Seminar reflections – Governance of the Arctic 30/3

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March 30, 2015 at 14:52 #17146

Seminar reflections – Governance of the Arctic 30/3

March 30, 2015 at 14:55 #17147

Reflections on governance of the Artic region

My reflections when reading Nilsson’s article are that environmental issues in the Arctic is moving away from the area of so-called ‘low’ politics and are increasingly embedded in a context of global economic development and a “race for resources”. Artic politics and cooperation now seems to be focused on national self-interests. Under the umbrella of global cooperation the national security agendas the benefits of ecosystem services, i.e. what nations can derive from the exploitation of natural capital in the region, seems to be the prevalent motivation for participation in Artic governance. Nilsson article reiterates decades of moving away from the environmental aspects of sustainable development and towards securing the natural capital of the Artic region. I believe this follows a continued trend, in focus since the start of the industrial revolution, of short-term economic gains prevailing in national governance. This despite the acknowledgement to the long-term catastrophic affects of such deliberate actions.

The Artic Resilience Interim Report (ARIR) I believe points out some useful theoretical tools for Artic governance. The generic and general nature of recommended theoretical approaches in ARIR also makes it useful for other sensitive regions around the world. A resilience approach, coupled with the use of adaptive and transformative capacity, is certainly relevant. However, in my opinion, the very fact that they are generic and general does not do enough to point out the practical direction of Artic governance. But to be fair this is probably somewhat beyond the scope of the ARIR.

The ARIR also points out that we need to accept some degree of uncertainty regarding social-ecological changes in the Artic, and that communication of these uncertainties is necessary because they contain risks that need to be addressed in coming decades. On reflection this I believe raises questions of concretely how and by whom this future communication of uncertainties should be transmitted? Again this is likely to be beyond the scope of the report. However, being as the environmental issues according to Nilsson are now in the realm of high politics, and that there is an increasing focus on national self-interest, I think the question urgently needs to be answered. Unfortunately, I think it will be difficult to find that answer as long as the situation of national self-interest persists, which puts the issue in a catch twenty-two mode.

So how can we move away from the national self-interests to the circumpolar interests that we all share? And what can be done to revert the path of governance in the Artic back towards environmental protection and away from economic development? Our seminar discussion I believe voiced very bleak prospects for successfully answering these questions. However, the consensus seems to be that we need to align economic interests with long-term environmental interests. Also, in a world equipped with increased awareness of global environmental issues, we can only do our respective bit to change incentives from self-interests to a more collective and long-term universal view of global environmental issues.


Nilsson, Annika E. (2012), The Artic Environment – From Low the High Politics, Artic Yearbook.

Artic Resilience Interim Report 2013 (2013), Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Institute.

March 31, 2015 at 16:31 #17166
Camilla W

Reflection Current Debates, 30/3
Camilla Winqvist

Since I went to the seminar at KTH, I decided to write my reflection assignment on that instead of our seminar so that you can all take part of the things that were said.

First of all, it was not a lecture as said on our schedule for the course. It was a higher seminar, meaning that all of the people in the room (except for me) had PhDs. I felt a bit out of place because of this, but I took notes as best as I could and tried to look like I belonged. I did not.
The discussion at the seminar was not really about the Arctic, but more about Nilsson’s and Christensen’s new project which they presented at the seminar. The others in the room were critiquing their theories, methods and concepts so the discussion was purely theoretical and methodological. Needless to say, the discussion was not on a Masters’ level.

Firstly, Nilsson and Christensen spoke about their project called “Arctic governance and the questions of ‘fit’ in an era of globally transformative change”. Nilsson spoke about the term “governance” and why it was a loaded term. She argued that governance can be done by more than just formal governments, for example networks of non-state actors. There are also different kinds of governance in the Arctic, she spoke about hard law vs soft law. Hard law is binding agreements with possible sanctions if you break them, while soft law is for example cooperation between different stakeholders that is not binding and less formal. She also spoke some about the fact that the stakeholders not necessarily are the ones with arctic borders, other countries (and corporations) have interests there which makes governance hard for purely diplomatic reasons.

Christensen then spoke about geopolitics as it plays out, and that it is the object of study for them, and the different forms of geopolitics (structural, practical, formal and popular). The classical geopolitical view of space is “space as given”, while critical geopolitics views space as “space as constructed”.
Their study will focus on discourse and content between the different stakeholders that govern the Arctic, and they will analyse the discourse as an iterative interplay.

They got some feedback from the other researchers in the room, amongst them Sverker Sörlin and Gunnel Cederlöf.
Quite a few felt that the term “fit” was not explained properly, and that they could not really understand it. I cannot for the life of me even try to retell the discussion about “fit”, and I cannot even tell you what “fit is. Although, I will not feel that bad about it since not even Sverker Sörlin understood the concept.

I know that you wanted me to ask about the future of the Arctic and what needs to be done to improve the conditions, but I could not bear to ask when all of the others only asked about semantics, theory and methods. I will point out, again, that this was NOT a lecture and the seminar was purely about the theoretical and methodological outline of their new project.

Ps, Sorry about the late upload!

March 31, 2015 at 20:47 #17167

My reflections

April 1, 2015 at 09:59 #17168

Comments on Camilla’s reflections from Peter

Thank you for you reflections on the seminar regarding Nilsson’s and Christensen’s research of the Artic region. Obviously many of the participants were commenting on their future research studies, which it is in fact not possible for you, or anyone else that has not read what they have done so far, to comprehend in its entirety. Not least detailed theoretical and methodological discussions of such research!

Nilsson´s argument regarding understanding the meaning of the term governance I believe is important. Especially regarding governance that involves the environmental, where participation from non-state actors are vital for progress in governance.

Regarding so-called Hard laws and Soft laws it would be interesting to know if they argued for a certain mixture of both of these, or if they were partial to one or the other. Depending on the actors, and the circumstances involved, I would think that both are useful tools to achieve compliance and/or cooperation.

It is also interesting that Nilsson pointed to the array of global actors that are now stating their claim in the artic regions. Likely this is due to the natural capital that it contains, but it would be interesting to know more about which interest prevail among global stakeholders according to Nilsson and Christensen. In this regard the mentioned future studies that they are undertaking will give valuable insight.

April 1, 2015 at 12:20 #17169
Camilla W

Comment on Fanny’s reflection

Thank you Fanny for your reflection!

I liked it, and especially the part about the system as an organism. I also believe that it is very difficult for the world to change since we have become too comfortable to really want to change. But it is just from the “want” that the change has to emerge, the people have to want to change to actually do it. Just as you said, the climate and the people who are fighting for the environment, are fighting an unjust battle where the system is (at least for now) stronger and has more powerful allies like the WTO.

I also agree with you that it is chocking that some people do not believe that climate change is really happening, even though (as you said) the proof is stronger than ever before.

April 1, 2015 at 15:04 #17176
Miguel Núñez

My (late) reflection: “Critical notes about resilience”.

As I talked in our meeting I am interested in the origins and in the political effects around the resilience concept. The first time as I heard about this concept was as a psycological ability which all the persons have in order to restore themselves after living traumatic experiences. Such as an example, the people who have lived in places where war has happened, can found new ways to survive after the warfare risks have passed.

In the interim report from 2012 about resilience in the arctic, is informed and defined the resilience from ecosystems as those capacities of the biological or environment systems that can restore old lost states of environmental functions. But, how the ecosystems can restore themselves without disappearing the risks which exists over their natural functions? This question guides the next reflection.

As we discussed, also in our meeting, the biggest country on the world, China, is claiming the arctic for its managing, exploitation and free use. This claiming could be assessed from a global perspective, in the sense that China with their more than one billion of inhabitants,need for their future generations arctic natural resources. If we think globally around the idea that the arctic is a human patrimony, one of the natural consequences is that Chinese peoples, being part of humankind, have rights over managing the Arctic. In what way and based on what circumstances China could be manage the Arctic is a big question, if we take in account the big capacity from chinese peoples to put limits on their behavoirs. The restrictions over their biological functions as their reproductive capacity, and the consequent outcome in the chinese families from today, is a clear example about the efectivenees of the chinese peoples. What other big people has could put limits to their reproductive expansion through politic decisions? No one as the chinese appear today as the more awarness about the impact over the environment that have the human production and consumption, and it´s the reason for the economic punishment to those families which have more than one child.

The resilience concept fixes only in those societies which have strong institutions, big trust in their policy-makers and efective legal systems, as we can see with the chinese societies. But, what about the nations which claiming posession over the Arctic? Are their institutions strong? Respect their peoples to their governant classes? Social control over their peoples are efective? So far away from that, many of the imperial nations which want dominate the arctic are characterized by their economic oligopolies which benefit free enterprise more than sustainable development.

The conflict between economic principles and ecological principles is clear today, indeed in the managing over the Arctic. I think that it´s the point that we can assessed deeply.

April 1, 2015 at 16:08 #17182
Miguel Núñez

My comments:

I will do my comments in two parts. First, I will comment around the conflicts between World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Climate Change Convention (UNCCC). Second, I will talk about if it is possible doing agreements between principles of economic capitalist model and a ecological model based on the common but diferentiated responsabilities.

First, I talk about the example from REDD+(Reduction carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests) as a clean development mechanism, through which north and developed countries signed agreements with south and developing countries in order to maintain deforesttion indexes in tropical rain forests. A critical point about this strategy is the financiation and the carbon market in which are negotiated the ammount of carbon emmisions. The REDD+ is a special program initiated by the UNCCC, but here is clear that the economic model from WTO is applied on this program also. One of the approaches to assesses REDD+ is that it is a new colonialism form in order to appropriate over the forest resources, through the transference of scientific knowledge from developed countries to developing countries. Who will put prices over every carbon emission? And in this way, Who will value the works of communities which conserve the forests? The global market! Again we´re in front to a vicious circle.

Second, from a ecology of mind approach (see: Gregory Bateson, “Ecology of mind”), the adaptation is a natural ability from the biological, social and human systems, which allow them correct mistakes and specialize their functions. By this reason, the natural consequences from conflicts between human and nature are their resolutions. I think that, from a democratic perspective which are agree with the dialogal ways to resolve conflicts, an agreement between economic and ecological principles is probable. But, what about those quota of people who don´t believe in the linguistic capacities from the human beign to improve their surroundings, and rather than this, believe in the warfare as way to win over the opponent?

December 3, 2015 at 12:21 #17606
Sanna Karlsson

I will dive into a few topics covered by the ”Arctic Resilience Interim Report 2013” and ”The Arctic Environment – From Low To High Politics” and will elaborate on some questions concerning these.

From ”Arctic Environment – From Low to High Politics”:
In 2007 the sea-ice reach a minimum like never before. This called for great attention from observers. The reason is combined climate change and globalization, which has lead to a call for a stronger Arctic political regime. I would like to stop at that information. Surely, this can not be the first time that a minimum of the sea-ice, alarming in relation to earlier observations, have been observed. The text explains that one prominent reason is economic development, which relates to exploitation of natural resources, transport and tourism. The question becomes, why is it that economy seems to drive people to use nature as one pleases? To me this seems to be the case. In my opinion, economy should instead be subordinated nature, for our very lives depend upon nature. If this could sink in among economy regimes, I believe we could make progress and hopefully reverse the climate change we see escalating.

From the ”Arctic Resilience Interim Report 2013”:
Indigenous people have a capacity to view the environment different from traditional Western science. I understand it as if they see nature almost as an integrated part of us, as a whole, and not in isolation as do Western science. They also tend to have a spiritual understanding of nature. Indigenous people, although very different from Western scientists, have valuable information passed on from generations orally on how to take care of nature. This information is important in building resilient cities and is included in the Arctic Council assessment processes. I belive this is a good thing to do. From what I understand this has only been included in recent years. Whatever the time when it was included, I see this as very important since I can imagine that the Western science do not have all the answers when it comes to this topic of resilience.

The author goes into various pilot case studies. I will look at two of these. Firstly, they discuss strategies to enhance the resilience of Sámi reindeer husbandry to rapid changes in the Arctic. The study is on the Sámi reindeer herding community in Finnmark, Norway. Since the 1600s many governmental changes have occured where for example migration routes. Some of these changes has led to a decreasing usage of traditional knowledge of Sámi herding, leading to a more instable resilience. Climate change has also caused a blockage of migration where the snow is either too much or there is ice underneath the snow. This can lead to starvation. The conditions are serious and the solution for a better resilience is to integrate traditional knowledge into formal governance systems and teach and involve the younger generation in traditional knowledge, according to the authors.
What caught my attention concerning this issue is that the changes from the 1600s have affected the herding community on so many levels. What one can learn from this is to respect the natural borders, migration routes etcetra which have been shaped for ages, from generation to generation. Perhaps there are few of these left in the world, this would be interesting to know. However, the modern world has in the cases of the Sámi reindeer husbandry realized they have to rethink and make a differences as to include more traditional knowledge in the husbandry. This is a good thing, yet I wonder how come this has not occured earlier? Maybe the negative consequences have not been large enough. I believe though, that these changes can be positive for other communities as well to adopt.

A second pilot study includes food security in the Arctic.
”Food security exist ’when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’.”
Food and water security is of concern when things like water- and food borne diseases, high cost for a ”healthy food basket” and other factors affect the security. Another is climate change, which can make it difficult to hunt marine mammals due to thinning of ice sea (difficult access to hunting grounds). There are also contaminants in the Arctic biota which bioaccummulate in food. The issues are many.
What societies do in a resilience framework is that they can for example share available food and also that they know alternative ways of getting the food and water that they need. To build in resilience in political decisions concerning food security is one of the authors´ suggestion. I truly think that resilience in this context is of high importance. I find it hard in what other way the Arctic can reach food security effectively. But it all requires that the facts of resilience concerning food- and water security become a reality. I believe the difficult part will be to actually implement the knowledge of resilience fully, since it needs to influence politics to a high degree and perhaps not all in power will agree on the solutions and thereby not all of the changes will come to pass. However to contiually strive thereafter is of course what is needed in order to see a further implementation of the resilience.

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