The EU PolarNet was recently established as an umbrella organization for European polar research expertise and infrastructure. On 27th September a Town Hall Event was held at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels to engage important stakeholders and discuss European polar research priorities for the coming years. APECS had the chance to participate and did so in person of Igor S. Pessi and Henrik Christiansen.
Now, many may think policy meetings are rather dry events. While this can hold true for some cases, it certainly didn’t for the EU PolarNet Town Hall. Here’s a brief and personal report of some highlights:
After registration you’re told to “just turn right after the dinosaurs”. So, briefly inspecting giant creatures that didn’t make it through extreme climate change related to a giant asteroid, and then further on to discussions of present day climate change (for which we can’t blame an asteroid). Kristina Bär and Nicole Biebow provided excellent organization and after a warm welcome by Nicole and an amazing video with greetings from various polar researchers from the field (both Arctic and Antarctic) compiled by Kristina, the first talks and discussions began. The theme of the morning was “The 1.5° C climate target – What does the European society need from polar research?”. Amongst others, Jannie Staffansson held an extremely impressive, emotional plea for renewable energy and for inclusion of indigenous people in Arctic research. Their knowledge can be invaluable and they should not just be used as ‘data source’, but actively engaged. Peter Gibbs from BBC followed suit with his experiences of documenting Antarctic research in action. A must-see for anyone interested in science communication (see link below).
In the afternoon discussions revolved around “European priorities for polar research”. Jane Francis, director of British Antarctic Survey, started explaining what international collaboration can achieve and emphasized repeatedly that it’s in fact largely the future of younger generations that is at stake. Therefore, young people should play a dominant role in shaping future polar research and may come up with important new ideas. Obviously, APECS couldn’t agree more and it’s also up to us to make our voice heard. During the discussions for the conference statement Tom Armstrong, CEO of Madison River Group and long time expert on global change in the White House, critically reminded everyone that 1.5° C may be a noble goal, but scientists should know that it’s not a very realistic goal, especially in a world that has already breached the 400 ppm CO2 barrier this year. Climate change particularly in polar regions leaves four choices: adapt, mitigate, intervene, or doing nothing. The latter is usually by far the worst. The mission of EU PolarNet to coordinate and strengthen polar research is hence extremely important given the challenges, but also opportunities of climate change.
This really is but a very short excerpt, many more relevant talks can be seen in the recordings of the event here. A protocol and a conference statement will be published soon as well. Watch out for that!