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Arctic Resilience Report – Interim report 2013

Explore the key messages from the ARR Interim Report.

Project background

Societies and ecosystems are interdependent, but they are often analyzed separately and managed as if they were distinct systems that are independent of one another. The Arctic Resilience Report (ARR) is an Arctic Council project that analyses the resilience of these closely coupled social-ecological systems in the Arctic.


The Arctic is one of the most rapidly changing regions on the planet. These changes are taking place with striking breadth and diversity, and in ways that fundamentally affect the Arctic’s ecosystems and the lives of its inhabitants. While climate change is the most prominent driver of change, many other environmental changes are taking place alongside rapid social and economic developments. In some contexts, social, political, economic and ecological drivers may be of greater significance than climate change. Social processes driving Arctic change include increasing demand for resources and for transportation, migration, geopolitical changes and globalization. Ecosystem changes include, for example, drawdown of fish resources and degradation of Arctic landscapes. As a result, the Arctic faces multiple and simultaneous social and environmental stressors. An integral part of the assessment is to identify policy and management options.

Summary for policy-markers

The following are the key messages from the ARR Interim Report.

1. The Arctic is subject to major and rapid changes in social and economic systems, ecosystems and environmental processes. These interact in ways that have profound implications for the wellbeing of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

2. A resilience framework provides an integrative approach for assessing linked social and ecological changes across scales, identifying the risk of threshold effects, and building capacity to respond.

3. Abrupt changes have been observed in the environment across the Arctic. Such changes risk crossing environmental thresholds, which can have long-term consequences that affect options for future development.

4. Arctic change has global effects, with potential impacts on societies, ecosystems and options for development across the world.

5. Options for responding to change may be compromised by past decisions and interventions, particularly those that have eroded traditional safeguards of resilience.

6. Rapid Arctic change is likely to produce surprises, so strategies for adaptation and, if necessary, transformation, must be responsive, flexible and appropriate for a broad range of conditions.

7. Governing in the Arctic will require difficult choices that must grapple with different and sometimes conflicting priorities. The resilience approach helps capture the complex interrelated processes that need to be better understood for effective decision-making. Participatory processes can more effectively ensure that diverse voices are represented and that all relevant forms of knowledge are included in decisions.

Project activities

The Arctic resilience report combines science-based analysis with interactive engagement with user communities. It is built around three types of activities:

Integrated analysis synthesizes expert knowledge about thresholds and feed-backs in Arctic social-ecological systems that can affect ecosystem services. It also focuses on how thresholds and other changes can affect the capacity for adaptation and transformation, including analysis of how policy decisions may either help to strengthen or risk eroding these capacities.

Case studies are focused applications of the resilience assessment methodology carried out in cooperation with relevant partners. They provide opportunities to work in contexts that are directly relevant to user communities and decision-markers in the arctic.

Capacity-building activities aim to ensure resilience assessment can be used as a tool for dealing with rapid change after the project is finalized. They include a course on Arctic resilience in cooperation with University of the Arctic.

The Arctic Council Project

The Arctic Council project is led by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with the Resilience Alliance. The project built on collaboration with other Arctic states and the indigenous peoples in the region, as well as with several Arctic scientific organizations.

Following scoping activities in 2011, the Arctic Resilience Report was accepted as an Arctic Council Project in November 2011. Sweden made the Arctic Resilience Report a priority for its chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2011-2013) and the US has now come aboard to co-chair the project as it prepares for its coming Arctic Council chairmanship in 2015-2017.

The Arctic Resilience Report is a science-based assessment of the combined impacts of change in the Arctic. The goal is to:

  • Identify the potential for shocks and large shifts in ecosystem services that affect human well-being in the Arctic.
  • Analyse how different drivers of change interact in ways that affect the ability of ecosystems and human populations to withstand shocks, adapt or transform.
  • Evaluate strategies for governments and communities to adapt

The Arctic resilience report builds on and further develops a methodology for assessing interactions among social and ecological processes across scales, as described in the Resilience Assessment workbook. By social-ecological systems we mean people and the environment and the ways they interact. The process includes identify important aspects of socio ecological systems and the drivers that affect them, followed by an analysis of thresholds for ecosystem services and human well-being.

An integral part of the assessment is to identify policy and management options that may be needed for strengthening resilience for adaptation and for transformational change.

Suggested citation

Arctic Council (2013). Arctic Resilience Interim Report 2013. Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm.

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