Interview with Anne Choquet – Launch of Polar Challenges Chair in France | Polarjournal

Anne Choquet, a lawyer specializing in the law of the polar regions and a fan of scientific approaches that combine several disciplines, is tackling a new research project at the crossroads of science, education and the entrepreneurial world.

Before talking about the Chair, could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to work on polar regions?

You may not believe me, but it all started in space! I wrote my Master’s thesis on the common heritage of humanity, comparing the legal status of the moon and other celestial bodies with that of the deep seabed. This status is often evoked for the Antarctic, which is how I came to work in the polar regions. I wrote my doctoral thesis on law on the protection of the Antarctic environment.

In 2001, for the first time, I took part in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. This annual event brings together states that are bound by the treaty. It is at these meetings of States, known as the Consultative Parties, that the texts of Antarctic law are negotiated between countries that have the right to vote. Since then, I have regularly taken part in the negotiations as part of the French delegation. I am also a member of the Comité National Français des Recherches Arctiques et Antarctiques, CNFRAA, which I have had the honour of chairing since 2022.

CNFRAA scientists get together every year for science days in Paris or in the provinces. Image: Camille Lin

This association of polar researchers is a unique place with a multidisciplinary approach. We are biologists, physicists, glaciologists, lawyers, anthropologists… from the Arctic and Antarctic, all generations combined, with 180 members. It’s a great place to understand the projects, concerns and needs of scientists, and we realise how important it is to exchange ideas between disciplines.

It seems that you are taking things up a gear by launching a broader collaborative project on the polar worlds, with the Polar Challenges Chair. What does it involve?

This is the first chair on this subject, and the format chosen is highly unusual in the human and social sciences. It does not compete with other research specialties or labs, but complements them.

It should be seen as a research platform, a meeting point between the university and the socio-economic world. Usually, there are partnerships between companies and academics, but for us it was essential to include institutions and associations. We also wanted to provide training and communicate with the public.

Although the chair has not yet been officially launched, it has begun in practice. In addition to traditional research, we are organising opportunities for exchange through workshops and seminars, as well as special events. For example, we have launched a study into scientists’ reception on board polar cruise ships.

We have structured our research around peacekeeping, environmental protection and the safety of human societies, with a maritime approach. We remain focused on the responsible behaviour of players, polar navigation and the protection of spaces, and the sustainable management of resources.

The themes are broad enough to respond to the latest news. This summer, for example, the ship in difficulty got us thinking about how to limit the risk of environmental degradation.

The Ocean Explorer grounded in a Greenland fjord in the North East National Park. Image: Arktisk Kommando

But the Chair also serves to respond to the concerns of stakeholders. Like those who want to test new ideas and new behaviours, for example ships that want to change their propulsion. These ideas can have an impact on other regions. The polar regions are at the forefront of change. It is vital to gain a better understanding of the risks arising from the development and diversity of human activities in these regions.

The partners who choose to join the Chair have a common-interest approach, it’s not a consultancy organisation, the starting point is research and training.

A kind of think tank?

A laboratory of ideas, yes, but not a classic think tank with experts and professionals, but a team of researchers that does not respond to a request. The starting point is the thinking of researchers and design engineers. The approach is a long-term one, four years, which will enable us to respond to calls for scientific projects.

The starting point for this Chair is the societal concerns to which research can respond with new knowledge by combining knowledge and skills.

Let’s take the impact of tourists on a region: as a lawyer, I’m not in a position to answer this question, but as soon as I’m told that there is a permanent or transitory impact, then we can improve things by taking management measures, for example. We can work on authorisations and declarations of activity. This applies to fishing, tourism, science…

We mustn’t forget that there are people living in the Arctic, and that we can’t land on occupied territory. So it’s essential to involve the locals, and there’s a lot of thinking to be done to improve ethics.

To answer these complex questions, it’s necessary to work in partnership. In concrete terms, who are the players within this Chair?

Polar research does in fact need cooperation, that’s its philosophy, with a willingness to share. The Chair is open to the rest of the world while remaining firmly rooted in Brest. Being in this city has made me aware of the importance of the region, where there is a significant polar breeding ground on which to build ambitious projects, with the French Polar Institute, the SHOM, the Maritime Authority, the European University Institute of the Sea and more than 60 polar researchers from all disciplines.

The construction of the Chair has enabled us to take an inventory of the polar players in France. These include associations such as Le Cercle Polaire, Greenlandia and Cryosalide. Among the companies, there are tourist operators and shipyards like Piriou, which have built ships for the Southern Ocean. Then there are the companies that are monitoring the satellites. But there are also freelancers, such as polar guides.

A naturalist guide heckled by a fur seal in South Georgia, many guides working for cruises compagnies have freelancers contracts. Image: Camille Lin

Before inaugurating the Chair, we would like to broaden the range of partners, and in particular the business community, not just the polar players. Partners in competition with each other in their business lives will be around the stakeholders’ table because they have common problems. Some players could host trainees in connection with the Chair. Some partners are involved as sponsors, donating funds or skills.

Agreements between the private and public sectors for doctorates or post-docs could be drawn up with special relationships. For example, an insurance company that is interested in the risks in these regions or a company that is planning activities in the field.

The results of the research will be disseminated through training courses. For example, we have set up a module on polar issues for students at Brest, Lorient and the École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées de Bretagne. We still need to think about a university diploma and summer schools, depending on the needs identified.

We plan to target professionals, students and workers who could be affected. Then we’re going to reach out to the general public with scientific communications, because there are a lot of preconceptions about these regions and a lot of disaster scenarios in the media. But there is so much more to them than this.

Interview by Camille Lin, PolarJournal

For more information, here is the link to the page of the Amure laboratory’s Polar Challenges Chair.

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