IASC European Conference – Umeå, Sweden; Closing Thoughts

Yesterday was the final full day of the IASC European Conference. John Powell from CCRI who has been there all week provides some thoughts and reflections on the conference as it comes to a close.


Trust, communicating, and bridging to manage global commons

Looking back over the last three days of the IASC conference one can see certain themes emerging from all the papers and discussion.

There is a real concern over whether we have the tools and capacity to manage global commons effectively. Perhaps this is not surprising in a region that is experiencing almost daily reminders of climate change including warmer winters, less snow, and longer growing seasons that are changing vegetation patterns, and triggering a range of impacts from disease to forest fires. In some ways the Arctic could be thought of as being on the front line of climate change impacts.  

There has been a focus on exploring the scope for ‘bridging organisations’ or institutional change that enables different scientific disciplines to communicate more easily with each other. What has been recognised is that the framing of research issues leads to different ‘frameworks’ or ways of looking at problems, often with their own language and jargon which push disciplines apart when they need to be coming together to look at social-ecological-technical systems. A panel discussion Chaired by Konrad Hagedorn of the Humboldt University in Berlin explored possible approaches to bridging the diverse research frameworks being applied to socio-ecological systems research. What is of more concern is the challenge of building institutions capable of bridging different scales, such as from the micro to the local, and the local to the global, and so far there are no clear solutions. The issue of trust comes up time and again, it is essential for any collective action approach and is widely recognised as an essential starting point for any improvements in communication. But, how to build trust at larger scales appears elusive, especially at a time when inequality both on a global scale and within nation states is increasing.  

Another topic that has received considerable attention is the concept of ecosystem services as a commons regime, and several papers have explored the potential for using some form of compensation or payment for ecosystem services as a way forward.   It is clear from the research papers presented that a wide range of ecosystem services are currently being investigated in regards to alternative forms of institutional design and payment. Presented papers covered pollination services, indigenous people’s traditional activities, peri-urban and urban spaces, and carbon sequestration, as well as our own CCRI work on water quality services delivered through catchment management.

The conference has highlighted some key issues that need to be addressed in order to improve global commons governance, and provided a reminder that maintaining the status quo is no longer an option; we now need to prepare for transformational change.   Sitting up here on the northern periphery of Europe – it certainly looks like the time for action may be running out more rapidly than we think.