The tundra of northern Yamal (Photo: Dorothee Ehrich).

The Arctic is currently experiencing profound transformations. Rapid climate change in an era of increased globalization is perceived by a range of global actors to be opening up new economic opportunities. These changes are the most apparent drivers in the current debate on Arctic governance. The Arctic is no doubt a wide and open space, but it is, however sparsely, already populated. An important concern is therefore to ensure that the debate on Arctic governance gives sufficient attention to those who are already there: the debate must include a salient focus on indigenous people and other permanent residents of the Arctic (Broderstad 2011).

The goal of TUNDRA was to determine how environmental governance and socio-economic conditions affect ecosystem states and –services relevant to resource-dependent communities. The spatial contrast within those drivers were analyzed by an interdisciplinary team, producing knowledge and data relevant for ecosystem-based management in the Arctic.


Nenets are preparing their travel by the Erkura river, in southern Yamal. Here they travel with sledges across the tundra landscapes (Photo: Dorothee Ehrich).

Ecosystem management varies worldwide and depend on the success of management in obtaining the desired ecosystem properties and services. Despite environmental policies enacted at the global, regional and local levels, ecosystem degradation continues. The ecosystem changes have consequences for the local people who depend on these resources, and necessitates alternative approaches to analyze the effectiveness of different management practices. Questions of interest could be;

‘‘Why do some resource users self-organize to manage common pool resources sustainably and others do not?”  (Hausner et al. 2012)

The tundra biome, covering most of the circumpolar Arctic, is characterized by relatively simple ecosystems. Here an acceleration of ecosystem change is anticipated in these biomes, not only caused by climate change but increased anthropogenic pressure. The response of the ecosystem to these changes depend on many factors, including the level of human development (e.g. economy, education and health) and existing management practices (e.g. the degree of co-management and decentralization, the use of management tools, and property rights).

“Community-based management (CBM) has been promoted as a sustainable alternative for governing common pool resources, such as pastures, forests, water and fisheries. The endorsement of CBM is based on extensive empirical research showing that local users have successfully devised their own systems of rules and sanctions for the sustainable harvesting of resources. Over the past two decades, policy reforms related to CBM have also been advocated by international development agencies, the European Community, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Many of these reforms bear references to the subsidiary principle, which argues that local users have a better understanding of the socio-ecological systems (SES) they manage and greater incentives to manage their own resources sustainably”  (Hausner et al. 2012)


TUNDRA linked ecological and social sciences in a cross-disciplinary study design founded on governance-based contrasts and anthropogenic drivers. The Anthropogenic drivers in tundra ecosystems can directly impact ecosystem properties (e.g. land use, harvesting and pollution) and act as underlying indirect drivers (e.g. governance and socio-economic conditions). This is seen in studies done in Russia;

“Economic and social factors will change population numbers in very different ways. Here, I argue that we should pay special attention to the shifting political context, which has played a very important role in the economic life of indigenous people of Russia over the last 100 years” ( Klokov 2012)

The industry harbour of Dudinka, Tolimy (Photo: Dorothee Ehrich).

Here the most important trends were connected to changes in social and economic conditions linked to government directives. Post-Soviet reforms in the 1990s resulted in a nearly 50% reduction in the total number of domesticated reindeer. However in some regions, these political events had the opposite effect. The contrast was due to the abilities of herders to adapt to the new conditions as well as adaptation rates revealing an important difference between reindeer-holding enterprises with common ownership (i.e. kolkhozes, sovkhozes, municipal enterprises, etc.) and households with family owned reindeer. Klokovs study concludes that the effect of political context is so large as to conceal the impact of other natural factors on reindeer populations such as climate change (Klokov 2012).


In Norway other studies talk about development policies; economic security traps where big push policies are to bring local communities over a minimum threshold. However, even though they are self sufficient economically, if not governed well, it can have severe impacts on common pool resources and increase the environmental risk that the local resource users are facing, thereby increasing dependency on elevated economic inputs to manage the risks (Hausner et al 2011).

Governance of Sami pastoral socio-ecological systems in Norway has met the economic and ecological challenges through various mechanisms, including co-management boards to manage pastures, cooperatives to negotiate economic policies, and devolution to local resource users groups (summer siida). Incentive-based mechanisms have been the prevailing policy instrument to manage common pool resources. Studies show that the incentive-based mechanisms for managing the Sami pastoral socio-ecological system has not worked according to the intentions (Ulvevadet & Hausner, 2011). The various governance mechanisms to meet the challenges associated with reindeer pastoralism has been analyzed in-depth in Birgitte Ulvevadets PhD study “The Governance of Sami Reindeer Husbandry in Norway: Institutional Challenges of Co-Management”


The reform towards community-based natural resource management of pastures (Reindeer Herding Act of 2007) aimed to increase self-governance of pastoral resources. The summer siida would according to this law make their own rules within the limits of national regulations. The smaller siidas that are managing the pastures together both in winter and summer, and which distribute resources equally, were able to manage pasture more ecologically and economically sustainable. The reason that the reform did not always work as intended is the large winter pastures shared by too many resource users. The scale mis-match between self-organization and the formal governance is a key condition for sustainability in this case (Hausner et al., 2012).

But, the studies in TUNDRA also turn to Norway as a model for how to govern in a changing world. Indigenous people play a prominent role in modern Arctic nation building processes. The Sami serve as a good illustration. By applying different channels of influence—the public Sami parliamentary one, and the Sami organizational one, the NGO channel—Samis have become well-known political actors in their own right.

 At the same time, the many stages of implementation call for a context-sensitive approach to secure the rights and interests of those who have the greatest stakes in an issue. The fact that we can identify a range of systems, from comprehensive home rule autonomy to ethnic self-determination, joint governance, and co-management systems, allows for a variety of ways to deal with complex social landscapes (Broderstad 2012).

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