Arctic sea ice is retreating. This is creating new opportunities to explore and traverse the Central Arctic Ocean, north of the Arctic Circle. Some countries, like Russia, are eager to explore for oil and gas in this newly accessible area. Greenpeace, which is devoting significant resources to protecting the Arctic, is pushing hard for the creation of a permanent sanctuary. China and South Korea have declared themselves "Arctic Nations" now that their boats can, for at least part of the year, make their way through waters that used to be blocked by ice. Indigenous peoples, like the Inuit in Alaska,
Gwich'in People in Canada and the Saami People in Finland and Russia are worried about the environmental impacts that oil and gas exploration, or just oil and gas shipments might have on fisheries and sea mammals. Because the area is newly opened, there is no scientific baseline
from which to work regarding the state of the Central Arctic Ocean ecosystems, particularly the fisheries.
The inter-governmental Arctic Council was created in 1996 to promote cooperation among the Arctic states. It includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The Council has offered Permanent Participant status and guaranteed consultation rights to Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic region. Of the 4 million people in the Arctic, approximately 500,000 are indigenous. The Arctic Circle is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to involve as many civil society groups as possible in collaborative decision-making about the Arctic. More than 1,000 people participated in its recent annual meeting in Iceland. So, there is an official body and an unofficial body trying to draw attention to the need for more sustainable development and protection of environmental resources in the Arctic. Unfortunately, the Council has no enforcement powers and existing treaties, like the United Nations Law of the Sea, as well as bilateral fishing agreements in the peripheral portions of the Arctic Ocean, don't guarantee that governmental and non-governmental parties will do the "right thing" when it comes to preserving the extraordinary marine resources of the Central Arctic or protecting the interests of Indigenous Peoples.
Several weeks ago, at Harvard Law School, the Program on Negotiation (PON) (an inter-university consortium committed to improving the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution) organized a two day Devising Seminar, the goal of which was to identify "good ideas" that might infuse formal decision-making by governments, First Peoples, industries and civil society groups whose actions could either doom or protect newly accessible areas of the Arctic. For several months prior to the meeting, the PON team interviewed (privately and on a not-for-attribution basis) more than 45 of the government officials, local leaders, industry stakeholders, science organizations and environmental advocacy groups with long-standing interests in the future of the Arctic. Those interviews were incorporated into a Stakeholder Assessment -- a 30 page document summarizing the views of each category of stakeholders (without attributing anything to any individual) in response to seven questions. Interviewees were asked about: (1) new risks to various Arctic fisheries posed by retreating sea ice; (2) strategies for protecting fish stocks; (3) gaps in scientific knowledge; (4) the possible need for new monitoring systems; (5) concerns of indigenous communities; (6) ways of reducing the impact of oil spills that might occur; and (7) the possible need for new treaties or new institutional arrangements. The key findings are summarized in three one page tables.
Based on the Stakeholder Assessment, PON invited 30 participants, representing most of the key stakeholder groups, to the Cambridge meeting. The ground rules were simple: we would talk through
the six questions and see whether the group as a whole could come up with suggested responses that might meet the most important concerns of ALL of the relevant stakeholder groups. That is, we defined good ideas as responses to the questions that could win nearly unanimous support from everyone present. There were no speeches allowed. There was no opportunity to rehearse long-held official positions. Those were all summarized in the Stakeholder Assessment that everyone received ahead of time. You can read the Stakeholder Assessment here http://scienceimpact.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/AFDS_StakeholderAssessment.pdf
Because everyone was participating in their "personal" rather than their official capacity, and no names would be appended to the eventual summary of good ideas, participants were free to engage in open-ended "problem solving," without fear that their statements would get them in trouble "back home."
The conversation was facilitated by the PON team (which I headed). As the discussion unfolded, good ideas were captured in real time on a large screen behind the facilitators at the end of a
large horseshoe of tables and chairs around which the participants sat. What people saw weren't minutes (again, no one was named). Only emerging points of agreement, summarized at the end of each segment of the discussion by the facilitation team, were recorded.
By the end of the session, the group was somewhat surprised that many points of agreement emerged, especially regards the desirability of a temporary moratorium on oil and gas exploration as well as fisheries development in the Central Arctic Ocean. This would permit collaborative scientific efforts a chance to build an accurate baseline and prepare generally accepted forecasts of changing conditions. Several groups were quite concerned that such a moratorium should only be freely adopted by each country involved, and not imposed. Most were not willing to think in terms of a permanent moratorium, at least not at this time. You can read the Summary Report here http://scienceimpact.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/AFDS_SummaryReport.pdf.
A Devising Seminar is a carefully constructed and facilitated forum in which a wide range of stakeholders, who often have no opportunity to engage in constructive face-to-face problem solving because of the political and institutional setting in which they operate, can, in fact, explore their differences and search for well-founded agreements. Such sessions can only succeed when they are preceded by the preparation of a full-blown Stakeholder Assessment, prepared by a team of neutral facilitators trusted by the parties. Participants have to be assured that what they say in informal conversation won't come back to haunt them. The participants in the Devising Seminar must include a range of technical or scientific experts who can offer well-informed answers to factual questions that arise (even if they disagree among themselves). The facilitation team must allow all the participants a chance to review and revise the draft Summary of the Devising Seminar report, even though no one's names are ultimately mentioned.
The Summary Report of the Devising Seminar on the Arctic Fisheries was presented at a recent plenary meeting of the Arctic Circle in Iceland. More importantly, the document is now in the hands of the senior leadership of each of the Arctic Council countries, First Nation Permanent Participants and many of the most active scientific and civil society groups with a stake in the Arctic. They are all free to cite or draw on the good ideas in the Summary Report in any way they want. What's unusual, I think, is that they can put forward any recommendation contained in the Summary Report with confidence that almost all of the other stakeholder groups involved are likely support these ideas.