Many Strong Voices for the Arctic & tropics

Norwegian-led project connects different regions facing challenges from climate change

Photo courtesy of Many Strong Voices: Annelaila Smuk n the Arctic, weather changes are hard on young reindeer, who must be strong to survive their first year.

Photo courtesy of Many Strong Voices: Annelaila Smuk
In the Arctic, weather changes are hard on young reindeer, who must be strong to survive their first year.

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

John Crump
Arendal, Norway

Tropical island and Arctic communities have faced many social and environmental changes over past centuries, and the people who live in these regions have developed abilities to deal with those changes. Nevertheless, the effects of climate change are starting to take their toll. New and creative efforts are needed to help determine ways to deal with the challenges brought by climate change and its spin-off effects.

One such project, Many Strong Voices (MSV), joins coastal communities from around the Arctic and from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS, in recognition of the similar vulnerabilities to climate change which both regions experience—and the similar opportunities brought by tackling climate change head on.

MSV was launched in December 2005 by GRID-Arendal, a Norwegian organization that collaborates with the United Nations Environment Program. It brings together Arctic and SIDS participants to share and enhance knowledge and expertise about climate change within the context of sustainable development. While recognizing the problems, the focus is on solutions led by Arctic and SIDS peoples, not just for themselves, but also to give back to the world.

Those involved include international organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, research institutes, communities, and individuals in communities. A strong bond among all the peoples in these two regions is their dependence on natural resources to earn a living. At the same time, traditional ways of life are supported by modern science and technology. This allows people to continue living in their communities despite the changes wrought by human influences on the environment.

Photo courtesy of Many Strong Voices: Maureen Pesega Tuvalu couldn’t be more different from Nesseby, Norway, but both are affected by climate change. In Tuvalu, rising sea levels are killing crops and causing disruptive floods.

Photo courtesy of Many Strong Voices: Maureen Pesega
Tuvalu couldn’t be more different from Nesseby, Norway, but both are affected by climate change. In Tuvalu, rising sea levels are killing crops and causing disruptive floods.

MSV’s work helps peoples and communities to create change from within and to exchange stories of successes and lessons learned from the different regions. Activities include:

• Developing and sustaining internal skills for SIDS and Arctic partners, and their communities and networks, so that they can catalyze change in both regions.

• Involving and inspiring youth to take leadership and to catalyze action in their own communities for their own generation through Portraits of Resilience, directed by Canadian photographer Christine Germano. Portraits of Resilience has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution and other major museums, as well as at the international climate change negotiations in Denmark, South Africa, and Poland.

• Exchanging scientific and local/traditional knowledge on climate change action between sites and regions so that the knowledge is tested and applied on the ground.

• Ensuring that local and Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge and experience from affected SIDS and Arctic communities is accepted by national and international scientific and policy bodies, with a focus on the IPCC and UNFCCC.

• Catalyzing, facilitating, and supporting on-the-ground mitigation and adaptation actions, as well as linking the two activities. These initiatives need to be run by and based on advice from people in the communities, especially so that all processes are linked and support wider community sustainable development.

While external and top-down interventions and exchanges are useful for supporting local action, the most effective way to reduce vulnerability and to live with climate change is through community-based drivers and initiatives grounded on solid experience and information. MSV research and action builds on and draws lessons from experiences with community-based research and assessment work undertaken both within and beyond the SIDS and the Arctic.

One important theme is recognizing that climate change is just one challenge and opportunity amongst many others facing the SIDS and the Arctic. Other ongoing concerns, for which building local skills can assist, include rapid rural-to-urban migration, the potential loss of languages and cultures through emigration, population growth, gender and minority inequities, erosion of local knowledge and experiences, manipulation by richer governments and corporations, and unsustainable natural resource extraction, especially through exploration and exploitation conducted without the local communities’ cooperation.

These multiple factors must be considered simultaneously to ensure that tackling one problem, such as climate change, does not create or exacerbate other problems emerging from the myriad of social and environmental challenges faced by people in the SIDS and Arctic. Future perspectives must also be balanced with historical understanding. What lessons from past experiences, embedded within traditional knowledge forms and cultures, should be exchanged and applied today?

MSV provides the grounding, inspiration, impetus, and opportunity to build and maintain community-based processes that contribute to enhanced ability and actions to reduce vulnerability and to contribute to sustainability. With such comprehensiveness, cooperation, and exchange, Many Strong Voices from around the world will be heard, locally and globally, leading to positive action for positive change.

John Crump is Senior Science Writer with GRID-Arendal, a Norwegian foundation that supports the United Nations Environment Programme. He lives in Arendal and has spent most of his career working in the Arctic. He has an academic background in journalism, communications, and political economy.

This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.