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Arctic Resilience Forum tackles issues facing the North


The 2020 Arctic Resilience Forum is officially under way.

Over the next three months, participants around the circumpolar north will tune in to weekly presentations from experts on issues like renewable energy, broadband connectivity, and human health during pandemics.

Many topics are longstanding Arctic issues exacerbated by Covid-19, said Jennifer Spence, executive secretary of the Arctic Council’s sustainable development working group, which is organizing the forum with Harvard University’s Belfer Center.

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Spence said the pandemic had highlighted the North’s vulnerability in areas like food security and infrastructure.

The forum will discuss those challenges but also highlight “innovations in the Arctic context,” she said.

The forum was first held two years ago, in Finland, after the release of the Arctic Resilience Action Framework – a paper designed to foster international collaboration in adapting to changes in the Arctic.

The event would have taken place in Iceland this year but was cancelled and moved online.

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“It’s a difficult time,” Spence said. “There’s a lot of things you can focus on in the negative.

“Empowering the different experts and knowledge-holders to really consider what their advice would be when you have that opportunity, and to sort of look at it in a really constructive way… I think it can be quite powerful.”

Notes from each session will be distilled and compiled into documents, with calls to action, to be presented to the Arctic Council for further discussion.

‘Passion for taking back leadership’

Devlin Fernandes is the executive director of the Gwich’in Council International, which helped to organize several of this year’s sessions, including Indigenous Youth Leadership (which took place on October 7) and Indigenous and Western Knowledge Systems, happening in December.

To Fernandes, resilience is “the ability for systems to bounce back and for systems to respond and adapt to what is happening in them.”

With the North warming three times faster than the rest of the world, Fernandes said, resilience is more important than ever – and the Arctic has long been a leader in that realm.

“The people and communities in the Arctic have been surviving and thriving for centuries,” she said. “Given the changes and challenges that have been thrown at them – whether that be previous pandemics, changing ice conditions, climate, colonialization, migration – there continue to be people, communities, culture, rich practices.

“I think the Arctic is an example of resilience because there continue to exist knowledge systems on these very important ecosystems, and these systems, that we can learn from today.”

Fernandes cites the example of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation’s solar farm project in Old Crow, Yukon.

The solar farm, a project since 2018, will help the community move away from diesel and reduce the need for fuel to be flown in.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm will present on the project during the coming week’s forum session on renewable energy.

“[There is] a resurgence of passion for taking back leadership,” Fernandes said.

“Where we are seeing these rapid changes is also where we can look to how the people, communities, and ecosystems are responding.”

Both Spence and Fernandes said participation and interest in the forum so far has been “outstanding,” surpassing their expectations.

For those who can’t tune in live, Spence said, sessions are being recorded and will be shared on the working group’s website.

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