Is an Arctic Treaty Near the Horizon? Reflections from the Science Diplomacy Workshop


On September 18, 2020, the National Science Policy Network (NSPN)’s Science Diplomacy Committee hosted a webinar on Arctic diplomacy. Four speakers representing stakeholders from around the world joined NSPN members to discuss how the changing Arctic environment could lead to an Arctic Gold Rush. While this could cause states to compete against one another to exploit resources, there is also an opportunity to prioritize environmental and indigenous needs if a cooperative approach to Arctic governance is adopted.

Diplomacy Committee members Ankita Arora, Tim Steeves, Iam Gaieck, Alessandra Zimmerman, and Anna Dye facilitated the breakout sessions and reflect on the event.


Our guests were Dr. Stefan Kirchner (Arctic Law at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland), Dr. Melania Guerra (Climate Governance at the University for Peace, a negotiator for Costa Rica before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), Katherine Weingartner (The U.S. Navy as an Undersea Warfare Analyst) and moderator Dr. Melody B Burkins (Associate Director for Programs and Research in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth). Each shared their insights into the changing Arctic climate conditions that have led to increased use of the waterways and calls for an “International Order of the Arctic”. Below, we take a dive into what each speaker touched upon and the discussions that took place in each breakout session with the participants.


Dr. Stefan Kirchner provided an excellent overview of Arctic Governance, the Arctic Council, and existing International Law landscapes. Increasing temperatures and melting sea ice brings new opportunities in the Arctic such as hydrocarbon extraction, cargo shipping and tourism. Given this increased interest, it will be necessary to set up regional seas agreements for the Arctic Ocean. Further, he recommended strengthening existing laws with the Arctic Council as central to the process.

In the breakout room, the discussion on Arctic governance continued, where it was emphasised that cooperation amongst the nations in the region is the need of the hour. As a case study, we analyzed Russia’s more colonial approach, which is motivated by a mix of factors such as, natural resources (mining, gas and oil), the cruise industry & tourism, the military, and the hunting and fisheries industry. The room concluded that the future lies in finding a balance between competing interests and ensuring that the International laws developed are based upon the principles of equity and inclusion for all, especially the indigenous populations.


Dr. Melania Guerra explored the important topic of ocean governance in the polar regions. She contrasted the two polar regions - the Arctic, comprising the 8 coastal countries, and Antarctica, which is surrounded by ocean and has no indigenous population. While both the polar regions suffer from the same threat of climate change - these stark differences call for different governance strategies in each region. The highlight of the talk was hearing the healthy sounds of the endemic species that inhabit the Arctic including bearded seals, beluga whales and walruses!

In the breakout room, discussion surrounded how Melania pivoted to science diplomacy and how Costa Rican science diplomats have helped work on the Paris Agreements. She emphasized that the role of mentors is pivotal to success and to go take the leap which felt like a huge risk. “My fellowship at the UN was one of the best training opportunities that I had, I definitely recommend you seek out opportunities that allow you to practice directly in your field.” Her advice to ECRs interested in Science Diplomacy is that “Don’t go back to school, find a way to practice your science in a political environment and build your experience from both worlds”


Katherine Weingartner discussed climate change and how it impacts Arctic resilience at multiple levels - individual, local, national, bi-lateral and international. At the individual level, measures to provide additional resources to cope and adapt with the changing environment is the need of the hour. To avoid conflicts between stakeholders and interests, an increased effort to promote collaborative, science-based Arctic policy making is required. Adaptation to climate change via engaging various actors interested in the region is the building block to resiliency in the Arctic at the International level.

In the breakout, participants discussed how there are a lot of beginner-level science diplomacy opportunities, but they're very hidden. The easiest way to start is by just networking and contacting people to see if they have anything available. Katherine shared some anecdotes about her time at the council and how different stakeholders interacted and emphasized the need to balance research efforts between indigenous population and Arctic city dwellers.


Dr. Melody B. Burkins engaged participants in a discussion on the involvement of the tribes and people who live in the arctic and the extent to which their input is considered in making the laws and treaties as well as research projects. She highlights how people living in local areas have a lot of knowledge that is imminent to asking the right research questions and formulating efficient study proposals. She shared that there is not enough emphasis on working with indigenous populations when forming research questions, or doing the research, which makes it difficult to pay indigenous people who help with projects. She emphasizes that if ECRs are interested in making science more equitable for local populations, then "It is up to you to make it happen”.


Take Action

If you’re interested in developing these policy ideas further or science diplomacy more generally, consider reaching out to the NSPN Science Diplomacy Committee ( The committee meets every second Monday evening of the month at 8ET/5PT. You can learn more about the meetings at

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