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Thoughts on CAFF Plenary Meeting

Reported by: Minori TAKAHASHI (Hokkaido University)
Related research program: International Relations

CAFF Plenary Meeting was held online (using Zoom) from February 1 to February 4, 2021 (February 2 to 5 Japanese time).

According to the list distributed in advance, 75 people from 20 countries and areas registered to participate, while the actual participation fluctuated between 65 and 69 persons. The topics addressed were rather diverse even if we confine ourselves to mentioning just the most important ones: Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI), Inspiring Arctic Voices through Youth: Engaging Youth in Arctic Biodiversity, Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands, Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining, Arctic Biodiversity Data Service (ABDS), etc. Particularly in the two years Iceland has been presiding at the AC (2019-2021), it seems that the project has been moving in a form that corresponds to policy priorities of the Icelandic government, such as mainstreaming biodiversity in mining or monitoring ocean pollution by plastic waste and its influence on sea birds.

At the meeting a lot of time was directed at looking at the progress of the above-mentioned diverse programs by adding information on policy trends in each of the Arctic countries and areas. When I think of the spatial and temporal depth of the topics brought up at the meeting, I cannot deny that I, participating for the first time, felt a tall obstacle for my participation and that there were many situations in which, also due to the broadness of the topics, I could not properly fathom the main points of the argument. On the other hand, as something that I could clearly see, I wish to emphasize the stance that monitoring and assessment should be continuously pursued based not on science but on the meaningful utilization of various types of knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, “the other knowledge”, etc. In that, the awareness of the participants could be gleaned that we should not rely on the law of causation that regulates one particular form of knowledge but that a viewpoint that recognizes more than one set of laws, including experimentation, should also be included as a variable.

Looking back on the meeting prior to the CAFF plenary meeting in which I just participated for the first time (not the CAFF itself, but the meeting of the MBAM program, which is its subsidiary), I remember that the gap between drawing the action plan and actually implementing it was pointed out and that the participants agreed that there was a need to move onto the phase in which the entire action plan would be effectively implemented. The idea was advocated that, in order to identify each stakeholder’s knowledge gaps, mutually complement each other and appropriately manage the knowledge possessed by each stakeholder, we should not be drawn by one, given law of causality but pay attention to the forms of knowledge that may exist in each area, accept diversity and effectively incorporate the viewpoint that recognizes the existence of multiple sets of natural laws not just at the stage of goal setting and strategy making but in the final stage of evaluation, too.

If we conform to this thesis, then what is required is establishing a flow in which various forms of knowledge are placed on an equal footing with the scientific knowledge and the experience of multiple natural laws is incorporated not only at the entrance, but also at the exit. At the plenary meeting, however, neither in the arguments presented nor even in the tacit knowledge shared by the participants, could I sufficiently ascertain the degree of the actual effectiveness of the approach seeking that various forms of knowledge be included. It does seem, though, that elements of such an approach are being included in the design of the evaluation process in the ongoing project “Salmon Peoples of Arctic Rivers”, which addresses the theme of Arctic wetlands and indigenous people, and I thought that determining whether the above approach will remain just an ideal or be reflected more concretely in practice is becoming increasingly important if we are not to leave anybody behind in the future. This, I thought, will become an even more important discussion point now that it has been empirically demonstrated that in the debates on economy, society and the environment in the context of SDGs and the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, which includes them, diverse cultural elements that form their basis are included on the ideational level but rarely reflected in practice and are simply taken for granted and shared with vague awareness (Sekine, H. ed. “The Place of ‘Culture’ in Sustainable Development”, 2021).