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Security and governance in the globalised arctic

The Minister for Higher Education and Science Esben Lunde Larsen's speech at MatchPoint seminar ”Security and Governance in the Globalised Arctic: Nordic and International Perspectives" on Aarhus University 12 November 2015.

Dear Excelliences, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to be here with you today to discuss a very important and pertinent issue - security and governance in the globalised arctic.

My perspective on this issue today will stem from one of my political areas of responsibility; research and science.

The arctic as a political conundrum

As everybody here knows, the arctic has been an eagerly debated issue in the last decade with ever increasing intensity. And with good reason.

The arctic is deeply rooted in some of the greatest political conundrums we as a society are facing today. Like the effects of climate change on one hand, and the prospects of new carbon based resources on the other. The same carbon based resources that ironically are a major contributor to the climate changes.

With the arctic containing both the dramatic consequences of climate change and the potential resources to extend our carbon based dependency, we face a delicate situation. It’s a situation we as a globalised community must handle with respect and care.

We are forced to acknowledge that the balance we have to strike, when dealing with issues related to the arctic, is fine and very delicate.

This is mainly due to the very nature of the environment and the fragile conditions of the local communities.

The Arctic as a low tension region

There is a standing international agreement that the arctic is - and must remain - a low tension region.

We – the international community – are keepers of the North and must safeguard the fragility of the arctic and its people. That is our responsibility.

To manage this, we have a number of more or less suited tools. But if we want to deliver on our promise to keep the arctic a low tension region, we must insure that we are seeing the same thing, that we have the same understanding and that we are looking for the answers to the same questions. 

In my view, research and science become the most obvious tools to approach the arctic and the challenges embedded within it.

Science in diplomacy

With the COP21 waiting around the corner, world leaders will again convene to discuss the challenges of climate change and how to tackle them.

A cornerstone in this discussion is – or at least should be – facts. Facts based on and deriving from state of the art research.

If we as politicians are supposed to manage and develop policies that effectively steer our societies towards a future that is truly sustainable – then we must base those policies on the best available knowledge. And put it to use in a coherent and effective manner – and, maybe most importantly, with global impact.

But how do we ensure that our research is state of the art? How do we push the limits of our current knowledge? And how do we take the battle against climate change to the next level?

Science for diplomacy

Several studies have shown that the best research – that is to say research with the highest impact measured by citations – is internationally based.

International in the sense that there is co-authorship from multiple universities and research teams. This is probably not news to anyone here.

From a scientific point of view it makes perfect sense. The exchange of ideas with peers that can challenge or offer a different perspective has the potential to push researchers and science beyond good research and make it ground breaking.

But more than that – international collaboration offers the opportunity to increase our common understanding of each other – as people, as communities and as nations.

As an excellent example of scientific international collaboration the first Danish astronaut to visit The International Space Station this September commented on working together with other nationalities by saying: From space you do not see boarders on Earth.

Herein lays the diplomatic element in science that should not be neglected or scoffed off.

Science should not be a political tool and must always be governed by the ideal of excellence in science and the pursuit of scientific answers – and serve no political master in this endeavor.

International cooperation excels when approaching cross boarder challenges, using an interna-tional language and scientific methodology to move science further than any national effort could ever do.

And on a more practical level – research done in the far reaches of the world is expensive. Harnessing our resources and pulling together to-wards a common goal should all the while bring greater chances of success. Or at least make the failed attempts less expensive.

The Nordic tradition

In the Nordic region, we have been interrelated throughout history in varying degree. We have communalities in culture, language and society.

I see great potential in this, and we must seek to take advantage of this. We have a long standing tradition of collaboration within research and science.

We are currently undertaking a massive challenge of building a world leading research infrastructure in a Nordic and European setting, the European Spallation Source. It is not a problem-free undertaking by any means. But openness and trust gives an edge to any collaboration and makes it robust and sustainable.

That is a Nordic lesson that could be applied to the challenges we are facing in the arctic.

If we want the arctic region to stay low tension and we want to deliver on our promise of safe-guarding the arctic and its people we should let scientific collaboration flourish and evolve beyond national boarders and scientific fields.

We should welcome any scientific contributors into the arctic community so that we can learn from each other and strengthen our relations.

And so that we can strengthen them beyond the academic problems or the common challenge we face.

Because sharing of ideas, knowledge, data, infrastructure and other research assets is fundamental to a long term, mutually beneficial collaboration.

I am pleased that the Arctic Council is looking into the issues of international scientific collaboration in the arctic and how to strengthen it, looking cross boarder and also cross culture. I am pleased that the Scientific Cooperation Task Force should set the standard for the terms on which we secure a mutual beneficial scientific collaboration in and about the arctic.

On this note of optimism I hope you will all have a great seminar and seize the opportunities given to you to support the sustainable, peaceful development of the arctic region and its people.

Thank you.

last modified Nov 16, 2015