Report from Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø

9 February 2024

Last week, a small delegation from Umeå University participated in the annual Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway. Representatives from research, politics, business and public sectors and civil society discussed the most pressing issues in the Arctic region.

The new geopolitical climate following Russia's invasion of Ukraine particularly characterised the event, which also served as an umbrella for various side events. The cooperative organisation Arctic Five took advantage of this opportunity and thus also became a high-profile feature of the programme.

Dieter Müller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

The storm that blew across northern Norway last week was also quite noticeable in Tromsø, where a horizontal hailstorm, ice roads, rain and plus degrees prevailed. As a result, many delegates never made it to Tromsø or were severely delayed. Nevertheless, several hundred people attended, including the Prime Minister of Norway, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, several ambassadors and state secretaries from different countries. Add to this a large number of researchers and various representatives of local and regional authorities and major industrial companies.

The conference is one of the important arenas for Arctic issues and a great place to meet. For example, representatives of various research funding bodies took the opportunity to coordinate their joint Arctic research programme, which Nordforsk will present in the spring. Another interesting example is that Umeå municipality, together with thirteen other Arctic cities, presented a collaborative project. The aim is to jointly find solutions to challenges related to a northern location under the EU's Arctic Urban and Regional Cooperation (AURC) programme.

The Arctic Five, our collaboration with the universities of Oulu, Rovaniemi, Luleå and Tromsø, had also chosen Tromsø as a meeting place. We held a vice-chancellors' meeting with vice-chancellor representatives from all the participating universities and an event together with the Arctic Mayors Forum, another circumpolar municipal organisation. The vice-chancellors' meeting discussed, among other things, the security challenges that all universities in the three countries are experiencing today, educational cooperation and the joint advocacy work being done to raise research issues concerning the northern areas on the European research agenda. The vice-chancellors also decided on a new investment in Arctic Five Chairs, the Arctic Five collaborative programme that was first launched three years ago.

Our second event was held in the city's old harbour district and attracted over 60 people. The event is organised under the banner Arctic Five Extended and aims to ensure that university cooperation also includes the business and public sectors in the northern region. We are convinced that joint action will create better opportunities to capitalise on each other's strengths to achieve the best possible results for the whole region. State Secretary Maria Varteressian of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened the session, followed by three good panels on the security situation, the ongoing societal transformation and future cooperation opportunities. Umeå University provided three panellists. In addition to myself, the Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson and Paul Schmidt, doctoral student at the Department of Political Science, participated.

It can also be noted that the Arctic Five collaboration has been recognised and is often cited as a positive example in the Arctic region. Of course, there is much more to do, but we are pleased to see many different joint activities and initiatives taking place. It is also fitting that the European Polar Board (EPB), an organisation that promotes European polar research, intends to move its headquarters for the next programme period from the Netherlands to Umeå, partly to be closer to an active polar research environment. This would improve Umeå University's ability to participate in European research projects in the Arctic and Antarctic, but also to influence the direction of European polar research. We are currently exploring how we can make such an establishment possible and there is certainly a reason to tell you more about this at some point in the future.

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