Canada’s backyard: The future of the Arctic region

- November 29, 2019

Attendees and participants at the Arctic Research Symposium last Wednesday. (Ernest Ng photo)
Attendees and participants at the Arctic Research Symposium last Wednesday. (Ernest Ng photo)

Dalhousie hosted an Arctic Research Symposium this past Wednesday (Nov. 20), bringing together experts from different fields to share their thoughts on the Arctic and to discuss major issues surrounding the region.

The symposium was guided by the theme of “The Arctic in 2040.” Keynote speeches from Aaron Dotson, interim vice-provost research at the University of Alaska Anchorage and a key scholar on Arctic issues, and Vanessa Hiratsuka, a senior researcher with the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, helped shape the day’s discussion on the research needs for the region as well as issues that need to be addressed as we head toward 2040.

Not as simple as yes or no

Governance and sovereignty were the focus of a mid-day panel moderated by Professor Graham Gagnon, Dal’s associate vice-president of research.

Dal’s own Aldo Chircop, Canada Research Chair in Maritime Law and Policy at the Schulich School of Law at Dal, spoke as part of the panel, bringing his perspective on domestic and international laws to the table.

With decreasing levels of sea ice in the Arctic region, the once-inaccessible region is now opening up to shipping. Dr. Chircop shared his concerns over who would govern these ships and set the laws that would control their activity in the region.

He also highlighted the importance of countries of all regions coming together to discuss this issue.

“As a matter of fact, most ships that will pass through the Arctic are registered to developing nations and not developed nations,” he said, highlighting the need for even developing nations to partake in the discussion.

Dr. Chircop also drew attention to the importance of the Arctic region to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. He stated that there was not enough involvement of Indigenous people in the bodies that make decisions on the region, decisions that could have long-lasting effects on their communitieis.

Adam Macdonald, a PhD candidate in Political Science and the deputy director of the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dal, shared his take on the geopolitical and strategic aspect of the Arctic region.

“While there is still a lot of cooperation at the moment, there is also an increased questioning on the rules and regulations of the region,” Macdonald said, adding that there is increased strategic competition between China, Russia and the United States as they vie for a foothold in the region.

Macdonald added that going into 2040, the future is not as certain as people believe it to be.

“The thinking right now is that the Arctic future is binary, either it will destabilise or the status quo will remain. While that is a possibility, I disagree that the future looks like that,” he said. He suggested that the future of the region was more of a spectrum, with the future lying somewhere between a balance of cooperation and destabilization.

The profound effects no one sees

While the media coverage talks about the politics of the region, it neglects to cover a very important part of the Arctic future: the community aspect. Dr. Chircop highlighted the serious consequences that increased shipping would have on communities living in the circumpolar regions, explaining that more sea routes through the Arctic would lead to an increased loss of sea ice which would be detrimental to the ecosystems of the Arctic as well as the communities there.

Tahnee Prior, a PhD candidate in global governance at the University of Waterloo and a 2015 Trudeau Scholar, discussed her views on the role of gender in the Arctic region and the missing conversation of gender dynamics in the area.  

“You can’t discuss sovereignty without talking about gender issues in the circumpolar region,” she said. She went on to give examples of the increased rates of suicide in males and the increased gender violence rate in the circumpolar region, emphasizing that community health was as important in the discussion on the Arctic future as regulations on shipping.
The Arctic Research Symposium was a key platform for discussion on the region, with participants walking away with a better understanding on the challenges that the region as well as what the future holds for the Arctic.


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