Sustainability Studies

Governance of Resources for Arctic Sustainable Policy and Practice

Retreating Blomstrandbreen Glacier on Svaldbard (Photo: Rene Bürgi)

The Alfred Wegener Institute, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Jade University of Applied Sciences have joined forces to develop the inter and transdisciplinary Arctic research project GRASP - Governance of Resources for Arctic Sustainable Policy and Practice.

The rapid change in the Arctic climate and a decrease in sea-ice cover give rise to a complex set of ecological, social and economic challenges. This complexity does not only lie in the Arctic's atmospheric, oceanic, terrestrial physical and ecological systems. It also arises from the interactions with the global system. This includes local and global human actions to adapt to those changes, or to mitigate or disregard them. With a transdisciplinary team of researchers from different institutes (social and natural sciences), the project strives to contribute meaningfully to the scientific understanding of sustainable development in the Arctic.

The GRASP project would contribute to building a more detailed picture of the present situation and possible future developments of the Arctic regions. Furthermore, the project would identify the potential consequences from climatic, environmental, legal, social, political and economic perspectives, including processes and feedback loops of very complex systems within the Arctic and beyond. With the help of these detailed insights, our aim is to facilitate evidence-based decision-making of different stakeholders, including the governance of resources for sustainable Arctic policy and practice. This will be done by developing a set of scenarios for future Arctic transformations based on prognosticated (expected) new infrastructure, economic activities and environmental changes.

Project set-up

Focus areas and time scales

Figure 1: Arctic research focus area (Photo: Ralf Brauner, JADE University Elsfleth)

The Barents region in the Eurasian Arctic and the coastal region of southwest Greenland are among the areas with the highest transformation potential in the short-, mid- and long-term future, but at the same time subject to significant uncertainty as to the pace, extent and consequences of these developments. In our proposed research activity, we focus on three areas (Figure 1): northern Norway to Svalbard (Area 1), parts of the Norwegian and Barents Sea, and parts of the Barents and Kara Sea as well as land areas of Troms County, Murmansk Oblast, Archangelsk Oblast, the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, including Novaya Zemlya and Jamal Peninsula (Area 2) and the southern part of Greenland (Area 3). Relevant time scales can be very different, ranging from short-term (1-5; 5-10 years) to mid-term (10-50 years), depending on the specific interest area and stakeholder needs.

Work packages

Work packages – graph „GRASP JIGSAW“ (Photo: Silke Niehoff, IASS Potsdam)

The suggested work packages (Figure 2) range from stakeholder mapping and characterization (WP A) to a collection of information and data and scenario outputs (WP B). These will provide input for the modeling of global socio-economic costs and benefits (WP C). Finally workshops and stakeholder dialogues will help to identify stakeholder-defined priority issues, which in turn allow more informed considerations of options and consequences for decision makers (WP D). Figure 2 visualizes the interdependencies of the work packages.

Stakeholder mapping

Rights- and Stakeholder Roles in the Research Process (Photo: Ilan Chabay, IASS Potsdam)

The sets of scenarios are intended to be useful to stakeholders as tools for decision-making at multiple levels. It is therefore crucial that the scenario-building work begins with the mapping of stakeholder groups in the Arctic focus areas and in non-Arctic centers of relevance to developments in the focus areas. The mapping shall capture stakeholder ideas, concerns and visions for sustainable Arctic futures. Mapping the relative political power and the social and economic status of the groups is also very important for facilitating constructive participation of the stakeholders in the scenario design and data populating process.

Scenario output

Ice station on Arctic sea ice (Photo: Mar Fernandez)

The specific scenario outputs in work package B focus on both the pace and the extent of Arctic development and encompasses a variety of sub-work packages collecting data and analyzing and modeling various scenario inputs. These range from:

  • Sea ice trends; climate and weather influences; air pollution (black carbon); risks and opportunities from shipping; atmospheric and marine pollution and options for technological prevention and mitigation; possible feedback loops and interdependencies with mid-latitudes,
  • Local, national, regional and global political and economic developments; governance and legal developments; social and cultural developments.

The scenarios will be based on data collection and model runs, which consider marine, atmospheric, ecological, political, economic, legal, social and cultural contexts and developments.

Modelling of socio-economic costs and benefits

Presentation slide GRASP WP-Leader Meeting November 2015 in Potsdam (Photo: Dimtry Yumashev, Lancaster University Management School)

The socio-economic costs of Arctic development, such as those associated with Arctic climate change, emissions of black carbon, global climate and weather impacts of the Arctic change and the consequences for industrial production, crops, forests and ecosystems need to be assessed – both regionally in the Arctic and globally. This assessment must include the impacts on diverse stakeholders around the Arctic. The development process and the usage of the scenarios by stakeholders have to be investigated as this leads to a transformation towards more sustainable Arctic futures. The scenarios will be based on data collection and model runs, which consider marine, atmospheric and weather, engineering and technology, ecological, political, economic, legal, social and cultural contexts and developments.

Project partners

To assess the present situation and future scenarios, GRASP has to engage in a truly interdisciplinary endeavor through combining state-of-the-art social and natural science research expertise, which is essential given the complexities in the Arctic's natural, engineering and social systems and especially in their interactions. This will be achieved through the close cooperation of different German and international partners who will be engaged in the respective work packages:

Glacier Lakes on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet (Photo: Coen Hofstede)
Spring on Svalbard (Photo: Rene Bürgi)
Polar bears on Arctic sea ice (Photo: Mario Hoppmann)