Adaptation Governance for Global and Climate Change in the Circumpolar Arctic

One of the major challenges for global and climate change in the circumpolar Arctic is adaptation governance, and making the effective societal decisions to enable adaptation to changes at local and regional scales.  Climate, economic, environmental and societal stresses will be magnified without appropriate decision making processes for people, communities, businesses and governments for the circumpolar Arctic. Vulnerabilities, impacts and adaptations will differ across the circum-Arctic given such factors as geographical location, heritage and ethnicity, socio-economic status, occupation and business, and prosperity.

Local, national and regional decision-making and leadership is required to adapt to change.  Complexity and uncertainty around climate and other changes make existing governance approaches and structures inadequate. Hierarchical and regulatory models of decision making will not be successful, given the expanding and exponential nature of  change and increasing citizen expectations of participation and informed decision making. Without decentralization and greater access to decision making, local and traditional knowledge will not  be  incorporated into decisions for the peoples and communities most affected by change.

Effective adaptation governance requires scientific and societal understanding of vulnerabilities, impacts and adaptation, supported by scaled-down scenario building and forecasts. Foresight and shared learning are key aspects of integrating scientific and social scenarios and successful decision processes, and can engage people in thinking and learning about the future together, so robust responses and commitments can be developed. Extensive communication and continuous interactive dialogue is necessary among people and societies to equitably and ethically allocate the benefits, burdens and risk of adaptation, and to make societal choices on adaptation that will be broadly accepted and implemented.

 This communication and dialogue can incorporate web based platforms and social media to provide wide-spread real-time access to monitoring, information and  analysis; and to support communications and interactive dialogue among governments and  stakeholders. Internet-based platforms, facilitated by satellite and space technology, are already prevalent in much of the circum-Arctic region.

There are extensive existing governance structures and processes at  the local, national, or international level (Arctic Council, European Union and United Nations), or on a sectoral  basis (energy, mining, fisheries, wildlife harvesting, sport fishing and hunting, and tourism) that support adaptation to change. The region also has many companies, non-governmental organizations and indigenous organizations which span multiple jurisdictions and can assist  in the development and transfer of adaptation best practices and lessons learned.

There are unique structures and co-management regimes under land claims and decentralized  governmental arrangements for the circum-Arctic in North America, Greenland and the Nordic region which may already consider adaptation to climate and other global changes within their mandates, processes and structures. This is in contrast to a more traditional approach in Europe where directives, legislation and policies need to be formally modified to adapt to climate and other global changes.

The research will compare and contrast existing and proposed governance approaches, platforms, policies, strategies, technologies and tools for adaptation across the circumpolar Arctic, making reference to governance in place or being developed for Arctic countries and through regional organizations such as the Arctic Council and the European Union. Additionally, there will be discussion of global trends for adaptation governance. Recommendations will be made for adaptation governance, in consultation and cooperation with affected communities, individuals, regions, and stakeholders. 

An initial presentation on adaptation governance and this research project took place at the International Polar Year 2012 From Knowledge to Action conference in Montreal, Canada on April 26, 2012: Adaptation to Climate Change for Coasts and Marine Areas in the Circumpolar Arctic.

A commentary entitled "Role and engagement of civil society in the sustainable and responsible development of the Arctic's renewable and non-renewable resources" was filed in the CommentVisions web-based discussion of November 2009: "What is the key to sustainable and responsible development of the Arctic region’s resources? And can the industry operate responsibly with minimum risk?"  

An abstract on this research was jointly submitted by Investigator Muir and Professor Michael Evans Goodsite  to ISAR-3: The Third International Symposium on the Arctic Research- Detecting the Change in the Arctic System and Searching the Global Influence, which took place in Toyko, Japan from January 14 to 17, 2013.  The abstract was entitled Using Big Data, Scenarios Development, and Games Theory to Monitor, Understand and Adapt to Climate Change in the Circum-Arctic. This abstract was accepted and presented by Investigator Muir as a poster presentation and an oral presentation on January 17th, in Session S4) International Cooperation on Arctic Observation and Research at the ISAR-3 symposium.  The paper based on the abstract and  the oral and poster presentations will be submitted for publication, and is provided here.

A commentary entitled " Integrating Energy Policy and Adaptation Measures for Europe, Including a Focus on Coasts, Island, Marine Areas and Watersheds" was filed in the CommentVisions web-based discussion of  July 2013 entitled Climate and Energy Policy- Is It Adapting Fast Enough.

Investigator Muir is leading research for this adaptation governance project, which also links with other related circum-Arctic and polar research projects:

  • Arctic Resource Development and Climate Impacts, Adaptation, and Mitigation;
  • Changing Oceans in a Changing World
  • The Circum-Arctic Health Project : Northern & Remote Community Health & Resilience Considering Economic & Environmental Changes;  
  • Parallels for Arctic and Antarctica Governance and Resource Management
  • Sustainable Energy Development;  and
  • Sustainable Arctic Tourism 

The adaptive research is being implemented in cooperation with other academic institutions and colleagues, local and international communities and organizations, and communications and scenario development specialists including:

Lead Investigator :

Magdalena A.K. Muir, B.A., J.D., LL.M., Research Associate, Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary; Associate Professor, Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences and Nordic Centre of Excellence for Nordic Strategic Adaptation Research, Aarhus University, Herning, Denmark; and Adjunct Professor, Masters of Science: Energy Policy and Climate, John Hopkins University, Washington DC.