People in Arctic regions see their livelihoods changing. A research project covering all eight Arctic countries adds new methods to Arctic climate research by asking local communities to define the research.
A wide range of challenges are facing people in the Arctic regions as the climate warms up twice as fast as the global average. People in some communities in Northern Norway see wind patterns changing and fish moving towards the North. People in Tuktoyaktuk in Northern Canada, who have seen their coastlines eroding for a long time, may see erosion happen faster due to warming temperatures and stronger storms.
The International Polar Year research project «Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in the Arctic Regions» (CAVIAR) aims to compare case studies across all eight Arctic countries and expand knowledge about adaptation and vulnerability to climatic and other changes.
“What makes this project unique is that it involves local stakeholders from the start and throughout the research project. They are defining the research”, says project leader Grete K. Hovelsrud
, a senior research fellow at CICERO Center for Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo.
As an anthropologist, she and her colleagues present the project for communities, and if they are interested in joining, a dialogue between the researchers and the stakeholders begins.
“They tell us what the most important questions are in their communities, whether they are societal, political or environmental”, Hovelsrud explains.
When the research questions are defined, other relevant scientific experts are contacted for the most recent results. In addition, downscaled climate scenarios are prepared for the localities.
“For example, if local stakeholders define precipitation patterns and temperature as important for their livelihoods, we bring them downscaled scenarios. Together we discuss which challenges these scenarios may bring and how these may be met”.
Recently Norwegian and Candadian researchers traveled in the north of Norway to exchange knowledge and to meet some of the local stakeholders taking part in the project. Mark Andrachuk, a resarcher from University of Guelph, says:
“There is a tendency for researchers in the Canadian Arctic just to take information and not bring the research back to the community. One of the most important parts of this project is to bring the research results back to the community. Once communities have this information it makes them more able to make decisions in light of future risks”.
Inger Katrine Juuso is the mayor of Nesseby, one of the Norwegian municipalities taking part in the project. She says that it is a mixed blessing to be part of the project since climate change creates challenges for her community.
“However, we are happy that the communities are made visible. People here feel that they see the climate changes. The wind has increased, the tree boarders move, the amount of predators is increasing”, Juuso says.
Toril Svendsen, a project leader in the municipality of Lebesby, another town in Northern Norway, say that people talk about the winters changing.
“The winters are milder than they used to be. If it goes on like this, we have to wait until February to get the snow conditions we are used to. This creates challenges for the tourism industry, but also for our general wellbeing. It is dark here in December and January. We are used to the snow lightening up”, Svendsen says.
Other challenges facing Northern Norway are a possible reduced food access for reindeer and migration of fish to areas further north.
Robin Sydneysmith, a professor at the University of British Columbia is another Canadian visiting Northern Norway.
“One difference between Canada and the Nordic countries is the connection to the outside world. While in Norway, Sweden and Iceland the livelihoods of people are more directly connected to the external market, subsistence livelihoods are still important in Arctic communities in Canada”, he says.
“For many Inuit in Canada, environmental changes are causing livelihood changes, and they already have to adapt in how they harvest and travel. This is something that you don’t see yet in Northern Europe. But if the cod moves north or decline, communities in Europe also might face these sorts of challenges”, Sydneysmith continues.
The researchers underline the importance of seeing environmental changes in connection to social and political changes.
“Climate change is not at the top of the agenda for many people in the North. Other problems, like unemployment, are more immediate, but more and more people are realizing that climate change may make some things worse. It represents one more thing to worry about”, says Robin Sydneysmith.