September 2009 007The symposium was opened by the President of the Republic of Iceland, His Excellency Dr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Dr. Grímsson stressed the great opportunity for Arctic scholars and young scientists to come together in order to exchange and gain knowledge about the legal regimes of the Polar regions. He emphasized the importance of Greenland’s status of self-determination as a key element in the discourse of Arctic governance. Moreover, the President referred to the melting glaciers of the Himalaya region, which will most likely be gone within the next 30-40 years, potentially affecting about one billion people. In demographic terms, the impacts will be much greater than those of the Arctic region. Therefore, the President encouraged the research community to establish permanent forums for dialogue between the Arctic and the Himalaya region.

A strong emphasis of the Symposium lied upon new shipping routes and the marine infrastructure, the protection of the fragile Arctic environment, resource extraction and security implications in the Arctic in times SympRoutesof climatic changes. Scholars and policy makers from various Arctic countries and disciplines presented their newest findings, also including the legal regimes of the Antarctic as possible guiding tools for the Arctic. However, no consensus was found as to whether an Arctic Treaty would be a solution for the unsolved questions in the Arctic. Even if an Arctic Treaty were to be drafted, according to the Ilulissat Declaration 2008, the five riparian nations to the Arctic Ocean do not see the need for a new Arctic legal regime.

Policy-makers from Greenland and the Faroe Islands presented the status and development of self-determination of their home countries, especially during the changing perceptions of Greenland in a warming climate and the Faroe Island as a whaling country. While Greenland does not strive to gain total independence, the Faroe Islands are deeply divided about this topic. A scientific presentation regarding the status of the indigenous peoples in Chukotka also picked self-determination as a central theme. Despite improvements in infrastructure, education and health care in the Russian far East, the Chukchi and Yup’ik in Chukotka are still facing great problems in their self-determination.

SymposiumThe Symposium was accompanied by a meeting of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS). The current Polar Law class at the University of Akureyri was able to establish contacts to scientists and policy makers dealing with the Arctic and obtain information about possible careers in the field of Arctic research and governance. Furthermore, the Northern Research Forum’s (NRF) Working group on legal and political issues presented current information about environmental, legal and political challenges in the Arctic, especially in regards to the continental shelf debate, human rights in the Arctic and the rights and obligations of science in Arctic research.

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