The conference was structured around the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the three pillars of sustainable development: environment, economy and society, according to Fletcher Arctic VII Co-Chairs Krittika Singh and Tom Carugati, both second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy students.
“The sustainable development goals are back in fashion and are being applied to … the development of the Arctic," Singh said.
Paul Arthur Berkman, professor of practice in science diplomacy at The Fletcher School, also focused on the long-term trends and consequences of actions in the Arctic.
“If we look at sustainability as a concept, whether it’s maximum sustainability yield … or our common journey as the United Nations, in every case, there is the concept of generations,” Berkman said. “The challenge we face as a civilization is one across generations, and just in terms of the young students in the room … the challenge is clearly operating across the 21st century.”
Berkman also emphasized that climate change is changing the boundaries of the Arctic Ocean and its composition. “The Arctic Ocean is fundamentally different now ... [it's] a new Arctic Ocean,” he said.
The first panel, titled "Sustainable Development Goals in an Arctic Setting,” was sponsored by the Tufts Institute of the Environment and moderated by Bill Moomaw, professor emeritus at The Fletcher School. The panel examined the UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as their implications and execution in the Arctic. The panel was a conversation between Moomaw and Dwayne Menezes, director of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative in London.
According to Moomaw, it is important to be aware of the unstable conditions of the Arctic, and thus be flexible in policy implementation and sustainability goals. Many companies are looking to extract resources and conduct further research in the Arctic, but it is important to be prudent and figure out how to be sustainable outside the Arctic first, he said.
“Investing a trillion dollars there [in the Arctic] may well lead to a trillion dollars of damage to the Arctic,” Moomaw said.
Moomaw proposed that in order to mitigate the Arctic’s unstable, unpredictable conditions, there must be more communication with the peoples of the Arctic.
“We must first consult with peoples of the region as well as governments to create mutual gains agreements,” he said. “They must own their future.”
The panel then outlined the challenges the international community faces in order to accomplish successful, stable development in the Arctic.
“The first challenge is how do we translate local, regional, national and international goals … so… [that they] can be aligned at different levels,” Menezes added.
A second panel, “Science Cooperation in the Arctic,” co-sponsored by Center for Science Diplomacy and the Russia and Eurasia Program at The Fletcher School, focused further on what science diplomacy would look like in the Arctic. The panel consisted of Berkman; Moomaw; Alexander Vylegzhanin, head of the Department of International Law at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations; Noor Johnson, a research scientist at the Science Diplomacy Center at Fletcher; and Oran Young, distinguished professor emeritus at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The panel spoke specifically about the necessary co-operation between the Arctic's indigenous peoples and the scientific community.
“[Science] is the process of trial and error, basically," Moomaw said. "We have to be aware of our own biases and our cultural biases, more than our science biases."
“Researchers continue to cause harm when they come into Northern communities' context and don’t follow practices of consultation and engagement,” Johnson said.
A key concern in science diplomacy is the successful integration of and involvement of indigenous communities to improve data design, collection and research protocol, according to Johnson.
“One of the concerns is a lack of meaningful engagement … communities are not informed about research,” Johnson said.
Moomaw expanded on Johnson's point about a disconnect between communities and scientists.
“[Indigenous people in the Arctic] are ready for the long haul. Our businesses are ready for the next quarter. There’s a huge mismatch," Moomaw said.
Young highlighted the need to better organize communication between these two communities.
“I think it requires an ongoing and well-organized effort on the part of both the [Arctic] community and the science community to work together and solve these problems,” he said.
Moomaw lastly emphasized the importance of time in scientific exploration and discovery in the Arctic.
“We need to take time to understand the timing of climate change with respect to whatever we decide to do,” Moomaw said. “The question is: Can we temper [exploitation of the Arctic], so we don’t commit ourselves to a process in which there is no immediate reverse gear?”