and further develop their solutions.

This year, more than 300 people, representing more than twenty countries, participated in the Arctic Innovation Lab. The Lab selected twelve finalists — graduate students and young professionals across different universities — to present their ideas in Reykjavík.

Charlotte McEwen, from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, pitched an idea to use drone technologies in support of remote Arctic communities seeking to build resilience in the face of climate change. Ziad Reslan, also from Harvard Kennedy School, discussed a digital job platform, which would mediate the economic impacts of families displaced by climate change. Ryan Uljua, from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, described an idea to create an Arctic investment index to facilitate and attract international investments for regional economic development. Tukumminnguaq Nykjær Olsen, from the University of Greenland, delivered a defense of education programs that are intentionally inclusive of local cultures, explaining that such inclusion is critical to support indigenous identities and ensure the future of local communities. Olsen won the top prize at the Lab, determined by a participant vote.

Halla Hrund Logadottir | Photo courtesy of author

The 2017 Arctic Innovation Lab was executed in collaboration with the Arctic Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School. The Arctic Initiative is a new Harvard research initiative developed in response to the urgent need to raise awareness about and improve policies in the changing Arctic region.

The Kennedy School’s Arctic Initiative will:

  1. Spearhead new research on topics at the intersection of environmental conservation and economic development;
  2. Convene policymakers, scientists, and politicians to discuss Arctic issues; and
  3. Develop a new generation of leaders with greater knowledge of the factors affecting the Arctic and the implications of those Arctic challenges on global environmental, social, and economic systems. The Arctic Initiative is supported by two key programs at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center — the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program (STPP), directed by Dr. John Holdren, Obama’s former science advisor, and the Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP), led by Professor Henry Lee.
Credit | Pexels

Last fall, the Arctic Initiative supported students to participate in the Arctic Innovation Lab through the Kennedy School’s Arctic Innovators Program. The Arctic Innovators Program emphasizes innovation in policymaking by supporting students to research an Arctic policy area of interest, and then develop a project idea over the course of a full semester. In addition to 1–1 coaching, students attended a series of lectures and workshops in preparation for the Arctic Innovation Lab.

Like other Lab participants, the Harvard Arctic Innovators come from a diverse set of backgrounds, including Arctic and non-Arctic states. This new group of students ranges from Canadian to Singaporean to Lebanese, and they all recognize that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. They all want to be part of the solutions we can achieve together.

These students also represent a highly interconnected, tech-savvy generation. They are much more connected across international borders than previous generations. If trained and encouraged to do so, they can use their unique toolkit to translate knowledge into innovative solutions and policies faster than ever before.

These students are part of a new generation of science diplomats. In a sense they are “science diplomacy entrepreneurs,” unafraid to work beyond disciplines, institutions, and national borders. Their fast-paced world, in which new knowledge and technology is visible immediately on their phones and gadgets, encourages an innovative spirit. They recognize that the best answers for the challenges of the Arctic may not even exist yet, but should be developed and implemented for the benefit of all.

Halla Hrund Logadottir is Co-Founder, the Arctic Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Chair and Founder of the Arctic Innovation Lab

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy