GRID Polar Division News

Arctic University forges ties with UN Environment Programme

An international network of Arctic universities now cooperate with global organisations for improved access and more efficient dissemination of environmental information.

An international network of Arctic universities now cooperate with global organisations for more efficient dissemination of environmental information.

Tromsø, Norway - August 12th, 2002- With the growing recognition of the connection between the global environment and the sustainability of the Arctic region, leaders of the University of the Arctic (UArctic) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), today signed a Memorandum of Understanding, outlining a broad range of cooperative activities on many fronts. In Tromsø attending the Fifth Conference of Parliamentarians of The Arctic Region, Oran Young, Chairman of UArctic's Board of Governors, and Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of UNEP, formalized the growing relationship between the two organizations, which began just over a year ago.

During the official Launch of the University of the Arctic in Rovaniemi, Finland, in June 2001, members of UArctic's Board of Governors and Council had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Töpfer, who then expressed his commitment to the further development of the University of the Arctic. Dr. Polit.Erling Olsen and Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, members of UArctic's Board of Governors and Circle of Elders respectively, took up Dr. Töpfer's invitation in letters supporting cooperation between UArctic and UNEP. The first steps in this cooperation have included GRID-Arendal, UNEP's key polar centre, becoming a UArctic member.

Dr. Töpfer sees the agreement as testimony to the importance of education in promoting sustainable development, both regionally and globally. "The exciting aspect of this venture for UNEP is the access to UArctic's high quality academic and scientific networks," says Töpfer. "Finding new and creative ways to strengthen the understanding of sustainable development and protection of the environment is at the heart of our mission. This agreement will enable us to do that in a region we are currently giving considerable focus - the Arctic."

UNEP's relationship with UArctic strengthens its commitment to the Arctic over the last decade, seen in its regional seas program, the coverage of the Arctic in its GEO report series, and the creation of the UNEP Polar Task Force. GRID-Arendal was officially declared a UNEP centre in 2001, and UNEP's key polar centre.

A primary area of cooperation under the MoU will be in the area of distance learning, as UNEP develops the new Global Virtual University, a of branch of the United Nations University (UNU) for online learning. There are great opportunities to share the experiences of UArctic's Arctic Learning Environment, and to develop joint projects in this growing field.

"The information resources available from UNEP and throughout the UN system are of tremendous value for a fledging network like the University of the Arctic", explains Lars Kullerud. "At the same time, UArctic has already developed considerable capacity and experience in the Arctic region, which can be used in other regions which share similar diversity, geographic distance, and challenges to sustainable development.

For the University of the Arctic, the benefits of cooperation are clear as it seeks to establish a position for itself both regionally and globally that support its mission to overcome barriers to education faced by northerners.

"Tis MoU is our first such agreement with a major international organization, and I welcome the initiative as an important first step in building broader cooperation between UArctic and the international community, with which it shares common goals and understanding," says Oran Young, chair of UArctic's Board of Governors. "We have worked very successfully with the Arctic Council and its various organizations in bringing the University of the Arctic into reality, and now we look forward to similar synergies within the UN system that will carry us to the next level."

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972, works to encourage sustainable development through sound environmental practices everywhere. Its activities cover a wide range of issues, from atmosphere and terrestrial ecosystems, the promotion of environmental science and information, to an early warning and emergency response capacity to deal with environmental disasters and emergencies.

The University of the Arctic (UArctic), launched in 2001, is an independent, international initiative that developed by the northern academic community in cooperation with northern governments and indigenous peoples organizations. Often called "a university without walls" it is not a degree-granting institution but a cooperating network of universities, colleges and other organisations concerned with higher education and research. UArctic members share resources, facilities and expertise to build post-secondary education that is relevant and accessible to northern students. By bringing together the diverse voices of the circumpolar world, UArctic intends to provide accessible education In the North, For the North, and By the North - education committed to the sustainability of this region and the needs of the people who live here.

University of the Arctic, Coordination Office, Box 122 Arctic Centre, 96101 Rovaniemi, Finland,


For more information:
Lars Kullerud
Director , University of the Arctic
Box 706
N-4808 Arendal
Tel. +47- 37 03 57 08
Mob. +47 9087 0099
Fax. +47-370-35050

Outi Snellman
Head, UArctic Circumpolar Coordination Office
Box 122
96101 Rovaniemi
Tel: +358- (0)16- 341- 2716 Mob: +358- (0)40- 501- 0209
Fax: +358- (0)16- 341- 2777

Monday 12 Aug 2002