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Arctic in Context

Arctic in Context, a World Policy Institute initiative directed by Erica Dingman, provides needed context on Arctic issues at a crucial time for the region. This web-based platform uses maps, timelines, videos, narrative, and analysis to provide an independent, comprehensive, and accessible working overview of the Arctic and fill crucial knowledge gaps.

Actions outside the immediate control of the Arctic dramatically shape its past, present, and future. Challenges arising as a result of climate change including governance, biodiversity, security, and commercial development such as shipping and natural resource extraction have far-reaching implications for Arctic indigenous peoples and humanity worldwide. In short, the region’s future depends on a better global understanding of the consequences of decisions made outside of, as well as within, the region.

Marjolaine McKenzie: Community Worker from Matimekush Lac-John, Quebec

In the latest installment of our “People of the North” series, Karina Kesserwan interviews Marjolaine McKenzie about solidarity among neighbors and ties to nature in the Innu communities of Matimekush and Lac-John, located in a remote part of Quebec.

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The Unique Legal Status of an Arctic Archipelago

The ambiguous legal status of Svalbard, an archipelago in the Barents Sea, has led to disputes among Norway, Russia, and the EU. Morgane Fert-Malka and Troy Bouffard discuss the potential for escalating tension in the Arctic, a region otherwise known for international cooperation and innovative governance.

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Circumnavigating the Globe to Confront Climate Change 

Dario Schwörer has walked, bicycled, and sailed around the world, collecting and spreading knowledge about the effects of climate change. Erica Dingman spoke with Schwörer about his visits to Canada’s indigenous communities, where the environmental and cultural implications of tourism and development remain a topic of debate.

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Norway’s Identity Crisis: The Battle for Lofoten

The breathtaking beauty of Norway's Lofoten archipelago has cemented its status as a source national pride, but the debate over tapping into its massive oil reserves has stirred controversy. Hannah Buehler examines how, as pressure from environmental advocates rises, Norway must decide whether further investment in the oil and gas industry is a wise choice.

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It's Time to Phase Out Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic

Since the Selendang Ayu oil spill in 2004 and the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in 1989, many have called for a ban on the usage and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. James Gamble argues in favor of a ban, but emphasizes that a phaseout of heavy fuel oil must take into consideration the economic and social effects on Indigenous communities.

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A U.S Collaboration Between Military and Research Science

Arctic warming opens new opportunities for economic activity, but advanced technologies and capabilities are necessary to operate safely in ice-covered waters. David M. Rivera discusses how scientists and the Coast Guard are making the most of limited budgets to conduct research and enhance U.S. capacity in the region.

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Arctic on Fire 

A weeklong storm in 2015 triggered fires that burned 5 million acres of forest and 70 homes in Alaska. Edward Struzik points to the role of climate change in the increased ferocity of wildfires, and says investment in forest, tundra, and wildfire science is necessary to protect Arctic peoples and land. 

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Madeleine Redfern: Canadian Inuit Politician

  In the latest installment of Arctic in Context's "People of the North" series, Jean François Arteau speaks with Madeleine Redfern, an Inuk politician from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Redfern discusses the need for self-governance and decolonization, which require the Inuit to meet the community's needs by delivering their own programs and services.  

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The Strange History of the Arctic and the Arab Gulf

The Arctic and the Arab Gulf might seem like an unlikely pairing, but strong ties to oil have caused their paths to cross in recent decades. Marwa Maziad examines the parallel histories and shared economic and security challenges of these two regions.

 

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Is There a Dark Side to Arctic Cooperation?

The impact of climate change on the Northern Sea Route raises concerns about not only the environment, but also the regulation of transit and shipping. Hannes Hansen-Magnusson argues that a broad international dialogue is needed to address the far-reaching implications for trade relations.

 

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Beauty of Lofoten, and the Beast

It is estimated that 450 million tons of plastic were produced this year alone, 80 percent of which was single-use. Photographer June Grønseth documents the environmental devastation caused by plastic pollution near her home in Lofoten, Norway.

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The Non-Issue of Russia’s Arctic Continental Shelf

Moscow has been careful to follow the rules of international law when it comes to the Arctic continental shelf, one of the area's last outstanding territorial disputes. Morgane Fert-Malka asks commentators to drop the rhetoric around a “race for resources,” which feeds into harmful discourses about Russia's activities in the region.

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"Angry Inuk" Challenges Stereotypes of the Inuit

Anti-sealing campaigns launched in the 1970s and 80s prompted Europe to ban the import of all seal products by 2009. Lucy Kruesel examines a new documentary, Angry Inuk, which explores the impact of those campaigns on Inuit communities and how Inuit voices are often censored or misunderstood.

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Does Québec Need the Arctic Council?

Québec has increasingly promoted its Arctic agenda on the international stage, independent of the Canadian government. Amy M. Delo explains how the development policy Plan Nord has helped Québec gain regional influence, but has faced criticism from the province's indigenous communities.

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Asian Tiger Meets the Polar Bear

The Arctic Council's template for sustainable growth has drawn the interest of countries outside the region, and some, such as South Korea, have been admitted to the organization as observers. Jay-Kwon James Park discusses Seoul's efforts to become an asset to the Council by developing partnerships with Arctic states and communities.

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Katie Gagnon: Québec Political Scientist Telling Stories of the Russian North

While many envision the Arctic as frigid and inhospitable, political scientist and documentary filmmaker Katie Gagnon has embraced it. Gagnon speaks with Karina Kesserwan about her efforts to bridge the gap between southern misperceptions and her experiences in northern Russia and Québec.

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Balancing Profitability and Environmental Protection

As the Arctic's population rises, it is increasingly important to bridge the region's development gap. World Policy Journal's Ritikaa Iyer argues that the economic prospects of new initiatives in oil and gas and connectivity must be measured against environmental risks.

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The Arctic Council Could Be a Leader in Promoting the Right to Water

The Arctic is a repository of freshwater, yet communities in the region often lack adequate water and sanitation services. Rachel Freeman-Blakeslee explains why the Arctic Council is uniquely positioned to support the right to clean water for all Northern peoples.

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Stronger Together: Weaving Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science

The Arctic Council has acknowledged the role of both Western science and Indigenous Knowledge to address environmental change, but integrating the two knowledge systems has been difficult and slow. Katie Aspen Gavenus argues that for these collaborative efforts to succeed, international bodies must better support the work of indigenous organizations.

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Ships and Ice Don't Mix

As sea ice disappears faster than ever, more ships are braving the vast, empty Arctic waters. Ian Hanna discusses the U.S. and Canada's initial steps to implement Arctic Council recommendations aimed at preventing marine accidents.

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  No PAME No Gain for Indigenous Groups

As governments and private enterprise seek new economic opportunities in the Arctic, indigenous voices are often left out of policy discussions. Steven Fry argues the Arctic Council's Protection of Arctic Marine Environment Working Group can be a model for effective collaboration between all stakeholders.  

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Breaking the Ice for Indigenous Voices on the World Stage 

The only official international body that includes indigenous voices in policy discussions is the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, but these representatives are still left out of the decision-making process. Malina Dumas suggests that the U.N. General Assembly look to the Arctic Council's model as it considers a new status for indigenous governments.

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Amplifying Arctic Issues 'Downstream of the 66th Parallel'

As climate change continues to threaten the Arctic, the need to influence public opinion on environmental issues is increasingly urgent. Elena S. Bell examines how high-profile Arctic Council chairs like John Kerry and Leona Aglukkaq can amplify the organization's message worldwide. 

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Protecting the Polar Seaways

Dramatic reduction in summer sea ice allows for increased maritime traffic in the dangerous waters of the Arctic. David Rivera argues that the Polar Code's shipping regulations are insufficient for keeping the Arctic Ocean clean and safe. 

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The Northern Sea Route, Russia's Coronary Artery 

In Russia, rivers and seas play a key role in connecting settlements separated by impassable terrain. Morgane Fert-Malka discusses the significance of the so-called Northern Sea Route for Moscow's strategic development goals and national identity.

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The Double-Edged Sword of Arctic Development

Since 2007, the Arctic narrative has revolved around access to natural resources as global temperatures rise. Michael Brown discusses the effects of the growing international demand for renewable energy on Arctic development and regional governance.

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Stephen Grasser: Kativik Regional Government Analyst in Economic Development and Food Security 

In Arctic in Context's latest "People of the North" interview, Jean-François Arteau speaks with Stephen Grasser, Kativik regional government analyst focusing on economic development and food security. Grasser discusses the changes he has witnessed in his community since moving to the Canadian Arctic 30 years ago.  

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Is the U.S. Ready for an Arctic Oil Spill?

The United States failed to effectively prevent, and then clean up, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Valerie Cleland argues that an Arctic Council agreement on marine pollution will only protect the region's fragile ecosystem if member states, including the U.S., live up to their commitments. 

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Is the Arctic Council Still a Visionary Leader?

Nearly 10 years after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared the Arctic to be a "zone of peace," the Arctic Council was founded to help countries collaborate on key regional issues. Brandon Ray discusses how the Council lost some of its vision as it expanded its scope, and offers ways for the institution to hone its strategy moving forward. 

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The Arctic Council: A Unique Institution in 21st-Century International Relations

The Arctic Council is breaking new ground in the way we think about regional governance, relations with Indigenous peoples, and more. Nadine C. Fabbi, Scott Montgomery, and Eric W. Finke introduce a series featuring Arctic Fellows from the University of Washington, who provide policy-oriented perspectives on how to strengthen this innovative institution.

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Circumpolar Legislation on Pollutants

Since it was ratified in 2001, the Stockholm Convention has aimed to reduce the adverse effects of Persistent Organic Pollutants, including damage to the health of Arctic Indigenous people. Erica Dingman interviews Doris Friedrich about the impact of climate change on the spread of dangerous chemicals across the region.

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Science Diplomacy and the Arctic Council: A Catalyst for Deeper Regional Cooperation?

Tackling transnational problems like climate change requires the participation of states that may have competing interests. Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook, interviews Clemens Binder about how scientific collaboration can promote political cooperation and regional stability.  

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Lessons from 'Dumpcano' for Solid Waste Management in Nunavut 

In 2014, there was massive garbage fire in a landfill in the capital of Nunavut. Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook, interviewed Gloria Song about how geography and disputed jurisdictions pose challenges to the management and disposal of waste in the Canadian Arctic. 

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From the Rovaniemi Process to Exploring Common Solutions: Finland’s Priorities in the Changing Arctic 

On May 11, Finland assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a position it will hold until 2019. Timo Koivurova and Malgorzata (Gosia) Smieszek argue that Finland is well-equipped to continue the Council's work on issues related to sustainable development and climate change, even in a turbulent geopolitical atmosphere. 

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Greenland's Role in Changing Arctic Governance 

Non-Arctic states are increasingly taking interest in Arctic issues, while subnational actors in the region are angling for greater participation in decision-making processes. Jessica M. Shadian and Inuuteq Holm Olsen discuss these trends as they relate to Greenland's efforts to boost its involvement both within and outside formal Arctic governance structures.

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Pavel Sulyandziga: Indigenous Rights Activist From the Bikin River

In the latest installment of our "People of the North" series, Karina Kesserwan speaks with Pavel Sulyandziga, one of the most outspoken indigenous rights activists in Russia. Sulyandziga discusses the experiences that sparked his interest in exploring the history of his people, as well as the interaction between the government and indigenous peoples in Russia's Far East.

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The Arctic Council and the Barents Region: Mutually Reinforcing Partners

Several organizations in the Barents Euro-Arctic region work on issues related to the environment and sustainable development in the European north. Joël Plouffe, managing editor of Arctic Yearbook, interviews Floridan Vidal, who considers the contributions of these institutions to promoting regional cooperation despite geopolitical tensions.

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Arctic Council Chairmanship Handover Signals Unwavering Diplomacy

On May 11, officials from across the Arctic gathered to mark the handover of Arctic Council leadership from the U.S. to Finland. Erica M. Dingman notes how even amid geopolitical tensions between Arctic states, the international forum has remained a space for diplomacy and cooperation on critical regional issues.

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Pragmatic Environmentalism in the Russian Arctic

Industrial development during Soviet times has left Russia's Arctic region with acute environmental problems. Morgane Fert-Malka explains that while Russian environmental laws are often comprehensive, the legislative process is driven by immediate needs and short-term solutions.

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Bearing Witness to Climate Change

Glaciers are rapidly disappearing in the Arctic. To document the dramatic pace of ecological change in the region, painter and photographer Diane Burko shares images and anecdotes from her new book, Bearing Witness to Climate Change.

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Transformations in Arctic Council Agenda Setting

Since it was established in 1996, the Arctic Council's priorities have evolved and its activities have expanded to include new actors. Erica Dingman interviews Dorothea Wehrmann, whose research considers the Council's growing focus on the private sector and the role of national interests in shaping its agenda.

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Media Perceptions of the Arctic Council

Changing media perceptions of the Arctic Council, the region's most prominent international institution, indicate its evolving role in global politics. World Policy Journal editorial assistant Natasha Bluth interviews Andrew Chater about what U.S. and Canadian news coverage reveals about the Council's efforts to raise the profile of its work.

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A Place for Non-Arctic Actors in the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council has gained worldwide recognition, but the role of non-Arctic actors in the Council's policymaking and governance is not always clear. World Policy Institute fellow Erica Dingman speaks with Jennifer Spence, who outlines the challenges faced by non-Arctic participants and their points of entry to the Council.

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Inuit, Capitalism, and Colonization: A Foreign Affair

Today, Inuit traditions are disappearing as modernization envelops indigenous communities. Inuit advocate and author Suzie Napayok-Short writes about the history of colonization in the North and the present need to balance economic imperatives and cultural preservation. 

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How the Arctic Council Sets the Tone for International Cooperation

Because the Arctic Council lacks legal authority, it is often seen as politically ineffective. Arctic Yearbook managing editor Joël Plouffe interviews Camille Escudé about how the Council has made progress in setting norms that influence the behavior of Arctic states.

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Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Decision-Making in the Arctic Council

There are six permanent indigenous organizations with permanent status on the Arctic Council. Arctic Yearbook managing editor Heather Exner-Pirot interviewed Michaela Louise Coote on the participation of indigenous peoples in the Council, the importance of these voices for environmental decision-making, and how the system can be improved.  

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Cold Storage: Photographing the Abandoned Soviet Town Pyramiden

In 1998, the last coal was extracted from Pyramiden, a Soviet mining town about 800 miles from the North Pole—residents abandoned the town a few months later. Capturing the remnants of a town frozen in time, photojournalist Christopher Michel visited Pyramiden in 2016, an experience "both eerie and wonderful." 

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Russia's Blindfolded Arctic Policy

The Kremlin's militaristic and geopolitical intentions in the Arctic are under scrutiny by Western commentators and policymakers. But Morgane Fert-Malka argues the jingoistic rhetoric in Russia about the Arctic does not reflect the reality of Russian policymaking processes.

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Russia’s Reimagined Arctic

From new gas pipeline ventures to military buildup, Russia is expanding its influence in the Arctic. Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook, spoke with George Soroka, lecturer at Harvard University, about Russia's motivations in the Arctic and how the country's Arctic policy is tied to other economic and geopolitical interests. 

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Charlie Watt Jr.: Young Entrepreneur and Humanist in the Canadian Arctic

In Arctic in Context's latest "People of the North" interview, Jean François Arteau speaks with Charlie Watt Jr., the co-founder of Avataa, a company that works to develop business ventures to bring economic benefits to the Inuit of northern Canada. Watt discusses why it's important to think sustainably for the future of the Arctic and its peoples.

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What Russian Air Patrols in the Arctic Mean for Canada’s Security & Sovereignty

In the last few years, an increasing number of Russian air patrols have entered the North American Arctic airspace. Joël Plouffe, co-managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook, spoke with Frédéric Lasserre, professor of geography at the Université Laval, about Russia’s remilitarization campaign and what this activity means for Canadian sovereignty and national security.

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The Arctic as a Geopolitical Bond Among the EU, Russia, and Norway

Though they disagree on other issues, the EU, Norway, and Russia share common interests in the Arctic. World Policy Journal spoke with political scientist Matthaios Melas about how energy, the environment, and migration create a relationship of cooperation, not conflict, among these three actors. 

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Is Denmark an Arctic Great Power?

United under the Kingdom of Denmark are the nations of Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland. World Policy fellow Erica Dingman spoke with Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, who researches Danish foreign and security policy and Arctic politics, to discuss the evolving role of Greenland in how Denmark is redefining its Arctic interests.  

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Small Adaptation Miracles in Alaska 

Climate-induced changes have dominated discussions of plant and animal migration patterns in the Arctic. In research for a play about migration in Alaska, Chantal Bilodeau came across a poetic lesson: The adaptation of species to new conditions is a survival skill worthy of praise. 

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Daryana Maximova: Native Yakutian and Researcher

For the latest interview in Arctic in Context's "People of the North" series, Karina Kesserwan speaks with Daryana Maximova, a researcher from Yakutia, Russia, the coldest region in the world. Maximova discusses her homeland and the importance of including indigenous voices in Arctic policymaking.

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Russia's Arctic: Soft and Hard Power Go Hand in Hand

To Russians, the Arctic can be seen as a site of economic opportunity and a region that redefines national identity. Morgane Fert-Malka spoke to Alexander Sergunin, professor at St. Petersburg State University, about Russia's unique role in development and diplomacy in the Arctic.

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Into the Future: The Confluence of Arctic Warming and Energy Demand

As the globe grows warmer and energy demand rises, Arctic communities are increasingly pursuing opportunities in commercial industries. Erica Dingman highlights the paradoxes of energy development and argues that with cooperation and accountability, the Arctic can serve as a powerful example of a sustainable future. 

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Imagining the Arctic: Re-Emergence of a Cold War Mentality?

Russia's increased military activity in the Arctic has elicited concern in the U.S. about Cold War-like competition. Supriti Jaya Ghosh warns that this mentality centered on U.S.-Russian conflict overshadows a strong trend of regional collaboration on diplomatic and scientific issues.

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Many Arctics: The Aleut International Association and the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council currently has six Permanent Participants, indigenous organizations with full consultative powers but without actual votes. James Gamble, executive director of Aleut International Association, discusses the value of the group's participation in the Council not just for the communities it represents, but also for the Arctic region as a whole.

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Tony Penikett: Former Premier of Yukon

Continuing Arctic in Context's "People of the North" series, Jean François Arteau and Karina Kesserwan speak with Tony Penikett, former premier of Yukon. Penikett discusses land claim agreements for First Nations and the evolution of governance systems in the Canadian Arctic.

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Borrowed Time: Icelandic Artists Look Forward

Scandinavia House is presenting "Borrowed Time: Icelandic Artists Look Forward," bringing together the works of contemporary artists immersed in the global art movement for environmental preservation. Kristine Jordan examines how pieces from the exhibit broaden conversations of sustainability.

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The Arctic Council at 20: The Value of Flexibility

The Arctic Council has received both praise and critique at its 20th anniversary this year. Timo Koivurova and Malgorzata Smieszek reflect on the importance of maintaining the body's flexible response to regional issues, even as its structure is strengthened to address the challenges of the next 20 years. 

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The Arctic Council: From Achievement to Self-Reflection and Learning

While the Arctic Council has had significant achievements over its 20-year history, its current structure can impede progress when negotiations are contentious. Annika E. Nilsson explains the need to adapt decision-making processes to address issues ranging from climate change to the extractive industry. 

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WPJ Interactive: Globalizing the Arctic Economy

Since the 16th century, natural resources—both renewable and non-renewable—have drawn explorers and traders to the Arctic in search of commercial opportunities. In an interactive Prezi, Erica Dingman frames the long history of economic activity in the region, from the fur trade to airline travel.

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The U.S. Arctic Council Chairmanship: Changes from One Administration to Another?

This January, the U.S. Arctic Council chairmanship will be passed to Donald Trump's secretary of state appointee. David N. Biette argues that while some Arctic residents would welcome efforts to revamp infrastructure and increase oil and gas production, transforming Arctic policy is unlikely to be a high priority for the new administration.

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Performing 'Ice Watch'

Policymakers and activists from around the world are convening in Morocco for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference. World Policy Journal spoke with Anna Engberg-Pedersen about a dance performance in Paris at last year's summit and the role of art in addressing the complexities of global warming.

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The Arctic: A Region of Regions

When the Arctic Council was established 20 years ago, it prioritized the inclusion of permanent indigenous observers at the negotiating table. Jessica Shadian describes how decisions today are increasingly made by high-level state representatives while subnational groups seek a greater say in regional matters both within and beyond the Arctic Council.

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Valentina Sovkina: Sami Politician and Culture Protector from the Kola Peninsula</