ARCtic Urban SUStainability

The Barents Institute at the University of Tromsø in Northern Norway is leading a study on Arctic Urban Sustainability in the Arctic from 2012 to 2015. Led by Aileen A. Espíritu, the main goal of this three-year research programme and research network project is to evaluate climate and socioeconomic factors related to the sustainability of Russian Arctic urban communities. The proposed activities directly relate to the Norwegian Research Council’s NORRUSS (Russian and the High North/Arctic) Programme objectives of developing interdisciplinary approaches combining aspects of physical and social science. It will have a high level of societal relevance in the internationalization of research regarding the High North, especially in Russia, and with Russian partners. Moreover, our planned outreach activities will lead to understanding, dialogue, and co-operation among stakeholders in urban environments in the Arctic —  residents, policy-makers, businesses, and scientists. It goes beyond this by including the comparative element with the other Arctic states, and to examine Russia’s place in the mediation of the pressing challenges in the governance of the Arctic and the rich natural resources –land and human, found there.

The key research question that will structure the research network’s activities will be: Given the on-going and future extraction of Arctic resources, what kinds of urban settlements and their related infrastructure are best suited to ensure sustainability? Our main hypothesis is that: While socio-economic and climate factors can greatly impact the sustainability of Arctic urban settlements, effective resource extraction policies can greatly reduce adverse consequences to the local and global environment. The analysis will be focused on several urban communities in the Russian Arctic compared with other urban communities in the High North and Arctic regions of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and the United States. Chosen urban communities will be representative of diverse climatic, environmental, and socio-economic conditions. Thus our consortium covers this geographical reach with partners from Norway: The Barents Institute at the University of Tromsø (lead); Russia: Lomonosov Moscow State University, St Petersburg State University, the State Hydrological Institute (Roshydromet), Center of Arctic and Northern economies at the Council for research of productive forces (SOPS) and the Luzin Institute for Economic Studies of the Kola Science Centre RAS; from the USA: The American Geographical Society and George Washington University; from Canada: The University of Saskatchewan; and from Finland: The Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. We also have associate partners in Sweden based at Luleå Technical University.

One of our first tasks is to create a research tool-kit, a survey, that will reflect the state of sustainability planning with regards to urban development and climate change in the High North/Arctic. In focus will be urban centres such as Murmansk, Salekhard, Yakutsk, Khanty-Mansiisk, compared with Tromsø, Kirkenes, Longyearbyen, Rovaniemi, Kiruna, Whitehorse, La Ronge, etc. We will engage Masters students and other young scholars to implement the survey throughout our study regions.  We will also have a doctoral position for ARCSUS.  Bridging the disciplinary divide between natural and social scientists, we are working together to explore urban sustainability in its multi-faceted forms, with the ambition to engage with Northern communities, and local and national policy-makers to show best practices in the management of the relationship between Arctic urban areas and their surrounding environment.

Concurrently, George Washington University has parallel funding from the American National Science Foundation to widen and deepen the networking aspect of our Arctic Urban Sustainability project.

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