The Geography of Arctic Frontiers Attendance


In January, the Economist had a nifty feature on the “who’s who of Davos.” Using bar charts and graphs, they visualized the demographics of the attendants at one of the world’s most prestigious summits. I thought I might apply some similar methods to break down the 2014 Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway by the numbers. Using the list of attendees that I received at the conference, I first categorized the attendants by the country under which they registered. These statistics were input into ArcMap to generate the above radial flow map above following a tutorial by ESRI. Then, I colored the lines based on whether the country was a permanent member or observer to the Arctic Council, or none of the above. The symbology was a bit difficult to work with given that the number of attendants from Norway, and the Nordic countries as a whole, significantly outweighed the number of attendees from anywhere else. Still, I hope the map goes a little way in showing the geographic origins of the people who traveled to 69.7°N to learn about “Humans in the Arctic.” 

There were more attendees from western than eastern Europe, with Germany having a particularly strong showing. There are, after all, numerous polar research centers in Germany, including the notable Alfred Wegener Institute. Yet more work might be be done to attract attendees from other parts of Europe such as the Baltics, for instance, especially since Japan seems to think they are important people to speak to in order to develop the Arctic, while Estonia in the meantime plans to acquire its second icebreaker.

Notably, there was at least one attendee from each of the five new Asian observer states (China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and India), while one attendee came all the way from Kenya.

AFChartBreaking down the delegates at Arctic Frontiers by sector, there is a clear preponderance of academia and government. This isn’t surprising, as the conference addresses development in the Arctic and how it can be improved. Doing so requires research from academia on the one side and policy implementation on the other. The corporate world, of course, is equally important to the future of Arctic development. Business made a good showing, though in only totaling about 17% of the total conference attendees, their share of the attendance pie was a far cry from Davos, where they accounted for over half of of the delegates, as the Economist’s infographics show. But if one of Arctic Frontiers’ main goals as stated on their website is to “increase attention and commitment to sustainable development of the Arctic, particularly from the corporate sector,” it might be beneficial if more suits (and just as much tweed) were encouraged to attend.

With this data, there are two interesting comparisons one could make. First, one could contrast the demographics of Arctic Frontiers to those of Arctic Circle, arguably its main rival in the esoteric world of the Arctic conference circuit. Arctic Circle 2014 took place in Reykjavik, Iceland and attracted the likes of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (albeit the latter in the form of a video greeting). I’d estimate that business was likely better represented at Arctic Circle than it was at Arctic Frontiers, which is a arguably a more wonkish, less ritzy event. I don’t have the Arctic Circle delegate data, however, so I likely won’t be able to make this comparison.

A second comparison that I do hope to actually make is to examine report from the 2014 WEF, Demystifying the Arcticand connect its contents to the attendance statistics that the Economist put together. The report was written by a select few panelists and not, obviously, the entire delegation at the WEF. (Full disclaimer: my advisor, Dr. Laurence Smith, was on that panel). Yet since business interests are in general much more prominently represented at the WEF than at Arctic Frontiers, this might help to explain the more developmentally- and financially-minded tone of the report, especially their call for an “Arctic investment vehicle for sustainable development.” In an upcoming blog post, I’ll look more at the WEF report and what an Arctic investment vehicle would really entail.

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