Polar Resources
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Polar Resources
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Polar Resources
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5.5SyntheticBiology5.4Science ofthe Originsof Life5.3FutureEconomics5.2Future ofEducation5.1ComplexSystemsScience4.4Democracy-affirming Technologies4.1Science-basedDiplomacy4.2Advances inScience Diplomacy4.3Digital Technologiesand Conflict3.7InfectiousDiseases3.6Solar RadiationModification3.5OceanStewardship3.4SpaceResources3.3Future FoodSystems3.2WorldSimulation3.1Decarbonisation2.6FutureTherapeutics2.5Organoids2.4ConsciousnessAugmentation2.3RadicalHealthExtension2.2HumanApplicationsof GeneticEngineering2.1CognitiveEnhancement1.6CollectiveIntelligence1.5AugmentedReality1.4BiologicalComputing1.3Brain-inspiredComputing1.2QuantumTechnologies1.1AdvancedAIHIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIAL
5.5SyntheticBiology5.4Science ofthe Originsof Life5.3FutureEconomics5.2Future ofEducation5.1ComplexSystemsScience4.4Democracy-affirming Technologies4.1Science-basedDiplomacy4.2Advances inScience Diplomacy4.3Digital Technologiesand Conflict3.7InfectiousDiseases3.6Solar RadiationModification3.5OceanStewardship3.4SpaceResources3.3Future FoodSystems3.2WorldSimulation3.1Decarbonisation2.6FutureTherapeutics2.5Organoids2.4ConsciousnessAugmentation2.3RadicalHealthExtension2.2HumanApplicationsof GeneticEngineering2.1CognitiveEnhancement1.6CollectiveIntelligence1.5AugmentedReality1.4BiologicalComputing1.3Brain-inspiredComputing1.2QuantumTechnologies1.1AdvancedAIHIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIAL

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Polar Resources

    There is a long-standing misconception that the Arctic is somehow above international relations. However, what goes on at the top of the world has always reflected competition between great powers. As we enter a new period of geopolitical upheaval, there is every reason to believe that we might soon witness new and dramatic impacts on science, natural resources and the environment in this crucial region.

    Recent decades have seen relative stability in the relations between the eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle. But this is an historical anomaly, thanks largely to the unipolar world that arose following the end of the Cold War. American hegemony helped galvanise co-operation between the USA, Canada, Russia and the five Nordic countries in areas like science, human security and exploitation of natural resources.

    The USA has devoted considerable effort to maintaining this status quo in the face of a rising China, putting pressure on allies to keep Chinese investment and scientists out of the parts of the Arctic controlled by allies. Russia, which has long preferred a multipolar world with a more balanced relationship between itself and the other great powers, sought balanced relationships with the West and China.

    Unfortunately, the rapid deterioration in relations between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine promises to upend co-operation in the Arctic. As the two sides decouple — both economically and politically — it seems worryingly likely that we will see division arise in Arctic investment, trade, and scientific co-operation.

    The first casualty of this process will be the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental forum that mediates between the eight nations with interests in the region. Russia remains chair of the organisation until Spring 2023, but the other seven member states have frozen collaboration with Russia as chair and resumed co-operation without Russia. It seems unlikely that Russia will continue to attend as an ordinary member once it hands over the baton to Norway.

    The loss of one member out of eight may not sound like a death knell for the Arctic Council. However, the Russian territory makes up nearly half of the Arctic — and it is the more valuable half, containing rich deposits of oil, gas and minerals as well as the critical Northeast Passage shipping route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The raising of a new Iron Curtain between Russian and Western Arctic territories could therefore lead to a cascade of negative outcomes.

    One of the most obvious impacts will be on the exploitation of polar resources. Russia's north has enormous oil and gas reserves, but also contains huge deposits of valuable minerals. Europe has long been highly reliant on Russian fossil fuels; but even now, as Western economies transition to renewable energy, many of the key minerals required to make batteries and other green technologies are still sourced from Russia.

    A breakdown in economic ties between the two sides could therefore lead to a major change in Western attitudes towards Polar resources. The West has so far been keen to avoid mining and drilling for fossil fuels, which is a dirty business with many adverse impacts for the environment and local communities. But loss of access to Russian resources could create increasing pressure to exploit similar deposits in Scandinavia, Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic.

    The situation is further complicated by new Western sanctions, imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They are putting Russia under enormous economic stress, and are likely to force an expansion in efforts to tap whatever natural resources it can, potentially leading to increasing industrialisation of its Arctic territory. The same sanctions limit co-operation with Western companies, which currently have the most advanced technology and management practices in terms of human health and environmental standards. Russia's ramped-up exploitation of the Arctic is therefore likely to be a potentially more dirty and dangerous affair.

    As a result of all this, we could be about to see a dramatic acceleration in the exploitation of Polar resources and a qualitative shift in Western attitudes towards the Arctic region. What is more, an equally worrying breakdown in scientific dialogue between the two sides will make it increasingly difficult to understand the impact of these shifts.

    Norwegian government regulations permit interpersonal contact with Russian academics, but institutional contact is forbidden. While highly disruptive, this still allows room for a very limited amount of dialogue between social scientists such as myself and my Russian counterparts, but not highly qualified discussions with key foreign and security policy bodies. For those working in the natural sciences, continued collaboration is impossible as they need access to data, instruments and terrain, which are all mediated through institutions.

    The result is that Western Arctic science has lost access to half of the terrain it purports to study. While remote sensing from satellites can fill some of the gaps, the value of the data collected is greatly diminished by scientists' inability to visit regions under study to calibrate instruments. Given the central position of the Arctic in efforts to understand and prevent climate change — not least the vast amount of methane that could be released by the melting of the Siberian permafrost — this could lead to significant gaps in the evidence we use to set sensible environmental policy.

    These issues are highlighting both the importance of science diplomacy and its inherent fragility. While science has often been seen as a way to bridge political divides, recent events have shown that politics can also create scientific divides. And it is important to remember that the current impetus to sever intellectual ties is coming from Western governments.

    It seems to be a Western trait to eschew attempting to understanding an adversary because it might be seen as sympathising with them. There is also a tendency to imagine that communication with an adversary should only happen if and when they exhibit good, co-operative behaviour. This is a short-sighted approach. I have seen first-hand, in discussions about Arctic security, what happens when Russian and Chinese voices are shut out. Homogenous forums quickly succumb to groupthink, confirmation bias and fear of standing out, which leads to less qualified analyses and decisions. We need diversity of opinions if we are to do our best work.

    Cultivating intellectual ties is a long-term process and the connections young academics make today may not bear fruit for 10 or 20 years. If we want people who can help bridge the divide between different cultures when it matters most, we need to do that homework today. Given the critical place the Arctic will play in all of our futures, that's something we should commit to.