Interview with Arctic Council Observer: Italy

11 March 2020
Italy has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 2013. As an Observer, Italy 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 Carmine Robustelli, Minister Plenipotentiary at Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation about Italy’s interest in the Arctic región, how it engages with the Arctic Council and current projects it is working on.

What is Italy’s interest in the Arctic region?

Italy boasts an ultra-centennial history in the Arctic, which dates back at least to the expedition of the Duca degli Abbruzzi in 1899 and to Umberto Nobile's missions of 1926 and 1928. It continued over time with the activities carried out by explorers and scientists. Scientific research continues to represent the prime driver of Italy’s presence in the Arctic, with many works in the ‘Dirigibile Italia’ Base in Svalbard, which opened in 1997, as well as at the THAAO international observatory in Thule, Greenland and in other frameworks, often as part of international collaborations and European Union programs. In addition, major Italian firms work in the Arctic with cutting-edge technology to assure utmost respect for a particularly delicate environment, and involve local and Indigenous communities in their initiatives.

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

We have appointed experts for all the Working Groups and for some past Task Forces and Expert Groups of the Arctic Council, such as the current Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM). In line with our commitments as an accredited Observer State, our approach to Arctic issues complies with several basic principles: respecting the sovereignty of Arctic States; promoting the local and Indigenous peoples’ traditions and cultures; contributing to the economic development of the Arctic, in compliance with topmost environmental protection standards and sustainable development principles. Among the Italian concrete contributions, one year ago, Italy organized a meeting of the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme Arctic Council Working Group’s Expert Group on Short Lived Climate Forcers in Bologna, in the National Research Council (CNR) premises.

What are you currently working on?

It is impossible to resume all the activities of the Italian scientific community, but I would like to mention a recent significant development – the approval of the Arctic Research Program (PRA) 2018-2020. It is a new financial tool that allocates dedicated funds in order to provide further support to Italian research in the Arctic. The objectives and topics of PRA are: monitoring Arctic ecosystem changes; quantitative understanding of the causes of Arctic amplification; paleoclimate reconstructions; assessment of the changes of Arctic seas atmospheric and water column; analysis of the effects of climate change on wellness of Arctic inhabitants and preservation of Indigenous cultures. The actions include, inter alia, open calls for research projects, implementation of a data system and a post degree course on polar issues.

Furthermore, it is worthy of mention the multiannual program called “High North”, a multiannual marine geophysics campaign organized by the Hydrographic Institute of the Italian Navy, which started from 2017 with the participation of all major Italian research agencies.

Who are the key actors in Italy engaging in Arctic Council work?

Alongside with the Ministry of Environment and the Hydrographic Institute of the Italian Navy, all the main Italian research agencies contribute to the Italian participation in the Arctic Council subsidiary bodies: the National Research Council (CNR), the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS).

Since the preparation of Italy’s application as Observer to the Arctic Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up the Arctic Task Force (called “Tavolo Artico”, or Arctic Table), a coordinating forum with the participation of Ministries (Research, Environment, Economic Development, Defense), research agencies, Universities and companies. The “Tavolo Artico” continues to meet on a regular basis and represents an important moment of reflection and interaction among Italian stakeholders interested in the Arctic. More recently, an Arctic Scientific Committee has been established, with the main task to prepare and monitor the Arctic Scientific Program.

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.