Yellowknife is a regional commercial hub. The city’s mining legacy and forward-thinking sustainability mindset make Yellowknife an ideal case study city in energy sustainability transitions. The city’s mayor will participate in the project’s Advisory Board. Established in the 1930s as a gold mining town, the 20th century saw an expansion of the mining sector to a dozen regional mines, including uranium and tungsten extraction. Although gold mining in the area ceased in 2004, diamonds were discovered in the late 1990s and diamond mining continues to be a major contributor to the city’s economy. Against this resource economy backdrop, Yellowknife’s need to diversify its economy and reduce the costs of energy production has led to a variety of award-winning sustainability initiatives in the 21st century. For example, Yellowknife built a biomass (wood pellet) energy system that now saves the city between $140,000-160,000 and 829 tonnes of emissions annually. In 2018, Yellowknife won the Government of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge ($5M category) for their innovative mesh network of smart lighting and other energy saving technologies (e.g., dimmable streetlights to improve valuable tourism based on viewing the aurora). Through his Community Appropriate Sustainable Energy Security (CASES) project, collaborator Poelzer (USask) has longstanding research partnerships with two organizations in the region – Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC-see letter of support) and Arctic Energy Alliance (AEA) – that can provide research opportunities and logistical advantages. NTPC is a Crown Corporation utility located in 26 communities throughout the Northwest Territories, and the assets it manages, which include three hydroelectric systems, 26 diesel plants, five solar arrays, one battery storage system, and one natural gas plant, generate power for more than 43,000 residents. AEA is a not-for-profit organization that consolidated the activities of several organizations with an interest in energy-related matters, and it promotes and facilitates the adoption of efficient and renewable energy practices in the Northwest Territories.
Naryan-Mar is the regional capital and administrative center of the Nenets Autonomous Region (NAO) and is the only region of European Russia that does not have year-round ground transportation links with other regions. The NAO is the traditional home of the Nenets Indigenous people, who make up the largest group of the regional population (7,500 people), representing 18 percent of the NAO population but only 6.2 percent of urbanites (Census 2010). Indigenous urbanization is occurring at a slow pace, yet the Indigenization of public urban spaces of Naryan-Mar is a great example of its recognition policies and practices . The local economy is heavily reliant on oil extraction: In recent years, 80-85 percent of regional budget revenue came from taxes levied on oil companies. Nevertheless, since 84% of tax revenue goes to the federal budget, Naryan-Mar has limited resources for development and innovative practices. NAO is the only region in Russia that does not have a university or scientific research centers; their absence means that many young people leave the area while well- educated managers and experts–predominantly from other Western and Southern regions of Russia–flow in to meet labor market demands. NAO became the first region in the Russian Far North to launch a wind- energy plant benefiting from cross-border cooperation in the Barents region. Nevertheless, implementation of Naryan-Mar’s 2014 Master Plan goal to transition public transportation and the municipal car fleet to natural gas has been slow. The city is seeking to diversify its economy by providing financial support and preferential tax treatment to small and medium businesses and promoting tourism. Project members have long-term relationships with the Yasavey Nenets Indigenous Peoples Organization, educational institutions of Naryan-Mar (Pyrerki Boarding School for Indigenous school children; Nenets College of Agriculture and Economics), local stakeholders and decision-makers (City Council; City Administration; Department on Indigenous Affairs and Diversity Policies, Ethno-Cultural Center, Center for Business Development, Center for Arctic Tourism), and the local TV station “Naryan-Mar”.
Yakutsk is the center of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the largest region in the Arctic but performs poorly according to our current sustainability measures. The regional authorities plan to greatly increase the use of natural gas by 2030 through increased infrastructure and transitioning cars and power stations to this fuel, provision of high-speed Internet connectivity to the most remote communities of the region, and making Yakutsk the Arctic’s cultural capital . The city is the first in Russia to participate in UN Habitat's City Resilience Profiling Programme (CRPT) . The city is one of the fastest-growing in the Arctic . Indigenous peoples (Dolgans, Sakha, Evenki, Evens, Yukagirs, and Chukchi) form more than half of the city population (Russian Census 2010). Yakutsk is the largest city built on continuous permafrost with the coldest winter with temperatures averaging -8.8°C and extreme seasonal differences ranging from -60°C in winter to +40°C in summer. Such conditions lead to high capital and maintenance costs for infrastructure development . The inland location combined with absence of the railroad connectivity significantly hinders the city’s economic development. Research team members have long conducted research in the city (Kuklina, Jull, Poelzer) and local project partners include: former Yakutsk Mayor Sardana Avksenteva and Uliana Vinokurova, former Member of the Sakha Legislature and currently head of the Arctic Institute of Arts and Culture.
Luleå is one of the most sustainable cities in the north, serves as a hub for the European iron industry, processing iron into steel to export abroad. The city’s year-round port is Sweden’s largest harbor for dry bulk cargoes, crucial to the local steel industry, and the base for the Swedish Ice-breaker fleet. Recently, the city has broadened its focus to IT and connecting research to industry. Facebook built its first European data center in Luleå and is currently constructing a third. Luleå is also home to a Science Park that houses roughly 100 businesses, adjacent to the university. Luleå is one of two possible locations for a demonstration plant for the Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) Development, a cooperation between SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall aiming to introduce a completely fossil-free steel making process by 2035. Over the past few years, Luleå has committed resources and attention to increasing sustainability within the city as a party to the Covenant of Mayors. The municipality decided in January 2016 on two climate goals for Luleå (1: to reduce CO2-emissions by 60% between 1995-2030 and by 100% by 2050; and 2: to reduce CO2-emissions to 1.4 tons per citizen by 2030). In line with these goals, public transportation and the municipal car fleet in the city are transitioning to fossil-free fuel (Sustainable Energy Action Plan, 2016). With its shifting climate, Luleå is a highly relevant case for studying challenges and opportunities for renewable energy transition in a cold climate, and lessons from Luleå can be useful for many other regions located in similar climatic conditions. Local partners include faculty at the Luleå University of Technology and collaborators through Stockholm-based Nordregio.
Fairbanks scores low on the key sustainability indicators that we have measured so far. One of Fairbanks' biggest sustainability challenges arises from its sprawled, low-density settlement pattern that relies heavily on automobile transportation. The changing climate is resulting in thawing permafrost and rain on ice events. Moreover, the city suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., with extensive wood burning in the winter and increasing wildland fire smoke in the summer. The city and borough serve as a support base for fossil fuel drilling on the North Slope and nearby mining, and are therefore vulnerable to greenhouse gas reduction policies. There is little renewable energy production in the region. The population is majority White, though there is extensive diversity among the rest of the population. The area hosts two large military installations whose active-duty personnel fluctuate unpredictably as defense priorities shift. The local airport serves as an aviation hub for interior and northern Alaska. The research team, including faculty at the University of Alaska, has close contacts with local policy-makers through long-running cooperation with the Fairbanks North Star Borough Sustainability Commission. The Commission has adopted indicators addressing food security, energy use, and solid waste management, though implementation is slow due to polarization over issues related to climate change and how best to address its challenges. Lessons learned in Fairbanks can be applied in Anchorage, Juneau, Nome, and Utqiagvik through on-going collaborations and future projects.