Interview with Arctic Council Observer: International Arctic Science Committee

11 March 2020
The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 1998. As an Observer, IASC can contribute to the Arctic Council through meeting attendance, providing scientific expertise to Working Groups, project proposals and financial contribution (not to exceed financing from Arctic States, unless otherwise decided by the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials) and statements.

We spoke with Larry Hinzman, President of IASC about IASC’s interest in the Arctic region, how it engages with the Arctic Council and current projects it is working on.

What pressing issues in the Arctic are of interest to IASC?

IASC promotes and supports interdisciplinary research to foster greater scientific understanding of the Arctic region and its role in the Earth system. The IASC Founding Articles call upon IASC to provide scientific and technical advice, to promote cooperation and links with other national and international organizations and to periodically review the status of Arctic science. As defined in the IASC Strategic Plan, our objective is to advance accomplishments in arctic research by:

Facilitating Arctic research cooperation:

  • Stimulating and promoting cutting-edge inter­disciplinary research
  • Supporting sustained and coordinated observa­tions
  • Facilitating data and information management and sharing

Promoting engagement:

  • Building Arctic research capacity
  • Supporting participation by Indigenous and lo­cal residents in science activities
  • Nurturing and expanding IASC partnerships

Ensuring knowledge exchange:

  • Encouraging high-quality scientific output
  • Transferring knowledge to policy and decision makers
  • Increasing Arctic science education, outreach and communication

How do you work with the Arctic Council to tackle pressing issues in the Arctic?

We attend Senior Arctic Official and Working Group meetings to identify areas of joint interest. We facilitate understanding of Arctic Council Working Group activities by supporting attendance at Senior Arctic Official and Working Group meetings by our senior leadership and our IASC working group members. Our attendees present meeting summaries back to our Executive Committee, which are then acted upon appropriately.

We also connect international scientists (both senior scientists and early career researchers) who possess expertise relevant to Arctic Council projects – like plastics pollution, biodiversity monitoring plans, and oil spill remediation, just to name a few – to encourage engagement and facilitate implementation where possible.

In the past, we have facilitated review of Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) Arctic Council Working Group reports to ensure high-quality and defensible peer review of important assessments. Our purpose was to ensure that such assessments are recognized and accepted as objective, state-of-the-art reports. We are in communication with AMAP leadership about facilitating such reviews of new assessments in the near future.

While our approach is to engage the entire Arctic research community, particularly through our annual Arctic Science Summit Week, we do have some individuals who play an important role in both Arctic Council Working Groups and IASC. For example, Paula Kankaanpää serves as vice president of IASC and as chair of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Arctic Council Working Group. Previously, Paula served as the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Arctic Council Working Group International Secretariat and was a member of the Arctic Team for the first Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council of the Ministry of the Environment.

What Arctic Council initiatives are you currently working on?

Our hallmark event each year is the Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW), which will be convened in Akureyri, Iceland. This location and time were specifically selected to align with the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Official Plenary meeting to enable communication among the Arctic Council delegates and the scientists participating in the ASSW. A one-day event is planned to facilitate interactions regarding Science for a Sustainable Arctic.

We convened a similar event in March 2016 when the Senior Arctic Official Plenary Meeting and ASSW were both convened in Fairbanks, Alaska. We were disappointed that few members of the Senior Arctic Official meeting actually demonstrated interest in engaging with the scientific community, but we are optimistic about the meeting in Akureyri!

In 2020, IASC is partnering a second time with the CAFF Working Group of the Arctic Council to offer the CAFF-IASC Fellowships. These Fellows are paired with a CAFF activity – the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI), or the Coastal Ecosystem Monitoring Group (CEMG) – funded to participate in ASSW and these activities’ events and contribute towards producing a deliverable. The CAFF-IASC CEFG Fellow is Nicholas Huffeldt. The CAFF-IASC AMBI Fellow is not yet confirmed. With active mentorship, the aim of this Fellowship is to give early career researchers experience in bridging the gap between research and decision-making.

IASC’s five scientific working groups execute a tremendous amount of coordination activities, much of which directly relates to implementation of Arctic Council priorities. There is far too much to describe in this short response, but I refer you to our annual bulletin, or get in touch for a briefing from members of the IASC Executive Committee.

To learn more about the role of Observers and the criteria for admission, click here. You can learn more about the past and ongoing work of Arctic Council Observers through their activity reports and reviews.