I just wished to see the Europe I want to believe in, the cooperation that puts people’s wellbeing before economy and profits. The EU has to do better next time, writes Valeria Ciurcina, international student in Umeå, who attended the EU Arctic Forum recently.

In the beginning of October, the city of Umeå hosted the first EU Arctic Forum with the aim of gathering together policy makers, Scientists, Researchers, Stakeholders and Indigenous people of the Arctic.

The first Panel was about Cooperation in The Arctic, where representatives from Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Latvia, Malta, Denmark and India approached the discourse that the whole world depends on a healthy state of the environment. If the Arctic dies, many other countries, far away, will be affected, and we need to cooperate with funds and research.

”The Sustainable Arctic” panel was explained by Hans-Otto Pörtner, the vice-chair of International Panel for Climate Change, IPCC, who showed to the audience the problem of Arctic Amplification, the direct and indirect effects of the loss of sea ice, warming temperatures, loss of biodiversity and environmental damages that lead to economic losses especially to the indigenous people, who lived in harmony with this delicate ecosystem for centuries. This panel gave the most important message to the community, we have 11 years to save the Arctic for how we want to think of it. For Peter Winsor, WWF Arctic Programme, the deadline was 10 years ago when the ice melted and never reformed.

After the IPCC Panel we had to listen to the ”Sustainable Investments in the Arctic” panel. Honestly, economy and investment was not spoken in the language of people. There were many ”sustainable” project presented, one of those is the construction of an airport in Greenland . One student from the Youth Representatives raised the hand asking ”What can normal people get of this? What is the take home message of this?” and the answers received were about how to invest money for projects and that all of this was not about green washing.

As a scientist, in science thinking, I perceive sustainability as a mathematical model and not as an opinion. I realized that everyone has its own subjective opinion about sustainability, and this tendency to inaccuracy is dangerous as underrated.

The last panel of the first day, ”Connecting the Arctic” showed the possibility to enlarge and re-invent the management in the Nordic regions for a more sustainable continent and the feeling of unification and connection among the people. The technology of satellites and digitalization will reach the Arctic promoting welfare.

The second day of the Forum hosted the ”Arctic Indigenous People’s dialogue” in Väven, in the center of Umeå, far from the University, in a room with a smaller capability, around 100 to compare with the 500 spots of Aula Nordica. In a few words, the indigenous people have had their dialogue separated and excluded from the topics of the first day.

What did I gain from this experience? There were many themes that are very familiar to me and things I already know. I learned something both in the University of Umeå, both travelling across the whole Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish North. We indeed need to rise the concept and demand of Social Justice for the Sami and the Inuit people who lived in harmony and respect for the Arctic since they were there. I also knew before that money talks, but I am still shocked of the nonchalance of talking of investments in a land where people loose home, food security, health and their Nature.

As a biologist, my goal is conservation and then sustainability, since the second concept depends on the first. Without conservation, we cannot talk about sustainability. Without justice, there is no sustainability. We also have to recognize that the Indigenous Knowledge plays a role in understanding the fragility of the Nordic ecosystems. Often but not always scientists and Indigenous people have common points of view and goals.

I just had the feeling that almost every panel had almost different goals, so how is full cooperation possible when goals are so different and sometimes opposite?

How it is possible to talk about building new airports in a place like Greenland ”in the name of economic growth” where people are losing homes due to sea level rising and where the food security is lost due to persistent pollutants? Are the investors listening to scientists? Why to talk about jobs if we ignore public health matters? Why to build new physical infrastructures without having a single clue of these lands?

I am sure, that many never have visited the Arctic and never have talked not even with locals.

Let´s pretend that I do not have an MSc and that I do not go hiking around the Arctic every summer for minimum three weeks. Let’s pretend I have no clues of the Arctic. What take home message would I bring home? I would say it is contradictory, confusing, and a paradox.

The scientist in the IPCC panel tell us we have less than two decades to save the Arctic as we know it, the other researchers say there are never enough funds, but for sure we are all threatened. The economist talk about long lasting projects to bring welfare and sustainability and that a free ice sea will mean more maritime routes. They are talking about new commercial routes. I just see the Arctic sea ice loss as cities drowning and polar bears starving yesterday and go extinct today.

And the economists, well, they are always optimist with their own idea of sustainability, living the illusion of the proverb ”When the wind of change blows, some build walls, other windmills”. The problem is that there are no rights to build windmills in somebody else land, there is no sustainability in global capitalism and we saw it. Also, climate change is not just 1 °C or 2 °C more in the thermometer, but the disruption of entire continents. There is no wind of change in climate change, there will be catastrophic events that policy makers/investors are still ignoring.

Everyone mentioned sustainability, nobody did with social justice. Once again, just the minority is listening to scientists. I just wished to see the Europe I want to believe in, the cooperation that puts people wellbeing before economy and profits. THE EU HAS TO DO BETTER NEXT TIME!

And in all of this, the Sami and Inuit flags were not even present, as the umpteenth symbol of exclusion.


Valeria Ciurcina
International student in Umeå, researcher and backpacker