The Scientific Framing of Arctic Climate Change

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the framing of climate change in the scientific and overview reports of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). What issues are brought to the fore, why, and by whom? It will analyze the framing in the context of the knowledge base that is used for the assessment and discuss what circumstances and drivers might explain why the reports place more emphasis on some issues and less on others. As background for a discussion on the role of regional climate impact assessments in a global context, the chapter also compares the ACIA scientific report to the 2001 assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Two major arguments are put forth in this chapter. First is that the ACIA highlights the global role of the Arctic and that its role is also framed by the political context of the region as a bellwether for global climate change. The second is that this regional assessment provided a venue for assessing the human dimensions of climate change, particularly as they relate to indigenous peoples, rather than only exploring Arctic climate change in relation to its geophysical characteristics. It thus represents an emerging shift from a discourse focusing on global impact to one that pays more attention to how complex interactions of different factors will affect the local impacts of climate change and the capacity to adapt.

The chapter starts with a discussion of the materials and methods for the analyses. This is followed by a description of three major framing issues: the choices of spatial scale and geographic coverage, whose lives the assessment focuses on, and what is climate change about in the ACIA report. This is followed by a specific focus on how structures of international cooperation might explain some of the key framings in the report.

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