As a warmup to the Ny-Ålesund Symposium, some participants got a peak climate experience seeing the inside of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Down in what is probably the most talked-about room in Svalbard, they saw for themselves seeds from around the world stored in the permafrost.
"It is a fantastic initiative to obtain seeds from around the world and save them," said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the climate panel operating under the auspices of the United Nations. "The world needs such places."
So why do many call it the doomsday vault?
"Hee-hee, I do not know," he said. "I would not call it the doomsday vault. Rather, I would call it the life vault, for what you have there is the foundation of human existence. Had we not the seeds and variations that give us life, where would we be then?"
There are several stops on the way forward to any new climate treaty in Paris next year. All participants at the Ny-Ålesund Symposium are not equally confident it is possible to come to an agreement that makes a difference, but Pachauri said he is choosing to be an optimist.
"I choose to look at the positive aspects," he said.
Does he want to see some of what happened in Ny-Ålesund in Paris?
"I do not know if we will see something from here in Paris, but I hope people will use the knowledge available from the research on climate change," he said.
This is his third visit to Svalbard. The first was in 2005, when there was noticeably more ice. He reiterated it is urgent to take measures against emissions. The sooner that happens, the less the damage and costs.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary for the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, is in the meantime clear about actions that should be taken, including Norway phasing out coal mining on Svalbard as soon as possible. Coal mining does not harmonize with a fragile environment and the climate research going on here, she told NRK.
Norwegian Climate and Environmental Minister Tine Sundtoft isn't as clear as Figueres, but the minister said she believes coal as an energy source does not belong to the future (see accompanying article). Pachauri said he believes coal heating eventually must cease.
"I cannot say what should be done," he said. "But yes, everywhere we must bring down the carbon content of energy supplies worldwide. What should happen to Svalbard and Longyearbyen, I won't say anything about."
"The world needs to come up with a clear plan of action to reduce emissions. I am optimistic because I think people will make rational decisions. We know what research today tells us about the challenges and I hope the community will do something about it."