Winter weather and climate extremes: How can researchers, authorities, and local peoples work together to record, predict and adapt?
Salekhard, Yamal-Nenets automonous district, 31 Oct – 4 Nov 2017
The message was clear: To understand world climate, you need to understand the Arctic. To understand Arctic climate, you need to understand the Russian Arctic. To understand the Russian Arctic, you need to understand Yamal!
The Siberian Environmental Change Network was founded in 2016 to provide a “super mega transect” of stations; to create a science mega facility analogous to CERN that would serve as the hub of Siberian research. The workshop was jointly organised by INTERACT and indeed several SecNet stations are INTERACT partners. But the main theme of the workshop was not increasing research infrastructure, but rather how to effectively work with all stakeholders including government and local residents. The unique, and refreshing aspect with this meeting was that instead of scientists talking about these issues amongst themselves, representatives from the various stakeholder groups were present and fully engaged in the meeting.
Due to the diverse backgrounds of the workshop participants the first day was spent on introductions. Thereafter, the format of the workshop centered on breakout groups. In the first breakout, participants were split according to sector (Researcher, Northern Peoples, Decision makers) and asked to identify the challenges and opportunities related to communicating with the other groups. Out of interest, I joined the Decision Makers group. In terms of communicating with scientists, they identified a lack of local experts able to engage with regional problems. Additionally, they highlighted the lack of clear, coherent priorities coming from the international science community. A positive example identified was the CALM network where rather than saying that ‘permafrost research is important’, exact variables that needed to be measured were defined. For communicating with local people, they raised the interesting point that after a few years the representatives of those communities may not be ‘representative’ anymore, after having spent considerable time away from home.
In the second breakout, the groups were mixed and each new group had to discuss areas of high priority, which required the three groups to work together. A common theme amongst all groups was education: developing Arctic specific courses and being able to deliver them close to home. Salekhard, population 40 000, has no university. Education includes learning about the legal system: how to influence the decisions that will impact you. Land access, was also identified as an area ripe for inter-sector collaboration.
In the final section of the workshop, all the discussions were summarised and an action plan developed to drive the momentum forward. The overwhelming impression I got from this meeting was that communication is crucial, whether that is within your own ‘group’ or between sectors. There are many examples of good practice and various guidelines have been developed, but to make a real impact they need to be widely communicated and translated (both in terms of language and style of delivery). Clearly not all scientists should/need to engage in inter-sector communication and would be best served by dedicated representatives. But, as was highlighted in this meeting, care needs to be taken that those representatives don’t just end up travelling from meeting to meeting, losing touch with their ‘constituency’ along the way.
I would like to thank the organisers of the conference for providing me opportunity to attend and experience Yamal, and Olga who provided real time Russian-English translation, without which this workshop would not have been as successful as it was.