Living with unpredictability. It's complicated...


Norwegian environmental management is expected to be knowledge-based. That means the agencies tasked with management need to understand the current state of the environment, factors that drive or influence natural processes, and possible ways to shape developments.

It is sometimes argued that the High North is a simple system, easier to understand than a species-rich rain forest ecosystem or a densely populated area perturbed by human activities. Research carried out at the Fram Centre shows that this is a misconception: high-latitude systems are not simple at all. Many of the articles in this issue of Fram Forum expose contradictions, uncertainties and difficulties that must be resolved along the way to knowledge.

The article about the Atlantification of an Arctic fjord likens documentation of climate-related changes in a marine ecosystem to detective work. After years of painstaking “sleuthing” the researchers can discern some trends but are still unable to say definitively which species will be the ecosystem’s winners and losers. Even members of a single species can be affected differently by climate change. Forty years of monitoring of Svalbard reindeer (p 92) show that warmer summers and milder winters may be detrimental to reindeer living on sparsely vegetated Brøggerhalvøya, but advantageous to those living on the lusher tundra in Adventdalen, just 125 km away.

Several influential research organisations have recently released alarming reports showing that climate change will continue relentlessly, with unpredictable effects. The reports make it clear that time is short. We must take action immediately. But climate change is far beyond the reach of knowledge-based Norwegian management in isolation: tackling this problem requires international cooperation.

Policy-making is a crucial step in taking action, but the road to international environmental policy can be long and bumpy. The Minamata Convention on Mercury was decades in the works (p 32), even though mercury’s toxicity was acknowledged, its sources few, and the threats it posed both global and dire. The most important greenhouse gases are not toxic at their current atmospheric concentrations. They originate from countless sources and they spread all around the globe. But they don’t kill people outright: their threat is insidious, easy to ignore. How do we communicate the urgency of this problem?

The research into the Minamata process highlights five important factors if a nation is to succeed in international policy negotiations. The first of these is to have a sound scientific foundation and communicate this knowledge in such a way that non-experts can understand.

The research environment at the Fram Centre is diverse and highly productive, as this issue shows. But to fully leverage our ability to establish a sound scientific foundation, we must release the synergies the newly expanded Fram Centre offers. This will benefit international processes as well as supporting knowledge-based management in the High North.

As for communicating our knowledge in a comprehensible manner, we hope Fram Forum will do just that.

Janet Holmén, Editor