The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the global scene, and the situation for all people. One hundred years ago the Arctic region was severely struck by the Spanish Flu pandemic, when the region experienced some of the most severe consequences of the pandemic. The Covid-19 virus also threatens the region, and UArctic recognizes the needs of the people living in the Arctic. Great parts of the Arctic should be seen as vulnerable, both in demographic terms related to poor living conditions and crowded houses, and in societal terms that include health care capacities, communications, and fate control. Research and education need to respect the Arctic communities and support ways of conducting research and education that does not harm them.
New solutions for a sustainable future
The lockdown in many societies worldwide is met with digital solutions. In many places in the Arctic the digital connectivity is suboptimal and digital solutions cannot easily be implemented. The pandemic will come to an end, but it is likely that our behavior will be changed forever. This probably means that we will travel less and use experiences from the digital transformation taking place right now into the future. UArctic acknowledges the need for innovative thinking in order to explore new best practices. UArctic members, with learning centres and campuses located in the North, represent a potential, and so far under-utilised, resource to ensure that research and observations can continue in the Arctic without the need for non-Arctic experts to travel to the Arctic.
The ongoing corona pandemic induces two main concerns related to health and economy. In the Arctic the consequences of the corona pandemic may be detrimental due to lack of local infrastructure, long distances and in many places, marginal economic capacity. The goal for UArctic is to increase competence and capacity in the Arctic by collaboration between Arctic higher education and research institutions. At present travel-restrictions are preventing exchange of students and staff between institutions, teaching is online, and field-work and expeditions postponed. There is a need to promote initiatives where collaborative research can continue and develop. UArctic emphasizes the need for a resilient, adaptive system of education and research cooperation in and for the Arctic.
For UArctic this includes:
- Continue and strengthening to lobby for digital connectivity in northern regions
- Increase the number of on-line courses to be shared among institutions
- Develop ways to deliver proxy training from field-based situations
- Co-design research and training protocols for experiential and land-based learning with local communities
- Take the initiative for a 5th Polar Year (2032) development action as tool to maintain and build focus on Polar Issues over the coming decade. This is an excellent idea and should be highlighted even more
- Strengthen cooperation throughout the Arctic to build the necessary resilience and ability to adapt to what will be the next crisis that faces the Arctic
- Highlight even more the facts and issues that we already know that make a focus on polar issues in the next two decades absolutely inevitable (for example, highlighting the role of the Arctic in the entire climate change pattern)
UArctic and its more than 200 institutions care for the Arctic and for the people living there. Increased competence will make northerners more robust also in crises like the corona pandemic. Improved competence will also increase economic robustness. UArctic sees the challenge and is committed to work with solutions.