1.4 Why now?

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA 2004) highlighted the changes expected to occur in the Arctic as a result of climate change over the next century. It also showed that these changes have already begun and will have significant environmental, economic, social and cultural effects in the Arctic.

One of the key findings of the ACIA was that Arctic species’ diversity, ranges, and distribution are changing. Observations indicate range changes are already happening on a large scale. For example, a review of 143 studies involving range distribution of nearly 1,500 species indicated that 80 percent had shifted towards the poles (Root, et al 2003). A key recommendation for future Arctic research was the improvement of long-term monitoring, extending it to year-round record collection and expanding it spatially.

ACIA was one of the first major scientific reports that included observations of local indigenous peoples, as case studies, to support scientific findings and to give a human face to some of the impacts of climate change. A striking convergence of community based observations with scientific data helped validate local observations. They were elevated from “anecdotal evidence”, a term used to identify this type of information in scientific documents, to an invaluable building block of a holistic understanding of the Arctic environment. However, case studies can only convey personal perspectives. They may provide the basis for discussion and scientific enquiry, but they do not provide aggregate statistics or general trends (Huntington et al, 2004). Furthermore, community based monitoring employ methods that quantify data can be an invaluable component of any large scale monitoring effort. It is impossible to collect year-around data in the vast Arctic region without local residents. There are not enough scientists in the world to do this (Kuznetsov, in interview for this handbook, 2009).

The recognition of the validity of local observations coupled with the need for on-going monitoring created a perfect opportunity for a surge in interest in various forms of community based monitoring. This was amplified by another opportunity, which came in the form of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2009 2. The vision of the organizers expanded the notion of inclusiveness to a range never experienced in polar research before. Arctic residents, especially indigenous peoples, were recognized as important stakeholders, collaborators, and drivers of new research, and, for the first time, were explicitly called upon to participate in the IPY.

The energy generated in IPY 2007–2009 was a result of many years of struggle to achieve recognition of indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge as invaluable components in the understanding of physical, natural and social environments in the Arctic. Indigenous and local participation in IPY 2007-2009 was also a result of political changes that occurred in recent decades. The process of indigenous land settlement claims that began in the 1970’s in Alaska and a similar movement in the 1990’s in Canada resulted in the establishment of indigenous government bodies. That led, among other things, to the increase in capacities of local indigenous organizations and to new government regulations requiring consultations and sometimes approval of research planned on indigenous lands.

More than 160 projects were funded and implemented, out of which 12 projects were led by indigenous researchers or indigenous organizations, while an additional 25 projects had indigenous partners. Almost all of these projects had a substantial community based monitoring component. Two of the projects reviewed in this Handbook are IPY projects.

2 The International Polar Year is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009. IPY, organized through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is actually the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. IPY 2007-8 involved over 200 projects, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical,biological and social research topics. It was an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate, follow, and get involved with, cutting edge science.