A group of researchers and representatives from business and industry being weatherbound in Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard 13 years ago resulted in the founding of one of the most important Arctic meeting places globally – the Arctic Frontiers conference.
Text: Malin Mathisen and Linn Blekkerud
“The researchers all saw the need for good conversations across sectors. That led to the founding of Arctic Frontiers,” says Anu Fredrikson.
She is the executive director of the conference, which attracts several thousand visitors to Tromsø every year. Arctic Frontiers is the largest annual conference in the Tromsø region. It has become a major international meeting place that brings together decision-makers, researchers and representatives from business and industry to discuss changes and sustainable development in the Arctic. The purpose is to promote knowledge-based development, as well as build bridges between business and industry, politicians, academia and research.
Anu Fredrikson believes that one of the most important aspects of Arctic Frontiers is that the conference gathers people from around the world and showcases Northern Norway as a well-developed part of the Arctic. She believes that many misconceptions exist about what the Arctic actually is.
“There is a completely different image and understanding of the Arctic globally than internally here in Norway. Some of these misconceptions can potentially be harmful to our region. For instance, some companies in the retail and shipping sectors have announced that they will not use Arctic shipping routes because they don’t want to contribute to climate destruction. Several North American and European financial institutions have stated that they will withdraw investments from major energy projects in the Arctic. The signal effect this sends is worrying and it’s our job to educate and tell people what we know, what we do, how we live and that we actually live here,” explains Fredrikson, who has a background from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Arctic Economic Council.
Tromsø – a perfect example of a well-functioning Arctic society
The inaugural Arctic Frontiers conference was organised in 2006 and it has always taken place in Tromsø. Fredrikson believes this benefits the entire Northern Norway region, Norway and the broader Arctic discussion.
“Holding the conference in Tromsø offers many advantages. Tromsø is the perfect example of a well-functioning Arctic society. The city’s international airport means Tromsø is easily accessible, and we have all the facilities here necessary to organise such conferences. Over the years, we have established several good collaborations and a professional supplier network.”
Fredrikson says the most important proof that Tromsø is a good destination for communicating knowledge-based development is the feedback she receives from international guests.
“A former colleague from the US embassy came to Tromsø. She called me when she landed here and was ecstatic that she had mobile coverage and that there were roads and public transport. She was not expecting things like that here. I experienced the same thing when one of the senior executives from Ericsson visited us from Canada. He was extremely excited about the high-tech tunnel system. They don’t have similar systems even in the largest cities,” says Fredrikson, pointing out the importance of continuing to invite international guests to Tromsø.
“The fact that we can gather heads of government from many countries for discussions about our region is of great importance. In some cases, it’s the first time they are in Norway. They return to their respective countries with new experiences and become new ambassadors for the region and our cause. It’s our contribution towards putting Northern Norway on the world map. We aim to further strengthen this dimension in the future,” says the executive director.
In addition to the annual conference in Tromsø every winter, Arctic Frontiers organises several smaller thematic events elsewhere in Norway and abroad during the year. Arctic Frontiers Abroad is a concept developed to promote conferences and partners nationally as well as internationally.
Arctic Frontiers 2023 has highly topical themes on the agenda
The theme of the conference to be held in Tromsø in February 2023 is “Moving North”.
Sea ice, new species, technology hubs and the impacts of climate change are all moving closer to the Arctic. This coincides with the fact that people are moving south. This presents both challenges and opportunities for sustainable development.
The recent release of the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underlines the urgency of adaptation and solutions. The key issues of Arctic Frontiers 2023 will reflect transformation, modelling, adaptation and development in the rapidly changing global landscape in which we find ourselves.
Arctic Frontiers 2023, which takes place from 30 January to 2 February, will involve both physical and digital participation. However, Fredrikson hopes that as many as possible will travel north and participate physically. Fredrikson believes that for Arctic Frontiers to have legitimacy as an Arctic conference, preparations must be made for the participants to experience the Arctic.
“Tromsø is an authentic city and the nature in combination with a vibrant urban life enables us to offer that little extra something. Contrary to what many people still believe, we have good infrastructure, access to facilities and services and the possibility to host conferences of the highest quality,” she concludes.