2. Strategic Boundary Conditions
Since the Polar Academy was created in 2008, the need for trans-national, scientific entities have increased. Recent regional and global developments, including climate change and its effects on and interaction with polar areas are important drivers of change.
The impacts of climate change continue. The diminishing of Arctic Sea Ice and increased loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic glaciers may be contributing factors to increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns around the world. Consequences for water supply, fisheries and agriculture are apparent. According to the IPCC, the processes may soon be irreversible, making living conditions increasingly more difficult for human beings in large parts of the world. Local and traditional knowledge combined with scientific knowledge is critical for developing the best basis for decision-making.
Diminishing sea ice allows for an increase in economic activities. Greater marine access and potentially longer seasons of marine navigation and offshore operations, open new opportunities for northern communities. The exploration of natural resources, using science to support sustainability and protection of the environment, are key drivers of change. Fisheries move further north in the European Arctic, while trans arctic and destination traffic to northern Russia increase. Issues concerning pollution and the ecosystems become increasingly more important, affecting local communities and indigenous ways of life.
Antarctica is a powerful heat sink that strongly affects the climate of the whole Earth. The Antarctic Peninsula and large parts of West Antarctica have warmed significantly over recent decades and ice shelves and land-ice are shrinking. Recent research and monitoring show that Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is warming, but also that the sea ice is increasing. Scientists claim that this is caused by strong circumpolar winds, compacting and thickening the sea ice. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) predicts further warming, increasing glacial ice loss, and further increase in sea ice around the continent.
There is an increased, worldwide interest in the Polar Regions, demonstrated by the large number of nations that have become members of SCAR and observers to the Arctic Council, and by the rapidly increasing interest in international conferences and arenas that address Arctic issues. The Arctic Council activity has increased, demonstrated by agreements on search and rescue and oil spills contingency, and the creation of a permanent secretariat in Tromsø. There is a continuous growth in research activities in all parts of the Arctic. New research vessels for use in ice-covered waters are introduced as enabling platforms.
Politically, the main interest in the Arctic is connected to legal and strategies issues, related to the delimitation of the waters and seabed in accordance with the treaty governing the Law of the Seas. Nations bordering on the Arctic Ocean have, or are in the process of, submitting their claims, based on extensive mapping of the Sea Floor. Norway and Russia have agreed on a long awaited delimitation in the Barents Sea. In general, the political issues have not created new conflicts between the nations, though some experience internal conflicts related to exploitation of resources. For science, a key issue is to maintain access to the region.
The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), is the international forum for the administration and management of Antarctica. Only 29 of the 51 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 21 are still allowed to attend. Several nations have presented land claims in Antarctica, but the international community has recognized none. The renewal of the Antarctic Treaty provides the grounds for a continued political stability.
Global issues of conflict may spill over into the Polar Regions. It is essential that channels of communication exist which will decrease this potential based on mutual benefit. The Arctic Council and the Antarctic Treaty System are important fora at political levels. On the scientific side, collaboration between institutions, like in the SIOS infrastructure project on Svalbard, are important.
The Academy is well positioned to address the critical issues of our time. The Academy is the only institution of its kind; it has prominent members from all Arctic nations as well as from other nations with an interest in polar issues, representing all fields of science. The Academy favors a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to understand the nature and significance of the Polar Regions. On the interdisciplinary level, our Academy will have a unique capability to discuss issues related to science and policy.
The Academy promotes research and education in polar areas to increase the knowledge base and educate the next generation of polar scientists. The Academy advocates knowledge based decisions and international collaboration to shape new policies, and ill contribute to communicate the knowledge of the Polar Regions and its developments to policy makers as well as the general public.