The challenge of change

The global climate is changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Not only are air temperatures rising but there is also widespread melting of ice and rising sea levels. The consequences of this include more unpredictable weather patterns with increasing risks of both droughts and flooding.1 And climate change is only one of many changes to the Earth as a system. Other changes entail various biogeochemical cycles as well as economic, social, and cultural processes.2 Some even claim that the changes of Earth as a system are so major and fast that we have entered into a new geological era, the An-thropocene, where the human society is the dominating driving force.3

The rate of change creates new challenges for people and societies. Knowledge based on previous experience may no longer be valid and old ways of managing nature may yield unexpected results. Unless we better understand the relationships between nature and society, the rate of change may therefore make it more difficult to cope with and adapt to climate change. We therefore need effective ways to detect changes. We also need processes to understand the relationship between society and nature, and to translate our understanding into activities that help us cope. Society's capacity to learn becomes a key issue.4

1 IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).

2 Will Steffen, Jill J├Ąger, David J. Carson, and Clare Bradshaw, eds. Challenges of a Changing Earth (Berlin: Springer, 2002); Oran R. Young, Frans Berkhout, Gilberto C. Gallopin, Marco A. Janssen, Elinor Ostrom, and Sander van der Leeuw, "The Globalization of Socio-Ecological Systems: An Agenda for Scientific Research," Global Environmental Change 16, (2006): 304.

3 Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, "The 'Anthropocene,'" Global Change Newsletter no. 41 (2000): 17.

4 Carl Folke, Johan Colding, and Fikret Berkes, "Synthesis: Building Resilience and Adaptive Capacity in Social-Ecological Systems," in Navigating Social-Ecological Systems, eds. Fikret Berkes, Johan Colding, and Carl Folke, 352-387 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 382; Brian Walker, Lance Gunderson, Ann Kinzig, Carl Folke, Steve Carpenter, and Lisen Schultz, "A Handful of Heuristics and Some Proposals for Understanding Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems," Ecology and Society 11, no. 1 (2006): 13; Young, et al., "The Globalization of Socio-Ecological Systems:

The role of social institutions for structuring the relationship between human societies and the natural environment has received increasing attention in recent years. This includes a number of approaches, such as studies of how governance arrangements can both cause and help solve environmental problems and analyses of how scientific knowledge is transformed into policy action.5 Some scholars emphasize that knowledge systems are part of society's processes of institutional and social learning to deal with ecosystem dynamics.6 There are also a few studies that specifically focus on institutional mechanisms through which societies generate knowledge and accept or privilege certain ways of understanding the world.7

As scientific knowledge becomes increasingly important for political decisions, we need a better understanding of how this knowledge is generated. This includes better ways to make apparent what changes, and what understandings, our current knowledge systems are not able to highlight. Such critical evaluations should help increase society's ability to detect changes and to understand the implications, which in turn are prerequisites for any translation into adequate action. This dissertation explores further the theme of how governance systems affect knowledge production. It takes its empirical starting point from a regional assessment of climate change impacts in the Arctic in an attempt to highlight how the structure of international cooperation influences our understanding of an environmental issue.

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