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The Arctic’s Emerging Young Leaders

How a Researcher From Arizona Developed a Passion for the Arctic

Katherine Weingartner is an ICF contractor for the United States Global Change Research Program where she supports the development of the National Climate Assessment.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 7 minutes
Gap analysis ecologic team 20140911a
Katherine Weingartner, right, stands with Elizabeth Tedsen and Arne Riedel as they present a gap-analysis report on the Arctic prepared by Ecologic Institute for the European Union. Photo Courtesy Ecologic Institute

By now, Katherine Weingartner is used to the surprised look on people’s faces when she tells them where she’s from. Born and raised in Arizona, Weingartner, 26, has spent the past three years studying an area that couldn’t be more different from her home state: the Arctic.

Weingartner is an ICF contractor for the United States Global Change Research Program where she supports the development of the National Climate Assessment.

“I am someone who fell in love with the Arctic and has since become committed to protecting what I love in any way that I can,” Weingartner told Arctic Deeply. “Creating a legacy that I can be proud of motivates me, and that fundamentally includes the sustainable development of the Arctic, so that the world I leave behind will be better than the one I was given,” she added.

We spoke with Weingartner in November as part of our series focusing on emerging leaders in the region.

Arctic Deeply: Who are you?

Katherine Weingartner: I am a young professional passionate about advancing policies that promote the sustainable development of the Arctic through an interdisciplinary approach that strikes common ground among a range of Arctic stakeholders. Most simply, I am someone who fell in love with the Arctic and has since become committed to protecting what I love in any way that I can.

Arctic Deeply: You’re from Arizona. How did you develop a passion for the Arctic?

Weingartner: I like things that force me out of my comfort zone, and the Arctic was completely new to me. It’s a fascinating topic because it’s an ecosystem of the most interesting people and issues. The Arctic is dealing with many problems other places in the world face as well.

In the Arctic, you are not just working on energy or the military. Nobody in the field can merely focus on one aspect; you have to have at least some understanding of other fields. I’m also very interested in Russia, and it’s very interesting to me that all the major global players – the E.U., Canada, the U.S., Russia – tie in to the Arctic. And finally, I think I’m also doing Arctic research because if you can find a way to slow melting in the Arctic, you are doing favors to the entire world. What happens in the Arctic has ramifications.

Arctic Deeply: What are you working on at the moment?

Weingartner: In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Program, I conducted research to create the first Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard, which evaluates the status of implementation for Arctic Council directions by the council itself as well as by individual Arctic Council member states. It is critical that as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council, we examine opportunities to enhance implementation to meet future challenges in the Arctic.

I also managed the Arctic Summer College program, which is a uniquely interdisciplinary and international online training program for students and professionals interested expanding their knowledge of the Arctic. I was an Arctic Summer College Fellow myself in 2014, and focused on geopolitics and security. The program aims to build a lasting, policy-oriented network of Arctic professionals and students to strengthen communication between peoples and nations, scientific disciplines, policy areas, and across the science-policy interface. Last year, the fellows focused on the technological divide in the Arctic, a topic that isn’t talked about very often. This year, we looked at health problems, like sexual violence, in the region.

Arctic Deeply: Tell us a little bit more about your work at Ecologic Institute.

Weingartner: As a fellow at Ecologic Institute’s Washington, D.C. office, I focused on energy security, Arctic issues, strengthening transatlantic relations on the environment and energy, sustainable urban development and the environmental and foreign policies of the European Union. Previously, I worked at Ecologic Institute in their Berlin office as a transatlantic fellow, contributing to many projects.

In 2015, I was selected as a Konrad von Moltke grantee to explore the nexus between environmental and security issues in the Arctic. As part of this grant, I conducted research on Arctic Council governance and methods for sustainable infrastructure development in the Alaskan Arctic as a World Wildlife Fund fellow within their Arctic program in Washington, D.C.

Arctic Deeply: You’ve worked on so many projects and issues. Where do you see yourself going in the next few years? What would you like to focus on?

Weingartner: The Arctic is going through a major transition and faces the question of how to make sure that people can retain their culture amid change. I’ve done a lot of work on cities, city adaptation and city resiliency, and I’d like to go in a similar direction. I’d like to look at cities in the Arctic and see how they can prepare for inevitable changes while preserving their culture and their history.

Arctic Deeply: What’s your vision for the Arctic a decade from now?

Weingartner: In 10 years, I envision a system of strong Arctic governance that responds to challenges with concrete and enforced legislative action to heighten the standard of living for those in the Arctic, further Arctic sustainable development, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. I see a stronger collaboration between science and policy; greater involvement of Indigenous peoples in forming and implementing an Arctic vision; increased innovation including improved access to technology; more established marine protected areas; greater restrictions on shipping; more emphasis on addressing issues of Arctic health and well-being; a stronger collaboration with the business community to find ways to assure that sustainable and economic development are not mutually exclusive; and a change in the region’s energy system, which moves away from a such a strong dependence on fossil fuels. I also hope to see a greater recognition of the Arctic region internationally.

Arctic Deeply: What do you need to make that vision happen?

Weingartner: The Arctic region is complex, with many competing interests, all at a time when the Arctic itself is changing form before our very eyes. In order to realize a greater Arctic vision, Arctic states need to not only enhance collaboration with key Arctic stakeholders, but transform words into actions by enacting legislation to enforce promises for a better Arctic.

My role in this vision is multifold, but begins with bridging different cultures, disciplines and interests in order to design policies that simultaneously further sustainable Arctic development and improve the lives of those living in the Arctic on a time horizon that considers the well-being of future generations. In bringing diverse Arctic stakeholders to the table, I must have an intimate understanding of all interests to strike common ground that allows the region to move forward toward betterment for all. I plan to do this through policy that is informed by a strong understanding of Arctic research.

Arctic Deeply: Who inspires you in your field?

Weingartner: I have met many inspiring people from many countries and fields while working on Arctic issues. However, my greatest inspiration without question comes from working with my colleague Arne Riedel at the Ecologic Institute Berlin. Not only is he the reason I became involved in the Arctic in the first place, but he has extended every possible opportunity for me to grow and succeed in this field as a young professional. It is rare for one individual to make such a fundamental impact on another’s career, but that is what he has done for me. If everyone had the chance to be exposed to the passion with which Arne pursues the Arctic, we would all be living in a better world. I caught his passion for the Arctic, and for that, I will always be grateful.

Arctic Deeply: What motivates you?

Weingartner: I recognize that I live in a time of great global transition, particularly as the world battles the impacts of climate change. The success of that transition will reverberate throughout generations to come, including having a direct impact on my own descendants. The Arctic is ground zero in the fight against climate change, and it is here that I choose to invest my skills, so that my efforts as a single individual can be most magnified to improve the lives of millions. Creating a legacy that I can be proud of motivates me, and that fundamentally includes the sustainable development of the Arctic so that the world I leave behind will be better than the one I was given.

Arctic Deeply: Has there been a defining moment in your career?

Weingartner: Being accepted as a fellow in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals. This opportunity to examine E.U. energy policy by spending a year in Germany instilled in me an unwavering drive to advance transatlantic cooperation on energy and environmental issues and is the reason I became involved with Ecologic Institute. Without working in their Berlin office, I doubt I would have ever become so involved in the Arctic.

This Q&A is part of our series on young leaders in the Arctic. Read more:

An earlier version of this article misstated where Weingartner currently works. It incorrectly said she is a program manager and research fellow at Ecologic Institute in Washington D.C. She’s since taken on a new role as an ICF contractor for the United States Global Change Research Program.

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