On 22nd February 2021, Scotland-based researchers from social science, humanities, and multidisciplinary backgrounds met online to discuss the social impacts and justice implications of climate change and climate action in the Arctic, and how to enhance collaboration between Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations in Scotland-Arctic research.
This event was the first event in a network series titled “Scotland’s Role and Contribution in a Changing Arctic Environment” supported by the Scottish Government through the Nordic and Arctic Unit Directorate for External Affairs. These network events intend to lay the foundation for consolidating Scottish expertise on Arctic matters and build an interdisciplinary network for more consistent involvement of Scottish institutions in Arctic research and international forums.
This event featured a great line-up of speakers to showcase some interesting Scotland-Arctic research on climate justice and just transition and proceeded to an open discussion with attendees to explore how we might advance Scotland-Arctic research. A recording of the event is available online – click here. If you attended the session, or watched the recording, and wanted to contribute further thoughts and join a dedicated Scotland-Arctic mailing list, you can by filling out this survey – click here. There will also be two consolidation events to reflect on this network series and start the initial steps towards a Scotland-wide Arctic research network on the 15th (click here) and 17th March (click here).
Below is a summary of key remarks and contributions.
Professor Tahseen Jafry, Director of the Centre for Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University, and Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Climate Justice, opened the event as Chair with a poignant observation that the Arctic is undergoing significant physical changes, with shrinking sea ice driving ecological changes, and this will have grave social consequences, particularly for Arctic communities that have already suffered greatly in recent generations and face yet more challenges to their very existence. As the Arctic’s closest neighbour, Scotland has similar interests and much to offer in terms of fostering educational links and multidisciplinary expertise on these environmental and climate-related challenges.
Professor Volker Roeben, Professor of Energy Law and International Law and Global regulation at the University of Dundee, observed that the Arctic is a key ground of international cooperation on climate change. Most research in the Arctic has focused on the environmental impacts, but Professor Roeben highlights that the Human Rights perspective offers another approach. There are numerous areas where concrete action through this approach and international cooperation can be taken, namely green energy solutions (of which Scotland has emerged as leader in delivering for remote communities), just transition away from use of black carbon in domestic cooking and heating practices, oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, the opening up of the North East passage to trade flow and, subsequent, environmental pressures, and further international cooperation for legal certainly on jurisdictional lines.
Dr Daria Shapovalova, Lecturer in Energy Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Energy Law at University of Aberdeen, spoke on a just transition and fossil fuel phase-out in the Arctic. Dr Shapovalova observed the Arctic is by no means a homogenous region. The region is very diverse with a variety of cultures, legal frameworks and socioeconomic circumstances that need to be taken into consideration when discuss the role of the Arctic communities in energy transitions. While Arctic warms at a higher rate than the rest of the world, it is also a place where fossil fuel development is going ahead. Many Arctic communities rely on the fossil fuel industry for local development, as well as fuels for their own needs. The legal framework for just transition in the North is fragmented and underdeveloped. However, there is potential for collaboration and exchange between Scotland and the Arctic States given Scotland’s expertise in powering island and remote communities. There is excellent research in Scottish universities, not only in law but in engineering and social sciences, as well.
Dr Tavis Potts, Director of the Centre for Energy Transition and Reader in Environmental Geography at University of Aberdeen, spoke of the need to focus on engaging and teaching science students from biology, physical science and engineer backgrounds to highlight the importance of interdisciplinary work considering cultural, political and social issues. In particular, Dr Potts remarked that participation is the engine room of a just transition. Appropriately designed participatory processes can address issues around distributional, procedural and recognition justice. Climate change will affect people and places unevenly and is likely to lead to inequalities. Participation shifts the focus from homogenous large scale technical or market solutions to more nuanced socio-cultural complexity. Participation is about trust and is inherently local but scales up to advance climate justice. Power should be invested into participatory processes.
Dr Sennan D. Mattar, Researcher at the Centre for Climate Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), gave an overview of the goals of the recently established UArctic Thematic Network on Climate Justice in the Arctic to facilitate and enhance interdisciplinary research, and establish a programme of educational exchanges on climate justice. GCU through the years has established educational partnerships with Arctic, such as the Centre’s Scottish Arctic Policy Mapping Report, that paved the way for the GCU joining the University of the Arctic (UArctic). An outcome of this Scotland-Arctic research was the incorporation of climate justice in Scotland’s Arctic policy framework. Based on a recent paper, Dr Mattar outlined key debates and a vision for a climate justice research agenda in the Arctic that Scottish institution might contribute to; participatory research, energy justice, physical and mental health, loss of cultural land, security and governance, litigation and human rights, traditional knowledge, the legacies of colonialism, and critical studies on power dynamics of ‘who’ studies the Arctic and the ‘studied’.
Numerous Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations were represented in the meeting: University of Dundee, University of Stirling, Strathclyde University, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Aberdeen, University of Highlands and Islands, University of Edinburgh, University of St Andrews, and Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). We were also joined by researchers from various UArctic affiliated institutions and interested members of the public and civil society.
Attendees discussed opportunities and barriers to Scotland-Arctic research, the potential benefit of this research to people in Scotland and the Arctic, and strengths and weaknesses of Scottish research in the Arctic. Below is a summary of responses:
Opportunities and strengths
- Scotland has a great history of movements on social justice in general and research
- Scottish institutions can draw on the experience of the Just Transition Commission when collaborating with Arctic partners
- There is a strong institutional expertise in Scotland on community energy and involvement
- The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of working and living together – and this is a natural framing and justification for Scotland to enter Arctic research
- Scottish institutions can learn from Arctic on the way universities there collaborate and upscale what Scotland is doing. A Scotland-wide network would go a long way to achieve this
- Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that communicating remotely is less complicated than many people thought, and this is an opportunity for COP to engage local communities in climate discussions more than has ever been done before
- There is an opportunity to rethink how researchers reach out to local communities
- Arctic Council has tried to facilitate international links in Arctic research, particularly concerning the difficulty of issuing visas to researchers (particularly Russian researchers).
- There has been a Darwinian leapt forward in using online technology in research, as well as other methods of doing interviews i.e. walking interviews outside
- It was observed that the Arctic is mostly sea and Scotland, also a marine nation, can draw on this similarity when approaching Arctic partners
- Interconnectivity is a crucial element of identity for Highlands and Island communities, and it should be recognised the sea connects us and is also important for Arctic communities
- In particular, the impact of climate change on biodiversity and fish stocks affects communities in Scotland and Arctic
- Participatory research has become incredibly important to develop strong partnerships with local communities and researchers
- Greater involve of communities in research is an opportunity for a strong community voice to emerge from research and influence policymaking
- A clear actionable opportunity that should be supported is the translation of research into local languages and published in accessible media so that communities can benefit from research.
- There is an opportunity and need to engage more interdisciplinary, particularly between legal scholars and social science researchers, to enable greater cooperation between Scottish institutions and address silo research.
- Researchers should challenge conventional criteria for assessing research quality in terms where it gets published, particularly just transition and climate justice research should make sure research is actionable by community.
- UArctic is a great platform for Scottish institution to engage and disseminate research with Arctic partners and communities, particularly creation of case studies and translation services.
- This is lesson for Scottish institutions on the need to allocate resources and apply for funding to be create short policy documents, and translate material in local languages, to ensure research complies with REF and is meaningful to communities.
Barriers and weaknesses
- The coronavirus pandemic has halted travel and fieldwork
- Ethnographic work has adapted to use online technology, but there is a fear not being able to visit places and communities will make it impossible to maintain long-term engagement
- Lack of access to affordable internet or phone service is a known challenge for remote and rural communities, so it undermines the ability of communities to engage in this online environment.
- Research may shift to rely on civil society organisations (CSOs) to act as community representatives, but it will not be possible to validate the representativeness of CSOs with communities.
- In addition, many indigenous approaches to social and environmental issues require individual contact that is currently not possible.
- Research fatigue among communities, in Greenland and Canada for example, has been observed
- The ability of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) to visit and conduct research in the Arctic is prohibitively expensive
- Recognised need to be bridge gaps between environmental and social sciences researchers, as well as communities, businesses, and policymakers.
- One major weakness of Scottish institutions is that research time is constrained due to resources, compared to Arctic institutions.
- Many of these resource challenges originate from Scottish institutions being part of the UK system and the gutting of resources for the sector
- Scottish institution can learn from the long-term perspective by Arctic institutions and communities. The Arctic is something to be preserved for future generations, but Scotland and many in the West are very much focused on short-term thinking. We can learn from Arctic Indigenous people, in particular, the need to focus on future generations.