Highlighting the Arctic

Even if the regional scale was not a prominent point of departure for the analyses in ACIA's scientific chapters, the Arctic was still very much featured as a region with its own identity. As an illustration, the quantitative analysis revealed that the three most common meaning-bearing words in ACIA scientific report are Arctic, climate, and change. These words also occur among the top 20 words in almost all chapters, see Table 6.1. Climate and change are also among the most frequently used words in the IPCC reports, but Arctic is not. In the IPCC context, the relevant subdivision of the world into regions does not give the Arctic an identity of its own but treats it, alongside the Antarctic, in the chapter on polar regions. Even if the Arctic is discussed within the IPCC reports, the frequent use of the word Arctic signals a special framing of an "Arctic" rather than just part of a polar focus.

This framing is most likely connected to the fact that the assessment was mandated by a political regime covering the whole circumpolar region, the Arctic Council, as opposed to a global regime. Beyond this obvious observation are also the political developments related to the end of Cold War that led to the creation of a circumpolar political regime in the 1990s. The ACIA assessment and its highlighting of "Arctic" climate change can thus be seen as part of the on-going initiatives to create a regional identity, or region-building, which has been discussed by a number of authors.34 As early as the

33 Review comment by Stewart Cohen, written communication March 3, 2007.

34 E.g. Young, Arctic Politics. Conflict and Cooperation in the Circumpolar North; Carina Keskitalo, Negotiating the Arctic. The Construction of an International Region (London: Routledge, 2004); Heininen, "Circumpolar International Relations and Geopolitics."

Table 6.1. The 20 most frequently used words in the ACIA scientific report and IPCC's Third Assessments Reports from Working Group I and Working Group II. The numbers refer to how many times a word is mentioned in the entire document. The emphasis on Arctic, climate, and change in the ACIA report remains even if mentions in page headers are omitted.

Table 6.1. The 20 most frequently used words in the ACIA scientific report and IPCC's Third Assessments Reports from Working Group I and Working Group II. The numbers refer to how many times a word is mentioned in the entire document. The emphasis on Arctic, climate, and change in the ACIA report remains even if mentions in page headers are omitted.

ACIA scientific report

IPCC Working Group I

IPCC Working Group II

ARCTIC 7833

CLIMATE 5086

CLIMATE 7635

CLIMATE 5607

CHANGE 2613

CHANGE 6806

CHANGE 4056

MODEL 2286

WATER 2705

CHANGES 2917

MODELS 2244

IMPACTS 2507

SPECIES 2900

CHANGES 2175

CHANGES 2457

SEA 2431

FORCING 2168

GLOBAL 2000

ICE 2241

GLOBAL 2092

ADAPTATION 1509

LIKELY 1996

TEMPERATURE 1746

INCREASE 1321

TEMPERATURE 1912

ATMOSPHERIC 1442

EFFECTS 1312

WATER 1643

CO2 1421

UNITED 1220

NORTHERN 1520

VARIABILITY 1313

TEMPERATURE 1145

NORTH 1475

SURFACE 1304

COASTAL 1103

INCREASE 1455

SEA 1263

SCENARIOS 1079

AREAS 1428

OCEAN 1252

IMPACT 1073

EFFECTS 1377

RADIATIVE 1232

USA 1038

RADIATION 1374

ICE 1210

SPECIES 1015

FISH 1366

DATA 1096

CLIMATIC 1013

RESEARCH 1343

RES 1056

RESOURCES 1004

MARINE 1234

CARBON 1004

WARMING 999

YEARS 1138

GEOPHYS 952

ENVIRONMENTAL 986

mid-1980s, Young coined the concept "the Age of the Arctic" to capture the growing significance of this region in a global political context.35 That context was dominated by the growing military and industrial significance of the region, but the article also cites a statement about the importance of the Arctic to the entire global physical system in the context of climatic change.36 With the end of the Cold War, the push for creating a regional identity has grown with political initiatives both at the circumpolar and subregional level. Keskitalo has discussed how the Arctic in the past decades has been constructed as an international region.37 Today, the Arctic Council is the most significant political forum for this regional identity.

In the overview document, the focus on the Arctic comes to the fore because the text gives the Arctic a special role as the linchpin of climate change. This is a role it has had in connection with other environmental issues, especially persistent organic pollutants.38 It is explicitly stated in the following passage:

35 Young, "The Age of the Arctic."

36 June 1982 statement in the journal Arctic by a US State Department polar affairs specialist.

37 Keskitalo, Negotiating the Arctic. The Construction of an International Region.

38 For a discussion of the linch-pin image of the Arctic, see Young and Einarsson, "Introduction."

Just as miners once had canaries to warn of rising concentrations of noxious gases, researchers working on climate change rely on arctic sea ice as an early warning system In recent years, the rate of retreat has accelerated, indicating that the canary is in trouble.39

This image goes beyond the established climate science discourse of looking at the Arctic because of its importance for the global climate system and connects directly into a political discourse of the urgency of climate policy action.

A focus on the regional Arctic regimes and region building should be complemented by the recognition that the global climate science community has also highlighted the Arctic in recent years. It has become increasingly clear that climate modelers need a better understanding of the polar regions, which has spurred a number of international research initiatives focusing on the Arctic and its role in the global climate system, e.g. Arctic Climate Systems Study (ACSYS) and the Climate and Cryosphere Programme (CliC) under the auspices of the World Meteorological Research Program (WCRP). The global climate regime plays a role through the priorities of WCRP. Since this research is important for climate modeling, it is also connected to the needs of the IPCC for its assessment of climate change and its global impacts, which in turn provides a knowledge base for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The global climate science community is thus a rather strong actor network that is backed by the structure and norms of a global climate regime. However, these research efforts have been aimed at the science community and could not have had the same impetus as the ACIA to highlight the Arctic as a canary in a mine.

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