Rapid change and resilience: expanding dimensions of commons governance

Thursday 18th marked the last full day of the conference, and John Powell from CCRI attended the key note address by Annika E Nilsson. The address was titled ‘Rapid Change and Resilience: Expanding Dimensions of Commons Governance‘ and John’s thoughts and comments on it are as follows…

Rapid Change and resilience: expanding dimensions of commons governance

The discussion on the scope for collective action in the face of global environmental change continues to exercise the minds of participants at this regional IASC meeting. In a keynote presentation this morning, Annika Nilsson of the Stockholm Environmental Institute explored the impact of climate change on the Arctic region. The pace of change and the need for transformation of the way we think about and manage such global commons as the Arctic was strongly expressed. ‘Tipping points’, which may occur at system (e.g. large scale forest fires) or local (e.g. landslide) scales break up both ecological and social structures. At a larger scale rapid transformation of the sea ice has altered the previous collaborative approach to Arctic governance by a new focus on national economic opportunities in the form of fisheries, mineral and oil and gas development. In some ways the previous assertion of the Arctic as a commons, has stimulated increase national attention and nation states are exercising increased self-interest at the expense of collective action, leading to greater focus on sovereignty, militarisation of the region, and an emphasis on ‘security’.

The need to prepare for change was strongly emphasised. Not just in terms of adaptive capacity but also in terms of transformational change, through questioning more deeply the current economic, social and political structures. Dr. Nilsson encouraged participants at the conference to explore the role for ‘resilience thinking’ and in particular to look at how to analyse the interactions between physical, ecological and social systems. She pointed out that although past political decisions may have eroded traditional safeguards of resilience, it could also work the other way and we need to use political action to build new safeguards. The current focus on ‘securitisation’ in terms of food, energy and other resources was also emphasised as a threat to our capacity to develop resilience in the face of climate change. Issues with which researchers at CCRI are also grappling, particularly in terms of exploring food chains, and the social and economic implications of ‘food security’.

Two questions were posed at the end of the presentation.

First: ‘How are we to achieve collective action at the global level to deal with climate change when the focus on ‘security’ is driving action at the national level?’

Second: ‘Who is responsible for resilience?’

There are no easy answers, and while there has been erosion of ecological and social resilience there have also been positive actions in the form of strengthening of international cooperative actions, increases in knowledge and understanding, and recognition of shared goals. These might be the first steps to dealing with global commons problems, now we have to work out where to go next in preparing for transformational change. Dr. Nilsson made clear it is not an issue that either experts or politicians can solve, it is a matter for all of society to re-evaluate traditional assumptions, and requires increased trust, in a local-global context, as a pre-condition to start the discussion.