The Polar Regions have recently returned to widespread public attention. Media reports of melting sea ice, the plight of polar bears, the sustainability of indigenous livelihoods and the claiming of the Arctic and Antarctic seabed have garnered international interest. Geopolitical manoeuvring in both Polar Regions has been in evidence, from the building of new scientific bases to the commissioning of replacement icebreakers. Meanwhile, oceanographic and geophysical research has gathered momentum within the context of evidentiary submissions of extended continental shelves to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Resource speculation, particularly in the Arctic, has added extra interest and verve to policy-related discussions. Such discussions increasingly now involve a range of actors, including not only the coastal states and the Arctic Council, but also regional organizations such as the European Union, extra-regional states such as China, environmental NGOs, and political representatives of indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
This seminar seeks to address some of these contemporary issues, and will coordinate the following activities:
• Hold four events to take stock of the current situation with emphasis placed on the prevailing geopolitical, legal, scientific, governance and human security dimensions of the Arctic and Antarctic.
• Bring together an international, interdisciplinary network of researchers that will involve academics from geography, anthropology, political science, international law, economics, international relations, history and related disciplines, as well as other user communities within government, NGOs and media.
• Encourage the development of future research capacity in these areas by integrating participation by postgraduates, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers through special bursaries for attendance, invitations to speak at seminars, and other opportunities to interact in the network.
• Produce a comprehensive directory of UK-based experts in the social sciences and humanities with research interests in the Polar Regions.
• Finally, it is proposed to hold a follow up conference in late 2011 (the 50th year of the Antarctic Treaty’s entry into force), which will focus on ‘Approaches to polar geopolitics’ and will seek to consolidate the UK-based polar studies network.