We are in grave danger of handing our young people a situation that’s out of their control. But we are still in a position to avoid that.

October 18, 2016
Aile Jávo
The Saami Council

The Arctic is the world’s “canary in a coal mine”- when the canary went silent, you had to get out of the mine fast. And the “canary” of the Earth has now gone silent.

We need to put a higher level of focus on what’s happening in the Arctic, and to do that we need to accelerate the science, cooperation, and co-production of knowledge as well as sharing of knowledge in the Arctic between multiple knowledge holders. As was stated jointly in The White House Science Ministerial Statement, “we owe this legacy of cooperation to future generations”.

So what has the White House got to do with this?
The first Arctic Science Ministerial meeting took place in the White House, in September of this year. Hosted by the United States of America, it was the first of its kind and very welcome. The White House Arctic Science Ministerial (WHASM) involved many key actors such as science ministers (of course) but also the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. That provided multiple knowledge holders a great opportunity to underscore the importance of joint efforts in understanding the rapid changes that are affecting the Arctic, as well as acknowledging the many ways of knowing, and the value of that knowledge, in particular the importance of indigenous knowledge.

Why is this important? Why is it of importance to talk about the Arctic as a separate area rather than to address the climate change effects of the entire globe, as a whole? Well, that is also important. But the fact remains that the poles are special regions with different sensitive vegetation, ecosystems and nature in general. Therefore, the Arctic is affected differently than many other places on the globe. The poles are warming faster than the rest of the globe and at an unprecedented pace, and will continue to do so for many years to come. In the Arctic region, there are many people, animals and plants that are depending on that particular area and through evolution have become specialists in order to survive. We have also become extremely resilient and adapted to endure, and sometimes thrive, in the very hard conditions in the Arctic. But what happens in the Arctic unfortunately does not stay in the Arctic, and vise versa.

With these climate changes, come opportunities for many people - not only for us in the Arctic but the entire world. But, I dare say, they also bring more challenges. These challenges transcend the national borders and demand a very high level of cooperation and collaborations with everyone that possesses knowledge about the region including Indigenous peoples and scientists. Together our indigenous knowledge and modern science might increase the pace of acknowledging the signs of change and acting upon them accordingly. We might find sustainable solutions without disrupting ecosystems or disrespecting indigenous peoples´ rights or human rights in the name of mitigation and climate change. Adaptation to climate change is not simply about central planning, it also needs to be anchored in the local societies. It’s about local understanding, local ownership and the respect that only comes from the relationship with that particular land that people are depending on. It’s about local leadership. That’s sustainable science and that’s when Arctic science becomes an opportunity for the Arctic indigenous communities.

The WHASM had a vision to advance the international research efforts through an increase in collaboration on Arctic science. The joint statement recognizes that international collaboration and the inclusion of Arctic Indigenous peoples into science and decision- making, development of predictive capabilities and informed decision- and policy-making and increasing the resilience of arctic communities and ecosystems.

I believe this meeting of joint effort matters because it gives people hope. Hope that climate change is taken seriously and that we can put our differences and wrongdoings aside in order to stand together in pursuit of our common goal. A goal that we just have to reach.