The Arctic – A Quick Look at Leading Organizations

by Cyrine Azaiez

Associate and Editor (Tunisia).

June 10, 2021

Arctic climate change. The Arctic is more affected by global warming than any other place on earth, resulting in unprecedented physical, social, economic, and political transformations.  Concern for Arctic change is not only a major environmental issue.  Previously inaccessible shipping routes and untapped resources have increased its value, fueling competition between several nations and raising the prospect of conflict.  The Arctic is also a homeland and cultural space for its inhabitants, who face loss of livelihoods or displacement.

Effective policy-making and international cooperation are needed.  This overview identifies some leading organizations, with a few more to be found in the SSG Subject Index.

Arctic Council (1996; Tromsø, Norway)

A high-level intergovernmental forum providing a means for “promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the eight Arctic States – Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States –, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues. It has six working groups: Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP), Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF), Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR), Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group, Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).

International Arctic Science Committee (1990; Iceland)

Conducts interdisciplinary research involving all countries engaged in Arctic research and in all areas of the Arctic. Its working groups support science-led international programs through planning and coordination, facilitating communication and access to facilities.

International Polar Foundation (2002; Brussels)

A foundation that “supports polar scientific research for the advancement of knowledge, the promotion of informed action on climate change, and the development of a sustainable society.” It also hosts an annual Arctic Futures Symposium.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (1972; Vienna)

A high-level intergovernmental forum providing a means for “promoting cooperation, coordination and An independent, international research institute with National Member Organizations in 22 countries around the world. It conducts policy-oriented research into issues that are too large or complex to be solved by a single country or academic discipline. One of its major research initiatives is the ‘Arctic Futures Initiative’ which conducts a “holistic assessment” of “the vast and rapid transformation taking place.”

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (1980; Germany)

One of the few scientific institutions in the world equally active in the Arctic and Antarctic. Its staff of over 1100 people continuously work on coordinating German polar research efforts, while also conducting research in the North Sea and adjacent coastal regions in Germany. Their research interests include but are not limited to ocean acidification, ice sheets, permafrost, and sea ice.

Norwegian Polar Institute (1928; Tromsø, Norway)

Is “Norway’s central governmental institution for scientific research, mapping and environmental monitoring in the Arctic and the Antarctic.” Its staff of 198 individuals focus their “activities on environmental management needs in the polar regions.”

GRID-Arendal (1989; Arendal, Norway)

One of the few scientific institutions in the world equally active in the Arctic and Antarctic. It coordinates An information portal that supports “environmentally sustainable development by working with UN Environment and other partners.” Its work focuses on outreach and communication of environmental knowledge to “strengthen management capacity and motivate decision-makers to act.” Their Global linkages – a graphic look at the changing Arctic (2019, 56p) report highlighting the rapid changes in the Arctic and their global implications is particularly noteworthy.

Fridtjof Nansen Institute (1958; Lysaker, Norway)

An “independent foundation engaged in research on “international law and political cooperation in the Arctic as well as research on politics and resource management in the Russian North.” It follows “Arctic-related processes and cooperation both at circumpolar and regional levels” with a recent focus “the Arctic interests of Asian.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1970; Washington)

Is an agency that strives to “understand, predict, and share changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts as well as to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” It has been publishing an annual Arctic Report Card since 2006 which provides “concise environmental information on the current state of different components of the Arctic environmental system relative to historical records.” ARC2020 provides “updates on a wide range of Arctic science topics, from the past year’s air temperatures and sea ice conditions to the latest in bowhead whale research.”

The Arctic Institute (2011; Washington)

An independent non-profit organization that has an international network of researchers. It strives for a world in which “the diverse and complex issues facing Arctic security are identified, understood, and innovatively resolved.” Consequently, it conducts “rigorous, qualitative, and comprehensive research” in order to develop “solutions to challenges and injustices in the circumpolar north.”

Woodwell Climate Research Center (1985; Falmouth, MA)

Works to “align science with strategic policy interventions to measure, monitor and prepare for potentially ruinous climate and economic impacts of a rapidly warming Arctic.” It also strives to “clearly illustrate these findings for key decision makers, and to help develop effective solutions to respond to the changes that will likely be felt around the world.”

Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (1951; Boulder, CO)

A research institute dedicated to developing “scientific knowledge of physical and biogeochemical environmental processes at local, regional, and global scales.” In its efforts to “inform public and policy decisions for a more sustainable society,” IAAR publishes an international open access journal called the Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research (AAAR) which produces “interdisciplinary research into cold region environments.”

Inuit Circumpolar Council (1977; Ottawa)

An “international, non-government organization representing approximately 160,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia).” It strives to “strengthen unity among Inuit of the circumpolar region, promote Inuit rights and interests on an international level, and develop and encourage long-term policies that safeguard the Arctic environment.”

Gwich’in Council International (1999; Yellowknife, Canada)

A nonprofit organization that “represents 9,000 Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories (NWT), Yukon, and Alaska as a Permanent Participant in the Arctic Council; the only international organization to give Indigenous peoples a seat at the decision-making table alongside national governments.”

Arctic Institute of North America (1945; Calgary)

A university research institute based at the University of Calgary. It strives to “advance the study of the North American and circumpolar Arctic by acquiring, preserving and disseminating information on the North.” It publishes the Arctic Journal and operates the Arctic Science and Technology Information System with “84,000 records describing publications and research projects about northern Canada.”

ArcticNet (2004; Quebec)

Brings together “scientists in the natural, human health and social sciences with their partners from Inuit organizations, federal and provincial agencies and the private sector” to study the “impacts of climate change and modernization in the coastal Canadian Arctic.” Its network of over 175 researchers “collaborate with more than 150 partner organizations in 14 countries.”

Polar Knowledge Canada (2015; Nunavut, Canada)

A Government of Canada agency that focuses on “advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology.” It also promotes “the development and distribution of knowledge of other circumpolar regions, including Antarctica” through “leadership, partnerships, and collaboration on polar science and technology.”

North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (2017; Ontario)

Addresses policy challenges related to Arctic security and North American defense. Consequently, it conducts “research with students, emerging scholars, and Northern stakeholders that tests core assumptions and prompts policy innovation” with the aim of “educating the next generation of policy thinkers and analysts.”

University of the Arctic (1999; Finland)

A network of “universities, colleges, research institutes, and other organizations concerned with education and research in and about the North.” The University of the Arctic “builds and strengthens collective resources and infrastructures that enable member institutions to better serve their constituents and their regions.” It held the lastest UArctic Congress 2021 in Iceland.

The Arctic will surely continue to melt and to be a region of growing concern and conflict, especially since the “effects of disappearing ice extend far beyond the Arctic circle and its inhabitants.” Ice sheets, known to be weather moderators through the reflection of heat away from earth, are melting at alarming rates. Consequently, not only will the weather become gradually more extreme, but the sea levels will also rise, endangering ice-dependent species as well as uprooting the locals. Efforts will be made to protect the interests of indigenous people and polar bears, perhaps with some limited success.

Especially recommended is A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic (Oxford University Press, 2017, 240p), by Peter Wadhams, a featured Notable Individual in the Change Leaders section of our guide. He is a polar researcher for 47 years and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, who warns that the collapse of summer ice will release large amounts of methane currently trapped by offshore permafrost, and melting sea ice and land ice will devastate coastal communities worldwide.

We do not presently have information on Russian organizations working on the Arctic. Indeed, the organizations presented above are but a sample of many other initiatives featured in our Guide working on this theme. You can find a list of these organizations here.

Disclaimer: The “Quick Look” feature series will be updated periodically. While they are not meant to include an exhaustive list, we welcome any suggestions in the comments below.

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