Addressing Global Challenges Through Science Partnerships

October 19, 2016
David J. Scott, PhD
Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR)

The Government of Canada has set out an ambitious agenda. It includes addressing climate change and renewing Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. In March 2016, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Washington to discuss issues of shared interest, including energy development, environmental protection, and Arctic leadership. At the close of this historic meeting the U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership was released, outlining a new path forward on bilateral cooperation between our two countries.

Never before has the importance of public policy and science diplomacy been clearer to me than in my current position as President of Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR). As a new federal agency, POLAR strives to be on the cutting edge of Arctic science and to achieve this goal we need to be well-positioned internationally as a leader in science and technology and knowledge mobilization. POLAR also has an Antarctic mandate, under which we are exploring opportunities to strengthen Canadian research activities to increase understanding of the Antarctic – a region directly connected to global ocean and climate systems.

It is for these reasons that I was pleased to accompany Canada’s Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, to the recent U.S. hosted Arctic Science Ministerial in Washington, D.C. At this meeting, Canada sought to enhance international collaboration on Arctic science and explore new ways to broaden and deepen our shared efforts on issues related to observations and data-sharing, resilience of Northern communities and peoples, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The Ministerial drew upon the strong foundation of existing and ongoing initiatives among federal departments as well as territorial governments in advancing Arctic science. Canada stressed the need to work in partnership with Northern communities and Indigenous peoples to set the Arctic research agenda and to respectfully include Indigenous science and traditional knowledge. Finally, Canada worked to ensure that outcomes of this Ministerial complemented our existing collaborations, including through organizations like the Arctic Council.

International partnerships, like those created at the Arctic Science Ministerial, can also help POLAR to advance our four science and technology priorities: (1) developing alternative and renewable energy for the North; (2) increasing baseline information to prepare for northern sustainability; (3) predicting the impacts of changing ice, permafrost, and snow on shipping, infrastructure and communities; and (4) catalysing improved design, construction, and maintenance of northern built infrastructure. No one country has the resources to address all of the research gaps in the Arctic, so by working through domestic and international partnerships, we can collectively contribute to a better understanding.

Underpinning our mandate is the need to work with northerners and Indigenous peoples, both in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, where POLAR will eventually be headquartered, and across Canada’s North. The Canadian High Arctic Research Station campus (CHARS) will attract world-class researchers to Canada’s Arctic and will allow for direct interactions between scientists and Northern communities. The immediate impact of this is the opportunity to demonstrate how combining science and traditional knowledge is necessary to address complex issues at the local and global level.

A view of CHARS
A view of the new CHARS facility at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

At POLAR, we understand the value of science and research as a tool to help improve the health and well-being of Northerners, in particular Indigenous peoples. That’s why POLAR is supporting projects that incorporate a variety of elements, including science, outreach, and traditional knowledge. POLAR recently provided over $95,000 to the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization (EHTO) of Cambridge Bay who partnered with University of Laval and Trailmark Systems Inc. to document the community’s knowledge of Arctic char . As part of this project, an elder-youth camp and training workshop were held to facilitate educational exchanges.

An elder-youth camp and training workshop supporting Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit of Arctic char project.
An elder-youth camp and training workshop supporting the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit of Arctic char project.

We are also increasing interest in STEM education among Northern youth, including through the efforts of organizations, like Actua, that deliver innovative science camps and workshops in remote Northern communities across Canada. POLAR recently committed to provide three years of funding to support Actua’s Northern programs, which will help inspire a future generation of STEM students and leaders.

Looking ahead, POLAR will continue to build domestic and international partnerships with Indigenous peoples, scientists, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to further advance the outcomes of the Arctic Science Ministerial and support efforts to broaden our collective understanding of the polar regions.