Toronto hosted the thirteenth annual Transatlantic Science Week (TSW) at MaRS and Hart House on October 27–29. This was the second time that the conference has been in Canada. Toronto was flooded with major stakeholders from three countries — Canada, Norway, and the United States — with the purpose of collaborating on challenges and opportunity in the Arctic. Both Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, the Norwegian Minister of Education and Research, and Dilek Ayhan from the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries were in attendance.
“International cooperation and higher education and research should be intertwined,” said Isaksen during his welcome remarks at the conference opening session on Monday morning, which was moderated by U of T professor Dr. John English of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. During his speech, Isaksen stressed the importance of collaboration regarding the Arctic, and discussed how the problems concerning the region are no longer distant.
“It’s a matter of very profound global challenges,” he explained, “For example, we face a paradox: global warming is bad news for all of us; at the same time, the melting of ice caps opens up new commercial opportunities. Thus, the Arctic is in a strong position to make the most of these opportunities and to find the right solutions.”
Isaksen continued to lay emphasis on the importance of research and sharing knowledge — not just for the countries of the region, but on a global scale as well. “The Arctic is a barometer of global climate change. That is why research done here is crucial [to] understand changes that are taking place in other parts of the world,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Isaksen made it clear that he held high hopes for the conference and for the future. “I’m ambitious on behalf of our facilities to find innovative solutions to the climate challenge,” he said during his closing remarks. He added, “I’m confident that we will find solutions to make the most of opportunities like the ones we see in the Arctic.”
Representatives from the Norwegian ministries were not the only speakers at the conference who expressed their dedication to strengthening collaboration. Fran Ulmer, who was appointed chair of the US Arctic Research Commission by President Obama, was present for the opening plenary session as a keynote speaker.
Ulmer addressed the fact that next year, the chairmanship of the Arctic Council — which is currently held by Canada — will be assumed by the United States. She emphasized that the hopes of the US Arctic Research Commission, like those of the Norwegian government, lie with institutions of higher education.
“We have many shared circumstances, shared interests, shared capacities, and shared resources,” said Ulmer, referring to the three counties present. She continued, “Shared, yes — because we all have a part of the Arctic. Shared because we all have a system of public education that recognizes the importance of empowering younger generations to solve problems, not only in their own personal lives and communities but in their countries and the world.”
Ulmer went on to explain that, although there has always been change in climate, it is the rate of change in the Arctic that is alarming. She proposed that this is something that will continually need to be addressed among the engineers, construction companies, planners, and decision-makers who are seeking to build new business and economic enterprises in the harsh environment of the Arctic.
“How do our universities, who are educating the next generation of engineers and planners, sufficiently accommodate this rate of change in business practices, to actually prepare those young men and women to be as adaptive as they need to be in the next coming decade?” she asked, adding, “These are challenges that we all share.”
National Inuit leader Terry Audla, who is the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, also addressed Canada’s interests. Audla’s speech served as a powerful reminder that research institutions are not the only resource that we have in meeting our Arctic and climate change difficulties. “Inuit experience the ongoing changes in the Arctic first-hand, and we know that much of what we are now seeing in our homeland was not originally there.”
Audla added, “It is an important reminder that Inuit are the only players who have the advantage of holding a rich ancestral wisdom that allowed us to thrive for thousands of years in one of the harshest climates on the planet,” he said.
Audla’s speech drew attention to the fact that Canada’s collaborative interests on the Arctic reach far beyond the walls of our academic institutions. “Inuit are not, and nor do we want to be, simply observers in a changing world. Inuit have a vision for our homeland, and we will continue to be active, adaptive players in this modern world,” he said.
Although two days is a short time, the message from every representative present at the conference rang loud and clear. All three nations hold our existing bonds and partnerships in high esteem, but when it comes to studying our northernmost regions, there is always room to strengthen and improve communication, so that action is taken in the most effective and sustainable manner possible by all parties involved.