Arctic resilience in a changing world

The Arctic Resilience Report is the first comprehensive assessment of ecosystems and societies in the region. It identifies 19 “tipping points” in natural systems that could radically reshape the Arctic in the coming century, and calls for urgent cooperation to build local communities’ resilience and capacity to adapt to rapid and widespread change.

A tipping point is a rapid change that can have severe and often irreversible effects on ecosystems. The report identified several that might effect the Arctic, including the growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with could affect other ecosystems even in distant oceans.

The report, produced under the auspices of the Arctic Council and with input from an IIASA Arctic Futures Initiative researcher, also examines how different Arctic peoples adapt to change, providing multiple examples of communities which have maintained traditional whaling, reindeer herding, and other practices. Many have transformed the way they live and interact with nature and natural resources. For example, the fishing community of Húsavík, Iceland, has turned itself into a tourist destination for whale-watching after cod-fishing quotas and a moratorium on whaling ended their traditional livelihoods. It also profiles cases where local communities have lost their livelihoods and are struggling to survive, maintain their cultural identity, or both.

The report found four key factors that helped communities build resilience:

  • Capacity for self-organization – that is, to make decisions and implement responses to change
  • Diversity of responses to change
  • Capacity to learn from and integrate diverse types of knowledge
  • Capacity to navigate uncertainty and surprises

Unfortunately some policies and actions taken by Arctic country governments prevent resilience. As well as avoiding these damaging practices, governments should increase their efforts to support and empower local communities to prepare for shocks and stress, the report concluded.

The Arctic Resilience Report, launched in November 2016, is the culmination of a five-year scientific effort and will be presented to the eight Arctic nations’ foreign ministers during the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska on 11 May 2017.


[1] Arctic Council (2016). Arctic Resilience Report. M. Carson and G. Peterson (eds). Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm.


  • Arctic Council
  • Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Stockholm Environment Institute