The role of regimes in the politics of scale

What role do regimes play in the politics of scale? As already alluded to in the example of the WMO, norms can encourage regime members to muster financial and technical resources for knowledge production with a certain scale preference, in turn reinforcing a particular framing. By facilitating the mustering of resources for new technical and administrative systems, regimes can provide a venue through which political preferences become embedded in technology and in the way society's knowledge production is organized. The choices that are made in setting up a monitoring system is an example.

This can be very productive in the sense that regimes can help society organize its knowledge production to meet policy needs. The vast improvements in weather forecasting are a case in point as is our growing ability to detect global climate change and to make global scenarios for future climate change. However, it also means that policy makers need to be aware that current structures of international cooperation may have kept some facets of climate change hidden because the knowledge systems that have gained power from them are not apt to detect or understand them. Today's relative lack of knowledge about adaptation to climate variability is an example, as discussed by Pielke et al.7 Knowledge about many different aspects of a problem becomes especially important in a rapidly changing environment, where old experiences may not be as valid or where changes may show up in unexpected places. This study of the ACIA shows that norms about what constitute legitimate knowledge can vary between regimes and that Arctic Council norms helped highlight local perspectives in addition to the previously dominating global view of climate science. To safeguard against an over dominance of one particular scale preference or knowledge tradition and to ensure that more aspects of a challenge become visible, it would be wise to promote a diversity of perspectives. This may require a greater plurality in governance arrangements than has been present in climate change. The UNFCCC and the IPCC have dominated the picture so far and initiatives that focus on other spatial scales than the global have been more scarce or much weaker.

If we see redundancy in knowledge production as a safeguard against unpleasant surprises and plurality of governance arrangements as a potential way to create this redundancy, then the history of the ACIA is sobering. Early in the Arctic political cooperation, climate change and ultraviolet radiation assessments were to a large extent deferred to the global level. It was not until global and regional interests merged that this large-scale effort at assessing the impacts of Arctic climate change was launched. It raises questions of whether the structure of cooperation in climate policy, in particular the dominance of global preferences, may have delayed knowledge syntheses that could be important for adaptation efforts and possibly also for mitigation initiatives. Yet, the Arctic can be seen as lucky in that its role in the global climate system has been scientifically recognized for a long time and that it has attracted major research efforts from global regimes. Moreover, there was a political regime in place that could muster the resources to conduct a regional assessment. Many other regions of the world that may be equally vulnerable to climate change lack similar concerted efforts at understanding regional or local climate change impacts.

7 Pielke Jr., et al., "Lifting the Taboo on Adaptation."

Even with an assessment like the ACIA, the analyses of the ACIA process in Chapter 5 of this dissertation show that it was strongly influenced by the global climate regime in what issues to highlight. Consequently, there is also a need for policy makers to discuss how to make regional, national, and local assessments independent enough that they can contribute to a true diversity in the production of knowledge about climate change and its impacts and society's vulnerabilities. This becomes especially important in light of how the loss of diversity in know-how may reduce the resilience of a system and that combining different knowledge systems may be a key component of creating systems of adaptive governance.8 If one perspective is too dominant, it becomes difficult to create multilevel approaches that rely on collaborations across diverse social and ecological scales. The ACIA shows that downscaling of the global climate models to the regional level does not necessarily provide the same knowledge as syntheses that start at the local level. In the context of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, the lack of progress in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as the need for adaptation, is the basis for ongoing discussions about the future structure of climate governance. Policy makers may need to ask similar questions relating to how the current global climate regime and alternative political structures can help or hinder knowledge production on climate change. More specifically, we need to ask what spatial scale preferences current regimes can highlight and what role they may have played in the lack of policy-relevant knowledge at other spatial scales. In this context, an analysis of regime interplay could become an important diagnostic tool for policy makers.

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