Arctic PASSION project investigates how research data is used in decision-making in Arctic cities. Photo: City of Akureyri, Iceland, jum_ruji – stock.adobe.com

Decision-making at the local and regional levels is uncharted territory in the Arctic region

24.2.2023 9:45

A while ago, Pavel Tkach moved his workstation to a more spacious and quieter room. He needs both space and privacy because day in, and day out, he keeps calling Arctic regional and local decision-makers in Luleå, Akureyri, Anchorage, Kuusamo, Tromsø or Yellowknife for research interviews.

The interviews focus on evidence-based information local and regional decision-makers need to support their decision-making and the ways they could better use research results. 

– We often pay attention to what states are doing in the Arctic. But at local and regional levels, there are many things where decision-makers need information, Tkach says. He now explores these issues as a researcher in the project Arctic PASSION in which research professor Timo Koivurova and researcher Adam Stepien of the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland are also involved.

Arctic PASSION is a massive EU Horizon 2020 project that focuses on systems of observing the Arctic change, access to Arctic information and the ways it is used. The project has many partners, and the University of Lapland is one of them. One piece in this puzzle to produce international research data is junior researcher Pavel Tkach, who, at the age of 26, is the youngest researcher in the entire Arctic Centre, apart from research assistants.

Windmills, construction projects, waste management, and local climate action in general. Environmental impact assessment practices, environmental and climate decision-making, and the use of the information therein. All this happens in relation to the national legislations of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and the United States and the domestic guidelines on regional and local decision-making and planning. The research topic is extensive and has endless layers. Russia was initially supposed to participate, but now it is out of this project, like all other projects.

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The construction of wind power involves many levels and stages of decision-making – the practices vary in different countries. Photo: Matti Kantola.

Decision-makers need comparative information 

Before the construction of a pipeline, for instance, somewhere in the Arctic region and before all the related permits are in order, and the surveying is completed, there is an enormous number of different levels of decision-making and legislation taking place behind the scenes. In every Arctic country, the processes are unique, and they are exactly what Tkach and other colleagues involved in the project at the Arctic Centre, investigate with the interviews. 

There is also debate about local climate policies in each country, and the adopted solutions are also quite different. Recently, Pavel Tkach interviewed the mayor of Luleå. He was very interested in what was happening elsewhere. 

– It’s important for decision-makers to get comparative information, Tkach says.

During the study, it has become apparent that local decision-makers in the Arctic may operate in similar circumstances, yet the practices are different, and people in different localities do not know how localities in different countries have resolved similar issues. Yet, such information could be helpful; for example, Reykjavik and Anchorage in Alaska might learn from each other.

It is also useful to understand how indigenous peoples’ views and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples are considered in different countries as part of decision-making. Canada has clear legislation; elsewhere, there are varying practices depending on the nature of the activity. 

– Everything starts with the law, Tkach points out, and it is the law that interests him.

No return to Belarus

For a young man, he has a long experience: at home in Belarus, he began law studies at the age of 16. 

– In Belarus, people do everything at a very young age, Tkach says.

After that, his path led him to further studies in Slovakia and, from there, to Akureyri, Iceland. The University of Akureyri, meanwhile, is known for its expertise in Polar Law, and there he connected with the researchers of the Arctic Centre working in the same field. Pavel Tkach first came to Rovaniemi as an intern for the Sirius project on immigration until he started working in Arctic PASSION.

The next step still needs to be clarified. Pavel Tkach is currently interested in the position of researchers starting their careers in general: many major research projects could not manage without them, but very often, the position of early-stage researchers is precarious.

From the point of view of his academic career, doctoral studies would be an option — an engaging topic would be, for example, the relationship between intellectual property rights and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, Tkach says. Or else he needs to find something else to do. One key fact will determine his future choices: he needs to find a job and earn his living somewhere in the European Union because there is no going back to Belarus. In the present situation, it is simply not possible.

But right now, there is work to do in Arctic PASSION. The project must produce results, and results are forthcoming. There are countless matters that have not been previously researched for the whole region, so the interviews will continue.

– We are on the right track, Tkach says. 

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By the age of 26, Pavel Tkach has already managed a lot. In his country of birth, Belarus, university studies started at the age of 16. Photo: Santeri Happonen.

Text: Markku Heikkilä