FACT-O conference in Edmonton, Canada highlights the impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean

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The “FACT-O Edmonton” (“French-AmeriCan Climate Talks - Ocean / The Arctic Ocean: from Local to Global Concerns”) took place at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) at the University of Alberta on November 5, 2018. With over 60 participants, its focus was on the Arctic Ocean and allowed French and Canadian speakers to talk about the problems caused by climate change in the ocean that lines Canada and in many ways in particular (strongly impacted by climate change, with changing governance).

About sixty people were present at the conference. The diverse audience included experts, professionals, and scientists, as well as professors and students (the event was held on the University of Alberta’s campus).

After Dr. Tammy Hopper, vice-provost at the University of Alberta, gave her welcome speech, Dr. Fabien Agenes, science attaché at the Consulate General of France in Vancouver, emphasized the vital role of France in the fight against climate change. He then gave the floor to the researcher in anthropology and moderator Dr. Mark Nuttall who, after highlighting the importance of the Arctic to the scientific community, invited the panel to the stage. The following were present:

  • Dr. Laura Castro de la Guardia, oceanographer, young researcher at the University of Alberta
  • Dr. Paul Myers, physician, professor at the University of Alberta
  • Dr. Martin Raillard, lead researcher, Canadian High Arctic Research Station
  • Mr. Serge Segura, Ambassador for the oceans, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

Laura Castro de la Guardia underscored the necessity to better understand the Arctic Ocean’s biology if we want to be able to respond to the serious changes it is experiencing. Researchers are lacking time and must learn to face problems of specie conservation without completely understanding their ecosystems yet. She works particularly on microorganisms and emerging viruses that infect polar bears.

Paul Myers addressed the question from his perspective as a physical oceanographer. With the melting ice caused by global warming, the entire physical system is changing. Moreover, since the oceans are connected to each other and only form one ocean in reality, a physical modification in one ocean strongly reverberates in the others: it’s “the Atlantification of the Aarctic Ocean”.

Martin Raillard presented his research by and for the indigenous populations in the north. Researchers use the empirical and ancestral knowledge of the native populations to predict the transformations to come. He maintained his desire for indigenous populations to be involved during each stage of research, for the benefit of everyone, which Canada allows and promotes more and more.

Finally, Serge Segura, detailed the ongoing changes in the Arctic Ocean, the majority originating from climate change: sailing, fishing. These changes generate uncertainty and the necessity for a new governance. This raises the question of the role and the future of the Arctic Counsel and the relationships to establish between the coastal states of this ocean and its user states.

After 45 minutes of round-table discussion, the public was invited to ask the speakers questions for about thirty minutes. The questions addressed to the panel were diverse and allowed for a vast and constructive debate. In this way, the public and panel discussed the questions of the more frequent opening of the Northwest Passage, native populations, and financing research. The main idea that came out of the debate was to favor an increased governance through legally binding agreements or calls to action. Serge Segura reiterated the need to change the paradigm, meaning to reflect from the ocean’s point of view and not from that of the coastal states, in order to establish such a governance.

The conference was closed with Mark Nuttall’s speech who returned to the different subjects that were brought up during the round-table discussion and particularly explored the notion of the “new Arctic” evoked during the debate, before inviting the public to join the reception.