Strategic plan: 2015 – 2020

Final version – 150525

Message from the Academy Board

The forces of nature are redrawing the maps of the world, and global warming has its most evident and momentous impacts in the polar regions. Climate is changing, temperatures are rising, ice is melting, permafrost is thawing, species are threatened – but our knowledge of these intertwined processes is not keeping pace.

The effects we observe are not intended – and our comprehension is deficient. Models are imperfect and data needed to make them more powerful are incomplete. We lack the integrated and holistic understanding of complex interactions and the political capacity to translate what we know into sustainable development and global collaboration.

Hence this lack of knowledge is perilous: we do not have the tools to address the new dangers that appear, which can come close to tipping points that may prove momentous and irreversible. The world can suddenly become another, by changes in ocean temperatures, food chains or sea currents. All continents will be affected.

The greater part of the polar regions are not subject to any joint authority that watch over the common interest of humankind. Thus, we can suffer what’s been called “the tragedy of the commons”: that actors pursue their own immediate interests in ways that undermine common concerns. Over-fishing is one illustration, pollution is another.

Research is one of the most fantastic endeavors humans have learned to develop, and the knowledge gained can be applied for the benefit of all. The polar regions are laboratories where new knowledge can be won, where novel modes of teamwork can be initiated, and where innovative modes of organization can be tested.

The Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research aims to advance knowledge of the earth – how its elements, forces and species interact, promote collaboration across scientific disciplines, and broaden cooperation across national boundaries. This strategy, developed in dialogue with our members, outline our priorities in the years to come.

Longyearbyen/Bodø/Trondheim/Oslo, May 2015:
Willy Østreng (president), Grete Hovelsrud (vice president), Gudmund Hernes, Ole Arve Misund Gunnar Sand

1. Mission, vision and Overall Goals

Academy mission: The Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research (NVP), founded March 27. 2008, is the world’s only scientific academy devoted to polar research, education and development. NVP has a bipolar perspective (Arctic and Antarctic), is interdisciplinary in approach, international in effort, collaborative in solution, knowledge based in contribution, and independent in work. The academy is a non-profit foundation based in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

Academy vision: Enhancing Polar Science for the Benefit of Mankind

Overall goals: The Academy shall

  • Contribute to the understanding of environmental and climate change and human activities that affect and are affected by these.
  • Contribute to communicating the knowledge of the polar regions and the people who live there to national and international governing bodies, industry and the public.
  • Promote sustainable development in the polar regions through balancing environmental protection, social equity and economic progress. The urgencies of present generations must be balanced against the needs of future generations.
  • Contribute to the development of expertise in the polar scientific community in general and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in particular.

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.

3. Strategic Priorities 2015-2020

Expand our activities:

  • Organize scientific seminars in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Bodø, Tromsø and Longyearbyen.
  • Organize scientific seminars outside of Norway, based on our international membership.
  • Convene discussions among NVP members at Arctic Circle and Arctic Frontiers conferences.
  • Make our seminars and talks available on the internet.

Strengthen our impact:

  • Engage in public debates and political processes on issues that relate to our mission.
  • Obtain membership in polar related councils and committees.
  • Establish the Academy as an independent think tank on polar issues.

Promote research and education:

  • Establish a scientific award for outstanding achievements in polar related disciplines.
  • Establish the NVP summer school as an academic flagship, in coop. with UNIS and NERSC.

Cooperate in networks:

  • Seek collaboration with other academies and academic institutions who share or complement our interests to develop larger projects than we can realize on our own.
  • Develop projects in cooperation with our institutional members in areas of shared interest.

Increase our membership:

  • Increase our membership, especially by adding international and female scientists and scientists from the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Improve the balance between the scientific disciplines.
  • Strategically recruit outstanding scientists within core polar research areas.

Improve our internal communication:

  • Strengthen our membership contact through newsletters, web sites and discussion groups.
  • Promote membership involvement in internal strategic processes.
  • Advocate the use of visiting members in conferences and seminars across the borders.

Strengthen our economic base:

  • Obtain basic funding from the Norwegian government.
  • Recruit more institutional members, Norwegian and international, who share our perspectives
  • Seek donations to fund special projects like awards, publications and summer schools.
  • Develop or capitalize on our property in Longyearbyen, Isdammen 1.

Explore the great unknowns:

In the 5-year period of this strategic plan, the Academy shall promote interdisciplinary research addressing the knowledge gaps of the Arctic Ocean, including cooperation on logistics.