CNARC default person

Zhao Long

Research fellow, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, China

Visiting at: Norwegian Polar Institute
Period: 1 month
Research Theme: Key Factors of Arctic Governance and its Staged Progression

Dr. ZHAO Long, research fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, was granted the opportunity to conduct a one-month fellowship at Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso, University Center of Svalbard in Longyearbyen, and Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, Norway from 15th Nov. to 15th Dec. 2014, where had chance to meet a wide range of researchers and experts with respect to Arctic research. The research topic of Dr. Zhao’s is to find key factors of Arctic governance and its staged progression, especially the role of scientists in that process. Based on the interviews with scholars and institutions, he has provided some research findings, with below an excerpt of his research report. 


CNARC Fellowship Research Report - Key factors of Arctic Governance and its Staged Progression

First of all, Arctic issues have attracted wide global attention in recent years largely due to the increasing ice melting rate. Arctic issues consist of geographical, climatic and ecological issues in the region from the perspective of natural sciences; yet in social sciences, such issues are mainly related to the evolution of Arctic governance. During the long history of human exploration of the Earth’s northmost region, the nature of Arctic issues has constantly varied with the changing external environment.

Broadly speaking, Arctic governance has developed from total disorganization to gradual building of order, demonstrating the three steps from competition to disputes, and to cooperation. Such development is basically a function of the advancement of science and technologies, the changing natural environment as well as the strategic adjustments of related countries. The understanding of Arctic issues has shifted from a sensitive topic to discuss at the time of the Cold War to a new platform for multilateral cooperation today. With the growing number of diversified actors, the increasing trans-border challenges and ever more options for cooperation, the international society is taking strenuous efforts to explore various approaches of Arctic governance so as to resolve disputes, tackle challenges and foster new opportunities.

As the initial stage of Arctic governance, regional governance emphasizes the building of common values as well as positive interaction and integration of different parties within the region. Regional Arctic governance is evaluated by three criteria, namely objective commonality and deliberate construction of values, the actual interaction and potential platforms as well as external challenges and the maneuvers of related parties throughout their cooperation. With regard to the framework of governance, various institutions have been designed to promote common identity and ensure exclusive interests, with growing efforts to shape favorable environment for self-governance within the region. As a typical example, Arctic fishery governance not only manifests the importance of institution designing and environmental shaping, but also reflects a lack of institutions on collective actions and cross-regional interaction up to the present.

I have been received as visiting fellow at Norwegian Polar Institute, which directorate under the Ministry of the Climate and Environment. The Institute’s activities are focused on environmental management needs in the polar regions. In addition to collaboration on environmental protection in the Barents region, the Institute dedicates much effort to research on climate, long-range transport of pollutants and their impact on the environment, and biodiversity. Topographic mapping is also an important task. In Antarctica, the Institute is responsible for management of all Norwegian activities. This means that all Norwegian subjects planning activities in Antarctica must first contact the Norwegian Polar Institute. One of the Institute’s main tasks is to act as an advisory body for management where polar environmental issues are concerned. The Norwegian authorities are determined that Svalbard should be one of the world’s best-managed wilderness areas. The NPI participates in the efforts to achieve this goal. The NPI participated in formulating the Government’s Management Plan for the Barents Sea, and is now involved in several of the committees that are working to follow up on the plan Environmental Status Svalbard provides the latest information about current and developing environmental conditions in the Svalbard archipelago.

The NPI does research on biodiversity, geological mapping, climate and pollutants in the High North and the Polar Regions, and contributes to national and regional research programmes that involve these topics. The Polar Institute provides important contributions to international climate research and the Institute is an active point of contact within the international scientific community. Research and monitoring in the Polar Regions yield information that is crucial for understanding global environmental changes and their consequences. Better data coverage and insight into climate and the environment will also improve Norway’s ability to manage its national territories and resources.

The role of scientists is most important on the intermediate stage of Arctic governance, which can be defined as multilateral governance and characterized by three levels of actors and selective compromise. With a reference to the principle of separation of rights constituted by The Svalbard Treaty, multilateral governance underscores the significance of such principle in promoting collective actions of multiple actors; it also features selective compromise that is conducive to the construction of universal norms. As a typical example, the governance of Arctic sea routes demonstrates the driving forces of multiple actors behind multilateral mechanisms and highlights the key role of selective compromise in maintaining the willingness of multiple actors in their interaction.

The three levels of actors includes independent actors like states and Central governments, which have Independent ability of policy making, strategic planning and communication, also have exclusive decision-making capacity, more independence and responsibilities, which holds the dominant position of governance. The second level of actor includes representative actors like second level administrative units, Municipal government and Autonomies, which have partial ability of policy making, strategic planning and communication, but under the legal jurisdiction of independent actor. They have shared capacity and expressing demands through independent actor as “representative”. The third level of actors is assistant actor like transnational enterprises, research institutions, NGO’s, scientist groups, which has no ability of policy making, strategic planning and communication, but belongs to part of agenda setting process. But, they may cause indirect effects to decision making process and behaviors of Independent and Representative actors.

As the advanced stage of Arctic governance, symbiotic governance, which is composed of symbiotic units and symbiotic patterns, remains largely in conceptual discussion and theoretical hypotheses. Symbiotic units have been fostered upon symbiotic actors, challenges and responsibilities. Following the path of symbiotic governance, a symbiotic pattern may be developed that features oriented intervention and complementary competition, and the ultimate goal of symbiotic development and co-evolution can be achieved. For now, symbiotic Arctic governance is only an idealistic tendency and can be seen occasionally in such public issues as environmental protection and climate governance; more empirical evidence is yet to be found to enrich related theories.

In general, the three approaches of Arctic governance have demonstrated a staged progression. Due to its institutional deficiencies and inertia, the traditional approach of regional Arctic governance cannot meet the demands of the Arctic today that has transformed from a strategically low-tension region to one with global impacts in many non-traditional issues. With the growing internalization of core ideas by related actors and with the changes of physical variables in the region, Arctic governance is developing from regional to multilateral approaches, showing a tendency toward an even higher stage of symbiotic governance. Thus, the changing relationships among different units, together with the necessary conditions that drive those relationships, are key to observing the mechanism of staged progression.

Nevertheless, such staged progression in Arctic governance does not always appear as linear advancement, but it may fluctuate or even retrogress depending on the level of internalization of core ideas, norms of behaviors of various actors and the changing physical environment. In other words, the future of Arctic issues and governance approaches may unfold different pictures; whether symbiotic governance or regional governance will dominate is mainly a function of those variables that influence the staged progression. How different countries enhance their own ideas and promote the internalization of core ideas of other actors, as well as how they help shape a more favorable physical environments, are key to the successful staged progression in Arctic governance.

During my talks with Arctic scientists in Longyearbyen, I do feel some lack of information between Chinese scientists and international arctic research circle, in both natural and social sciences. For example, The Svalbard Science Forum (SSF) promotes coordination of and collaborative efforts in research activities in Svalbard, is administered by the Research Council of Norway. The objective is to contribute to the development of Svalbard as a platform for international research cooperation in the Arctic. The SSF organizes workshops and administers funding opportunities targeted towards the polar research community, while continuously working to increase data sharing and reduce the environmental impact of research activities.

SSFs also manages the RiS Portal (Research in Svalbard) which contains information relating to more than 2500 Svalbard-based research, monitoring and educational projects. To facilitate research planning, our website provides an overview of research infrastructure, logistic support, research bases, and advice for permit applications for research in Svalbard. As strategic objectives, SSF promotes improved international and inter-disciplinary research cooperation; Increased coordination of research activities; More and open sharing of data; Reduced environmental impact through coordination of logistics and activity, use of new technologies and efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Unfortunately, although the significant importance of this research platform, there was very limited participation from China and Chinese scientists. SSF provides two research projects: Arctic Field Grant (AFG) – Fieldwork support for students and researchers collecting data in Svalbard (and Jan Mayen) and Svalbard Strategic Grant (SSG) – Funding for workshops and projects to increase cooperation, coordination and sharing of data, and to reduce the environmental impact of research activity through the use of new technology existing research infrastructure. This Svalbard Strategic Grant allocates seed money for workshops and cooperation projects to increase international and interdisciplinary scientific cooperation in Svalbard, including pilot studies and planning of large projects and applications. The funding shall promote the strategic objectives of Svalbard Science Forum; increased cooperation, coordination and data sharing, and reduced environmental impact. According to statistics on registrations in the Research in Svalbard (RiS) database, more than 700 scientists from 30 different nations were involved in projects in Svalbard in 2013. Eight SSG-financed workshops were organized in 2013. In total more than 250 researchers have had the chance to meet together due to grants from SSF in 2013. Creating meeting places for researchers from all four research bases helped to strengthen international cooperation within Svalbard research. But there was no Chinese scholars applied this grant before.

Besides, The SSF supports flagship programs for scientific cooperation in Svalbard and contributes to the development of the four thematic flagships for research cooperation in Ny-Ålesund. The Research Council of Norway offers several funding opportunities available to scientists who work or would like to work in Svalbard. Two of these are under the activity of Svalbard Science Forum, are targeted towards data collection and improved cooperation and have annual calls. The SSG is prioritizing the development of the Ny-Ålesund flagship programs, establishment of new flagships programs for scientific cooperation in Svalbard, and the follow up of recommendations from previous SSF workshops. Four flagship programs have already been established for the research and monitoring activities in Ny-Ålesund. In addition, The Svalbard Science Forum (SSF) has in 2014 established the SSF Flagship Programs. SSF flagship programs for scientific cooperation in Svalbard are groups of researchers from different nations, stations, institutions and/or research bases that work together with the same questions and challenges to find common answers and solutions. A prerequisite for success is that the cooperation within and between the research entities is strengthened. SSF flagship programs include sharing of knowledge and data, they have priorities and a clear strategy to ensure added value for Svalbard research. New SSF flagship programs should complement existing ones, and all SSF flagship programs should be continuously developed.

Flagship programs for scientific cooperation in Svalbard are groups of researchers from different nations, stations, institutions and/or research bases that work together with the same questions and challenges to find common answers and solutions. A prerequisite for success is that the cooperation within and between the research entities is strengthened. Programs include sharing of knowledge and data, they have priorities and a clear strategy to ensure added value for Svalbard research, including: International and institutional cooperation between relevant nations, research bases and research groups in Svalbard. A review of the status today, an identification of knowledge gaps and a plan for exchange of knowledge; Priorities, recommendations for and strategies for future work and data sharing; A plan to initiate and continuously develop the flagship program; Shared responsibilities for activities and research; Measures to secure dissemination of results and open sharing of data.

During my meeting with staff from Secretariat of the Arctic Council, I have also received message about some difficulties of China’s participation into the working groups meetings under the Arctic Council. As a new observer state of this mechanism, China has proactive entered to general and SAO meetings of Arctic Council, also attended workshops and meetings under the working groups. According to the rules for all observers, while the primary role of observers is to observe the work of the Arctic Council, observers should continue to make relevant contributions through their engagement in the Arctic Council primarily at the level of Working Groups. Observers may propose projects through an Arctic State or a Permanent Participant but financial contributions from observers to any given project may not exceed the financing from Arctic States, unless otherwise decided by the SAOs. But the representative from Chinese side has always been sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the diplomats are been involved to working groups meeting on specific scientific and research talks, while all other member countries are sending the scientists to participate to above mentioned events, which resulting gaps of professional knowledge.

Besides the general scientific expeditions, current Arctic studies are based on nation states jurisdiction and game of Realpolitik. Global institution building, governance models and effectiveness evaluation have not played significant role. Interdependent global system and Arctic issue not only covers all arctic countries, but also includes several Non-Arctic countries as partners of cooperation or actors of governance. Current Arctic challenges include climate change, ice melting, environmental pollution, development of new shipping route and so on, which cannot be solved by individual country or the region. The effective Arctic governance needs focus on the following key aspects:

First, Confidence Building. Should coordinate the interests between Arctic and Non-Arctic countries, between developed and developing countries, between big powers and countries with regional influence. Alleviate tensions and adversarial interactions among major players possessing legitimate interests in the Arctic (e.g. indigenous peoples, other Arctic residents, environmental organizations, businesses, governments). Agenda setting is also a important step of effective governance. Identify the differences of reason and purpose of the agenda setting, resulting in different understanding of the reality. In this context, may create the gap between individual and public interests, making it difficult to enter in the so-called cooperative regime. All actors should eliminate differences of understanding and definition of regulation building, responsibility taking, and methods of participation. Defining major challenges during the agenda setting process.

Third, Design of Institutions. Arctic governance tasks should be handled by bodies with capacity, building the multilevel governance framework, including local, regional, national, and international bodies as well as traditional and non-governmental bodies. At present, the non-institutional arrangements for dialogue and cooperation have become major feature of the current governance model. Strengthening regulatory (existing) frameworks becomes a major topic of institution building in the future. Global Treaty System: Soft governance from top to bottom. (e.g. UNCLOS,IMO,IWC); Regional Organizations: Semi-Closed collaborative governance,(e.g. Arctic Council, The conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, The Barents Euro-Arctic Council.); Bilateral mechanisms: Exclusive Governance driven by Interests.(Russia-Norway fisheries commission)

Acknowledge common rights and duties. Balancing entitlements of sovereignty, rights of access natural resources, and authority of environment protection regulation as well as the rights of indigenous peoples. Recognize the rights and duties under applicable international law of other States and relevant non-state actors. Arctic governance arrangements should reflect current and anticipated needs of global governance, to work on the challenges.

Adaptability for Effectiveness. The different understanding on the concepts of Arctic governance has made significant impact on the models of governance, and constrains the effectiveness of governance. Dealing with complex and dynamic systems like Arctic region, should focus on devising procedures, which provides adaptability or flexibility, in terms of high levels uncertainty and challenges.

Generally, compare with traditional state actors, arctic scientist groups are also playing the significant and unique role in that governance process. First, collective opinions of scientist groups will help them to avoid being manipulated by interest groups or single countries. Second, low politicized composition structure of group helps to improve the acceptance of research results by different parties. Third, professional scientific advices are objectively closer with facts and challenge that we facing in this region, which can maintain the healthy development of the Arctic ecosystem. But there are still some negative factors needs to be concerned: As one of the governance bodies, arctic scientist groups does not have independent legal qualifications, the lack of governance capacity will influence their involvement into the decision or policy making process, as a individual or group of individuals, they can not undertake the corresponding obligations of governance. And last but not least, the non-direct governance paradigm of scientist groups needs other governmental, interregional or international bodies or mechanisms to practice and externalize their views or advocates.

Dogsleds in the Arctic