The framing of Arctic climate change

How is climate change framed in the ACIA? How do different framings of Arctic climate change relate to structures of international cooperation? This section summarizes the main findings from the literature review of the historical context of the ACIA and the ACIA case study in an attempt to connect key framings to mechanisms by which structures of international cooperation can influence knowledge production. This section pays special attention to the possible role of different regimes.

The ACIA features two general framings of Arctic climate change. One is an image of the Arctic as a key component of the global system. The other is climate as one of many interacting factors that will influence the impacts of climate change.

An example of the Arctic as part of the global system is the emphasis in the ACIA reports on physical processes in the Arctic that play a pivotal role in global climate change, such as the changes in ice in relation to the freshwater budget and ocean currents or changes in Arctic carbon fluxes in relation to the global carbon budget. Another example is concerns about how Arctic habitats for migratory birds are connected to global biodiversity. A third example, and one closely connected to climate policy, is that the Arctic is a bellwether or "a canary in the mine" warning about what may happen globally if nothing is done politically to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Several nodes in the global climate regime have been important in promoting this framing. They include the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) since they have promoted and coordinated research that seeks to understand the role of the Arctic processes in a global context. In doing so, they have also created strong scientific communities or actor networks of both people and technology. Two other nodes are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which have generated and funneled policy demands for knowledge on specific issues, where the Arctic is mainly of interest because of its global role. The fact that the WMO dates back to the 1950s and that it has also played a critical role in the IPCC and via the IPCC in relation to the UNFCCC further emphasizes how formal international cooperation around an issue can come to structure whole fields of knowledge production.

The emerging regional Arctic regime, as expressed in the Arctic Council, also plays a role in presenting the Arctic as globally important. In relation to the history and process of the ACIA, the mechanisms here relate to the creation of a globally relevant regional identity. A question for the future is how the Arctic Council, in combination with other regional initiatives can create new foundations for promoting and coordinating research, creating research communities or actor networks, and funneling policy demands for knowledge. The ACIA process itself attests to its role in funneling policy concerns and there are some signs of new networks being formed. If I had continued to follow the process since the ACIA reports were launched in 2004, I might have been able to document signs of research coordination, but the WMO teaches us that the long-terms results are easier to judge in a historical perspective.

The second major framing of Arctic climate change in the ACIA is that it is only one of many interacting factors that will affect the impacts of climate change. An example of this is the emphasis on multiple environmental stressors, such as interactions with pollutants and physical disturbances of ecosystems. Another example is the notion of human health as a concept that integrates influences ranging from the physical environment to cultural, community, and family surroundings to genetic dispositions. A third example is how discussions about impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples highlight connections to political rights. Especially when discussing impacts on indigenous peoples, the regime context of the Arctic Council appears to have been important in allowing new perspectives into knowledge production about Arctic climate change. Here, the norms and decision-making procedures of the Arctic political cooperation created a formal role for indigenous peoples throughout the assessment process. This allowed them to not only voice their priorities but also to ensure that indigenous voices became included in a formal scientific document and thus in the knowledge base that is available to audiences concerned with the science of climate change.

In summary, the ACIA case illustrates how regimes can influence knowledge production by promoting and coordinating research in certain fields, by funneling policy demand for knowledge, and by creating space for new actors in the knowledge production process. This raises questions about what research and understandings that current international regimes have not highlighted and where we might consequently lack knowledge that is relevant in understanding climate change and in furthering society's capacity to cope. The same issue has come to the fore in the general discussions about adaptation to climate change, where Pielke, Prins, Rayner, and Sarawitz have recently argued that a serious discussion of adaptation has been prevented by a framing of climate change that has been dominated by global mitigation issues. With reference to the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol and their lack of involvement with adaptation that goes beyond the issue of mitigation, they phrase it as the "missed opportunities of an international regime."1

The ACIA case illustrates how a regional context can help bring out some of the complexity regarding adaptation. However, it also shows that regional knowledge production is highly dependent upon the global political context. The next section discusses the relationship between regimes and knowledge production in context of the political preferences of different actors and a need to consider the politics of the concept fit, interplay, and scale.

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