North Pacific Arctic Conference

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Beginning in 2011, participants have come to the East-West Center for an annual North Pacific Arctic Conference (NPAC), sponsored by the Center and the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI). Participating in their personal capacities and engaging in wide-ranging but focused discussions under the Chatham House Rule, participants representing the public sector, the private sector, and civil society have taken a particular interest in relations among the Arctic states of the North Pacific region (Canada, Russia, and the United States) and the principal non-Arctic states of the same region (China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea). The organizers have sought to situate these North Pacific dialogues within a broader setting, featuring the emergence of the Arctic as a distinct region and the interplay between this region and the global system.

Within this framework, each session of NPAC has drawn attention to a broad theme. NPAC 2011 focused on “Arctic Transformations,” NPAC 2012 on “Arctic Marine Issues,” NPAC 2013 on “The Future of the Arctic,” NPAC 2014 on “International Cooperation in a Changing Arctic,” and NPAC 2015 on “The Arctic in the Wider World.” The 2016 NPAC focused on “Arctic Futures: Emerging Issues, Policy Responses.”

The theme of NPAC's recent 2017 meeting was "Improved Science Policy Engagement as a Key to Building Capacity for a Sustainable Arctic." The organziers chose this theme based on the realization that the conventional relationship between science and policy, or more broadly between analysis and practice, is inadequate to meet the challenges arising in an increasingly complex, dynamic, and interconnected world. Three linked features amplify the importance of improving the engagement between members of the science and policy communities:

  • The first feature is heightened connectivity. Events occurring in one location (e.g., the melting of sea ice in the Arctic) are often results of distant drivers (e.g., emissions of greenhouse gases in the mid-latitudes). The impacts of climate change on Arctic communities are determined to a sizable degree by a range of other factors involving health, education, welfare, and the overall social cohesion of individual communities.
  • The second feature is the prominence of messy nonlinear changes involving tipping points, trigger mechanisms, and cascades of change following seemingly minor disturbances and leading to emergent situations that are difficult to anticipate, hard to analyze rigorously, and frequently take us by surprise. We may already have passed the point of no return regarding the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet, for example, though the global impacts of this nonlinear event will not become apparent for some time to come.
  • The third feature, related to connectivity and nonlinearity, involves the impossibility of eliminating major uncertainties. Science is a powerful tool that can produce answers to many questions. But the most sophisticated science in the world cannot yield confident predictions regarding issues such as when the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in the summer months or whether thawing permafrost will release significant quantities of methane during the coming years. Policymakers and their advisors must accept the necessity of making hard choices under conditions of uncertainty and devise methods for identifying unanticipated consequences of their choices and adjusting them as needed in an agile manner.

A common thread running through all the conferences over the years has been the importance of sustaining the Arctic as a zone of peace and prosperity in a rapidly changing and often turbulent and unpredictable world.

Papers presented at the conferences are published every year in a series of proceedings on The Arctic in World Affairs.

Related Publications

Young, Oran R., Jong Deog Kim, and Yoon Hyung Kim, eds. (2015). The Arctic in World Affairs: A North Pacific dialogue on the Arctic in the wider world. North Pacific Arctic Conference Proceedings. Seoul: Korea Maritime Institute and East-West Center.

Young, Oran R., Kim, Jong Deog, and Kim, Yoon Hyung, eds. (2014). A North Pacific dialogue on international cooperation in a changing Arctic. Seoul: Korea Maritime Institute and East-West Center.

Young, Oran R., Kim, Jong Deog, and Kim, Yoon Hyung, eds. (2013). A North Pacific dialogue on the future of the Arctic. Seoul: Korea Maritime Institute and East-West Center.

Young, Oran R., Kim, Jong Deog, and Kim, Yoon Hyung, eds. (2012). A North Pacific dialogue on Arctic marine issues. Seoul: Korea Maritime Institute and East-West Center.

Corell, Robert W., Kang, James Seong-Cheol, and Kim, Yoon Hyung, eds. (2011). A North Pacific dialogue on Arctic transformation. Seoul: Korea Maritime Institute and East-West Center.

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