On the 8th of March 2021, Scotland-based researchers from a range of institutions and networks, met online to discuss sustainable economic growth, including through sustainable use of the ocean resources, in the Arctic. The theme of this networking meeting was Sustainable and Economic Growth and the Blue Economy with a focus on exploring how to enhance collaboration between Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations in Scotland-Arctic research.
This event was the seventh 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 within the fields of sustainable economic development and the blue economy and proceeded to an open discussion with attendees to explore future opportunities for meaningful engagement in Scotland and Arctic contexts. A recording of the event is available online – 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).
Dr Hannah Grist, Knowledge Exchange and Communications Manager at the Scottish Associate from Marine Science (SAMS) at the University of the Highlands and Islands chaired the event and opened by highlighting that sustainability is at the heart of many conversations happening today about the kind of country we want to be and the kind of world we want to leave behind. Dr Grist goes on to observe that there are many models of how this can relate to economic management, but fundamentally, economic development cannot come at the cost of people or the environment. Creating a just and economically resilient society that works for people and the environment is a complex question to address. For Dr Grist, some potential answers come from how we recognise and account for environmental benefits and capital. Dr Grist highlights that SAMS has been working for over a century, researching our marine environment for our society and economy. In this time, there has been a shift from the view of the marine environment as a resource to be exploited to a better understanding of the ocean as a complex ecosystem. The idea of the blue economy is to bring this view of the marine environment and the sustainable use of the ocean, into alignment and to ensure environmental protection. As an island, Scotland has had a strong maritime history and in recognition of this, the Scottish government has committed to creating a new blue economy action plan. More broadly, the government strategy highlights four key priorities for supporting sustainable economic growth in Scotland. Whether that is blue or green. These include fostering a culture of innovation research and promoting Scotland’s international influence and networks, both of which are incredible relevant to this event’s discussions. Dr Grist highlights that Scotland is facing many similar challenges to nations in the Arctic. Particularly in relation to the economy. These include, the inclusion of rural economies, just and sustainable development, cultural and economic resilience in the face of a changing world and challenges and opportunities relating to ocean travel, fishing, extraction, and tourism. As such, there are considerable benefits of strengthening Scotland’s links with our Arctic neighbours. There will be benefits for research and for society across all nations.
Dr Francesco Sindico, Reader in International Environmental Law at the University of Strathclyde, opened by outlining a recent project collaboration with Islands Innovation and the Institute of Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. This project is a Covid-19 insight series which is mapping the efforts of islands coming out of a pandemic in a more resilient and sustainable way. Dr Sindico highlights that this project started out in reaction to the Covid-19 emergency and is now moving towards reflecting on a post Covid-19 world and trying to work out how that can be achieved in a sustainable and resilient way. Whilst there is no silver lining of Covid-19, Dr Sindico observes that it has forced everyone to stop and think and has provided a learning platform and opportunity to reflect. From this, the Islands Insights Series was created and involves collaboration from 24 islands around the world. The project aims to explore three questions:
- How has Covid-19 happened or impacted their island?
- What were the socio-economic sectors that were hit the hardest and which have proven to be more resilient?
- What are the island’s recovery plans and how could these plans be considered more sustainable and resilient?
The overall goal of the project is to work with island communities and develop policy briefs on issues thar are relevant to them. The project will co-produce with these communities. Dr Sindico provides some examples from the project including Shetland, commenting that there has been great resilience due to its diversified economy that was able to provide a buffer from the impacts of Covid-19. Dr Sindico underlines the importance of a bottom up process that the public is involved in in a meaningful way and comments on the role of the Sustainable Development Goals. The practical role and application of the Sustainable Development Goals are not always clear in these contexts.
Dr David Watts, Research Fellow at the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen, presented some of their research that involved the Scottish Environment, Food, and Agricultural Research Institutes (SEFARI). The SEFARI were interested in Scotland’s new policy focus looking towards the Arctic. There was a specific interest in working together with Arctic partners, a focus on community regeneration in rural areas and islands, as well as sustainable development. In this project, Dr Watts focused on exploring Scotland’s highlands and islands as a food producing region and to reflected on how sustainable economic development could be reflected, particularly through clusters of innovative food and drink enterprises. This related to work carried out throughout the Arctic region that are explored the Arctic as a food producing region, exploring the Arctic Food Innovation Cluster (AFIC). What was found was that the blue economy was important but there was also a large number of livestock, dairy, and horticultural production too. Following this, a collaborative network was established, to create opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation in the food and drink industry. Dr Watts also conducted similar research in Scotland and explored the spatial concentrations in Scotland’s blue economy with a focus on the highlands and islands. In terms of concentrations of clusters, fishing was featured heavily, especially in the Shetlands. Scottish whisky was another cluster. Scottish whisky is famous all over the world. But most of the high value head quarter functions take place outside of Scotland. Dr Watts comments that there is an argument here as to whether these concentrated areas can really count as clustered. This raised questions regarding the effectiveness of clustering as a tool for economic development and led to exploring clustering in a more innovative way. Dr Watts commented on the report “Food Innovation in Canada’s North” suggesting that there are opportunities to think more broadly, not just in terms of clustering, but to also consider social enterprises and not only commercial enterprises. Dr Watts concludes by highlighting the importance of community buy in from the start with bottom up research projects as there can be local resistance or reluctance for development without buy-in.
Heidi Vironen, Senior Knowledge Exchange and Research Fellow at the European Policies Research Centre based at the University of Strathclyde, gave an overview of the work that the European Policies Research Centre (EPRC) focuses on. The EPRC was founded in 1978 and specialises on research on comparative policy with a focus on regional and local development policies across Europe. The work covers a lot of areas from the impact of Covid-19 on local and regional economies, as well as climate measures at a local and regional level, demographic development, or citizens engagement or anything that has a territorial focus. The research has a strong emphasis on applied research and knowledge exchange and the EPRC is very active in terms of international collaboration and networking, with over 60 institutional partners throughout Europe. Within the Arctic regions, there has been collaboration with partners for over two decades and Heidi Vironen comments that these networks continue to be very active. For example, the two main and longest running policy research programmes include members from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Last year, the centre collaborated with researchers from the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Finland where a Transnational project submission was prepared that focused on the theme of Just Transition and low carbon economies in European Peripheral Regions. Heidi Vironen then moved on to highlight that since the Arctic Conference in 2014 in Glasgow, the EPRC has been involved in research with an Arctic dimension. Most of this work has been in relation to the EU Northern Periphery and the Arctic (NPA) programme. Looking to the future, the Centre is excited that Strathclyde University has decided to apply to become a member of the UArctic. The kind of work that the EPRC is broad but allows them to see the inter-relationships across the different sectors and provide a holistic picture of development issues. The EPRC is particularly interested in the territorial development in the wider Arctic neighbourhood, for example, local capacities. To conclude, the EPRC is very interested in working with colleagues across Scotland and the Arctic who are working on Arctic and Scotland research and the team at EPRC are available and happy to have any follow up discussions.
Professor Brooks Kaiser, lead of UArctic Thematic Network on Global Ecological and Economic Connections in Arctic and Sub-Arctic Crab Fisheries from the University of Denmark, spoke on Arctic marine resources and the evolution of a pan-Arctic research agenda. Professor Kaiser is particularly interested in how humans use resources and how those resources are connected in a resource economic framework. Professor Kaiser drew attention to the industrial pillars in the Arctic which are oil and gas, tourism, shipping, and fishing, and raised questions on how these pillars fit together, who the decision makers are, and who the people who are impacted by those resources, as well as explore how they all interact as a system and how the ecology react and interact within them. Professor Kaiser observes that a lot of research on these pillars is happening in isolation, but there should me a greater focus on how they connect and what conflicts arise from them. Their current research is looking at two crab species, which are invasive and new to the Arctic area but have become part of the landscape in complex ways. For example, there are questions on the impact on fishing i.e. how the crabs interact with Cod, and questions for what these invasive species mean for tourism i.e. the Red King Crab is a new delicacy on the tourism front and there are kind crab safaris now. The crab is also enjoyed in many countries across Asia. These two seemingly disparate stories are deeply intertwined. Professor Kaiser then went on to provide details on how the new thematic network within the UArctic was formed called Global Ecological and Economic Connections in Arctic and sub-Arctic Crab Markets. This pulled together members from the producing countries and the main consuming countries of these crabs to look at these ongoing questions. The network has exploratory funds from UArctic, Danish Ministry for Higher Education and Science, Nordic Council. The network hopes to achieve:
- Being able to think about community well-being in this multidimensional framework with trade-offs.
- Understand new ways of knowing and how this can contribute to monitoring, resource use, definitions of abundance etc.
- Building sustainable development pathways.
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, 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:
Barriers and weaknesses
- Those that do not have access to technology cannot always be reached.
- Stakeholder and community engagement fatigue is a concern. Highlights the need for collaborative research when engaging with stakeholders and communities.
- Community engagement sometimes seen as a tick box exercise. Many don’t feel like their voices are heard or that any actions were informed by your participation.
- Arctic is different across the regions. Challenge to create research that is policy relevant within these multiple dimensions of understanding what sustainable economic growth is within these different contexts. Scale and who and what you are defining the sustainability for really matters.
- Challenges around what the environmental impacts are of aquaculture.
- Careful of words like degrowth for much of the Arctic, especially for the smaller communities where quite a lot of what people have for wellbeing is not a market commodity already. So, degrowth places them in this market system that they are not 100% engaged in.
- Now that the UK has left the EU, Arctic partners are disappointed and concerned that there might not be Scottish based input in future research, highlighted that there are clear strengths in Scotland that other partners are seeing as important. There are strengths that are very recognisable by Arctic partners.
Opportunities and strengths
- Opportunity to connect social sciences with the deep silos of natural science to put together what they the natural sciences are learning about climate change with how that will impact the humans who rely on the resources in the area.
- Need to create new opportunities to build these bridges to connect, in terms of projects and joint initiatives. This is an important opportunity for Scottish Polar research.
- Having local buy in / engagement from communities is really important for the success and development of projects. Co-design and co-production is really important when working in island or remote communities.
- Opportunities for research into how to conduct bottom up research effectively.
- Opportunity to further define well-being in these contexts.
- UHI has shown how to reach and work with remote communities and islands via online platform. Perhaps opportunities for this type of Hybrid learning to engage with Arctic institutions and research centres.
- There are strong resource economists in Scotland with ties in Arctic countries, particularly Norway. Connections in fisheries and energy from University of Stirling and University of Edinburgh.
- Value in long term collaboration in terms of building impact.
- Future research into what makes economic growth sustainable in practice.