At the end of February I was invited to represent APECS at an ‘Arctic and Antarctic Think Tank’ in Potsdam, Germany. The event brought together the executive committees of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Over 1.5 days the two organizations updated each other on their current scientific and policy activities and discussed ways to strengthen their existing collaboration.
Both organizations have recently published summaries of important research questions at their respective poles (Horizon Scan and ICARP III) and a major goal of the meeting was how to combine these two documents in order to increase awareness of the importance of polar research amongst national funding agencies and the general public. It is all very well to outline research questions, but plans for how to implement them are also needed. COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs) is leading the Antarctic Roadmap Challenges (ARC) project which looks at how to implement the Horizon Scan research questions. An overarching theme is the development of technology e.g. remote sensing, memory capacity and durability. I really liked the way the ARC focused on common underlying needs rather than discipline specific issues, especially since it reminds researchers to look outside their discipline: the technology they are looking for may already be out there.
There was much interest in a new International Council for Science (ICSU) initiative called ‘Future Earth’. Future Earth aims to bring together diverse organizations with the common aim of promoting research for global sustainability. It currently does not have a strong polar or even climate focus and it was agreed that Future Earth should do more to engage with SCAR and IASC. What was interesting about this discussion was that it highlighted how important communication between organizations is in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts. This is particularly important since many of these organizations are primarily run by volunteers on a limited budget.
Further discussions centered around plans for the joint SCAR-IASC conference (Polar 2018), promoting and archiving documents from the International Polar Year and increasing opportunities for early career researchers to be involved in the various working groups of each organization.
Attending this meeting gave me a fantastic insight into how these organizations function and work to influence research policy at a national and international level. It is certainly not an easy task to capture funders and the general public’s attention but actively working together and having a united Polar voice will undoubtedly help.