Reykjavík 28. and 29.  October 2014


The Centre for Arctic Policy Studies at the University of Iceland (CAPS) is organizing a high-level seminar on Arctic issues, scheduled to take place in Reykjavik, Iceland on 28. October 2014. This is the second year that the Trans Arctic Agenda seminar is held in Reykjavík. The Centre for Arctic Policy Studies was launched at this seminar in 2013.  This year the Trans Arctic Agenda conference will focus on the governance and management of the Arctic region following the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna of 2013. Furthermore the 2014 Trans Arctic Agenda conference will create a link into two other high level Arctic conferences scheduled to take place in Iceland the same week – namely Gender equality in the Arctic (Akureyri 29-30 October) and the Arctic Circle (Reykjavík 31 October-2. November).

The background to the seminar lies in the rapid changes that climate change and increased international attention is bringing to the circumpolar Arctic region. These changes offer new opportunities for resource exploitation, human settlement and travel, but they will also disrupt the present natural conditions and living environment for all concerned in the High North. Prudent, cooperative and sustainable handling of the challenges involved will be crucial for gleaning as much as possible from the positive effects of change while minimizing the potential damage.

This year the Trans Arctic Agenda conference will focus on the governance and management of the Arctic region following the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna of 2013. The focus will not only be on the perspectives of the circumpolar states, but also on the influence of different actors, state, non-state and corporate; permanent participants; and observers. This will be achieved by looking at different perceptions and policies, how they are formed and what actors have a voice strong enough to influence policy making. This will involve examining the interplay of business development and environmental protection, emerging sub-regions and the possibilities and limitations of Arctic governance. We will offer both a retrospective and a forward-looking perspective on North American leadership in the Arctic Council with the US taking over from Canada in 2015. The conference will offer panels looking at this from different aspects, in regards to regions, sub-regions and issues.

This year the seminar will focus on the following seven themes:

1) Arctic and Foreign Policies of the Arctic States

All the eight member states of the Arctic Council have published their Arctic policies, some even their revised policies. Even though all the policies promote circumpolar cooperation, and there is every reason to be optimistic in those terms, the eight states are a diverse group. They differ in terms of size, population, perception and capacity, their status in the region and foreign policies. This panel will discuss foreign- and Arctic policies of the eight Arctic states, looking to answer questions such as what are the main priorities in the foreign policies of the states? Is the Arctic a real priority? How are arctic matters handled within each state and what actors influence the policy? How do domestic politics influence the foreign and Arctic policies?

2) Arctic Council observers, the Near-Arctic and the High North

The High North is attracting attention from all over the globe and many different actors have expressed their interest in the region and applied for observer ship in the Arctic Council. In the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna 2013 many applicants were granted such observer ship. A majority of the new observer states are Asian, which are China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore. This panel will focus first and foremost on the new Asian observer states and what their new status entails for them. What roles and responsibilities are there for observer states and how can they best influence decision-making and make sure that their voice is heard?

3) The West Nordic region

West Nordic cooperation has taken significant steps in the past few years, with the West Nordic Council establishing itself as a significant platform for West Nordic political cooperation, as well as building on more traditional cultural ties and mutual economic interests. This panel will focus on the challenges and opportunities the West Nordic region faces in the coming years such as the Arctic’s rising geo-economic and strategic importance and challenges due to climate change. Will West Nordic cooperation be successful in shaping the Arctic’s future? What constitutes the “region” and is there such a thing as West Nordic identity? Will there be a joint West Nordic Arctic strategy? Can the small West Nordic nations increase their influence on the Arctic developments through enhanced cooperation and how will it influence wider Nordic cooperation, the Arctic Council and other fora? 

4) Polar Code and Law of the Sea

The panel will address a few contemporary issues concerning the international law of the sea that is of relevance for the Arctic such as navigation, maritime boundary delimitations, the extended continental shelf and fisheries. One of the issues that will be dealt with is the Polar Code which the IMO has been developing. It is a draft mandatory International Code of safety for ships operating in polar waters, to cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles. Another issue that will be addressed is Canada’s submission of preliminary information to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf of Canada in the Arctic Ocean.

5) The balance between business developments and environmental protection in the Arctic

The Arctic is already highly globalized and influences by market forces and geopolitics have become apparent. Different actors, state, non-state and corporate have declared interest in the region or even invested in some sort of business developments. While no one owns the Arctic, it is necessary to make sure that it is governed and managed in a responsible sustainable manner, with balance between business adventures and nature preservation. This panel looks at the interplay between different actors promoting different, and sometimes not compatible, interests. Furthermore, it seeks to answer such questions as who is responsible if something goes wrong, how will the responsibility be divided between private and public actors and how can those with indirect interests voice their concerns to make sure their interests are taken account off?

6) Gender and mobility

Whether driven by the acquisition of routes, markets, territory and natural resources or the pursuit of social capital within new communities, mobility is a crucial factor in Arctic self-awareness and identification and provides an important component of what might be called globalization ‘from below.’  The issue is of growing importance considering both the movements that may be forced by climate change, and the expected influx of people and resources into the region in the foreseeable future. Workforces for large-scale projects will form a significant part of this, but no less important are the professional and creative classes who are influential in structuring and sustaining the region both socio-economically and culturally.

The seventh panel will be held at the Arctic Circle.

7) North American leadership in the Arctic Council

This panel focuses on the North American leadership in the Arctic Council. First of all it looks at Canada’s leadership, that is coming to its end and secondly it discusses what to expect from the US leadership, starting in 2015. The Canadian and US priorities will be explored as well as their Arctic awareness. The aim is to shed light on issues such as differences in leadership style, arctic identity and approaches to intergovernmental cooperation and policy priorities. In order to look at these subjects in a broad perspective exploring different angels this panel will include both academic speakers and officials.