Arctic Safety Conference in Longyearbyen 13-15 May 2019

In May I had the possibility to go back to Longyerbyen, Svalbard, to present my work at the Arctic Safety Conference which took place at UNIS from 13 - 15 May. The work is part of my PhD and INTAROS Workpackage 4 on community-based observing programmes for participatory research and capacity-building. The topic of my presentation was:  Knowledge based planning, development and monitoring in the Arctic. Linking top-down with bottom-up approaches.

UNIS, Longyerbyen


Left: Ann Christin Auestad, Project Manager at Arctic Safety Center, and right: Harald Ellingsen, Managing Director at UNIS, opening the Arctic Safety Conference in Longyearbyen.    

Pictures from the conference.

Safety and risks involve people and local communities, especially in areas that are inhabited. This is also true for the Arctic region, where both indigenous people, and other settlements and communities are challenged by climate change and increased risks due to more frequent extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. Effective responses to rapid environmental change rely on observing systems to inform planning and decision-making. Building on experience from Arctic community-based monitoring programs, comparing top-down, (non-) governmental program driven approaches with bottom-up approaches initiated and steered at the community level, connecting these two approaches, and linking to Indigenous and local knowledge can yield substantial benefits from local- to global scale observing programs.

The presentation was sharing experience and approaches from the INTAROS project,  (Integrated Arctic Observing Systems-Horizon 2020, ), where we are stating as one of the main objectives that knowledge-based planning of the future is required.

This is crucial in order to strengthen the societal and economic role of the Arctic region, and to support the EU strategy for the Arctic and related maritime and environmental policies.

Safety and risks are part of this picture in local communities. In the INTAROS project, Workpackage 4, one of the overall goals is to enhance community-based observing programs by further developing the capacity of scientists and community members, addressing participatory research and capacity-building, and improve the cost-effectiveness of data collection in support of economic and societal activities. In addition, we want to contribute to enhance the livelihoods of the indigenous and local communities. In Svalbard, almost 25% of the areas are protected as national parks, where the precautionary principle is the main monitoring approach. This is not the case for the area of Longyerbyen. Here, there is an overall area-plan, and a lot of new development challenges to handle.
In addition to my research in INTAROS, through my work as a public sector PhD candidate, I look at how local communities can contribute to a mobilization of people and resources to achieve a sustainable development, combined with the monitoring perspectives. Through the analytical perspectives of linking and bridging social capital, placemaking, participation and democracy in planning and development, and through an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach, I argue there is a need for co-creation, broad knowledge,  and a facilitation of these processes in order to reach the UN sustainability goals, and to secure a safe and holistic management and development. This is very much the case in Longyerbyen as well.

During my stay in Longyerbyen this time, I also had the possibility to attend an evening meeting in the Local Council on 13 May.

Photo from the Local Council meeting on the 13 May 2019

It was interesting to follow the presentations of cases and the discussions about how to make sustainable decisions for Longyearbyen. Status of the results, and turn-over, at the local school was one of the cases, like in many smaller places and cities around the world.

One of the cases had to do with the moving of the student-housing facilities to a new area closer to the river, but further away from the mountains where they are increasingly challenged by earth-slides and avalanches. The leader of the technical department paid tribute to the politicians that has been making decisions about new housing facilities according to the overall plan for Longyearbyen. Still there are concerns about how safe and sustainable these areas are in the long term.

Sustainability was important in many cases this evening. The Local Council decided to appoint a three-year position as an energy-advisor that should work on the new energy strategy and search for sustainable energy solutions in Longyearbyen. The intention is to terminate the use of the power-plant based on coal-burning, the main energy source in Longyearbyen today.

The Local Council also decided to start the work on a new plan for the leadership of the energy situation in Longyerbyen, through a holistic and sustainable approach for the future energy solutions.
One of the politicians was claiming that they had not given the administration good enough framework and sustainable directions in the field of energy and development so far, so this meeting was a big step in the right direction.

The next case was the start-up of the new energy plan for Longyearbyen, and finally, they decided to see if it was possible to buy the first electric car for the people working in the department of renovation.

After the regular meeting was finished, they had a very important information meeting, about the status for the avalanche- and landslide-prevention work in Longyearbyen. Last time this case was discussed was on 4 December 2018, and I was also attending that meeting. They decided that evening, which solution to choose, based on reports from consultants and NVE, the Norwegian Water and Energy Directorate.

Photo from the Local Council meeting on 4 December 2018

Photo form the Local Council meeting on 4 December 2018

I had the possibility to ask that evening in December, if they had any researchers involved in the work to analyze the situation, an suggest solutions. I was told they used the worst case scenarios according to the technical standards connected to the Planning and Building act. These technical requirements are based on more general forecasts, and not on updated research on permafrost, precipitation and flooding scenarios locally.

Half a year after the decisions were made concerning solutions for the safety and prevention work, the ongoing work was put on hold, this evening in May. The Local Council was informed that the consultants had based their proposed solutions on information that there would not be movement in the permafrost further down than 10 meters depth. They recently got new information stating that there could be melting permafrost down to 14 meters depth in Longyearbyen, where the new development areas are situated.

From the information meeting on the 13 May 2019.

The safety and precaution work is going to restart, but it is uncertain how long time this will take, and what the solutions are going to be. It was challenging to experience how difficult it is for the local administration and politicians, and of course also the consultants, to know how to make sustainable and good long-term decisions. Taking part in the Arctic Safety Conference, and at the same time experiencing the stressful and challenging situation for local decisionmakers, made me realized there is still work to be done at local level. We need to make sure research is addressing local challenges to a larger extent, search for a combination of scientific and local knowledge and bring forward local needs, build trust and bring the actors together, in order for local communities, people and animals to have the possibility to have a safe and sustainable future. Co-creation, broad knowledge, research on local conditions, and a facilitation of the processes connected to urban development in the Arctic, will be crucial in the years to come.

Pictures by Lisbeth Iversen

May 27, 2019 Lisbeth Iversen, NERSC


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