Ensuring climate services serve society: examining tribes’ collaborations with climate scientists using a capability approach

Abstract

Interest in climate service efforts continues to grow. However, more critical analysis could enhance how well climate services align with the needs of society. Collaborations between Native American Tribes (Tribes) and Climate Science Organizations (CSOs) providing decision-support for climate change planning accentuate the potential for climate services to have social justice implications through either deepening or softening existing inequities. This paper compares 30 Tribe-affiliated and 36 CSO-affiliated individuals’ perceptions about potential harms and benefits associated with their collaborations with one another. The importance of the potential benefits of collaborations listed outweighed the potential harms listed for both groups, but while climate science organizations rated the potential benefits listed slightly higher than Tribes did, the potential harms listed were much more salient for Tribes. This finding highlights concerns that, without proper training and management, these collaborations may reinforce unequal relationships between settler and Indigenous populations. While CSOs appeared cognizant of their Tribe-affiliated colleagues’ concerns, transitioning from a focus on building trust to establishing and sustaining shared systems of responsibilities might help these collaborations meet the needs of both groups more effectively.

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Acknowledgments

It would not have been possible without the insights generously provided by our interviewees and Caitlin Kirby’s, Citralina Haruo’s, Brandon Boyd’s, and Yun-Jia Lo’s contributions. We would also like to extend a special thanks to the project participants who in person or remotely attended a 2-day workshop at the College of Menominee Nation in which the results were discussed and actions were outlined for moving forward with improving collaboration in climate science. Finally, we would like to thank our anonymous reviewers for helping enhance this paper.

Funding

NSF Grant #1540314 supported this project.

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Correspondence to Scott E. Kalafatis.

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Kalafatis, S.E., Whyte, K.P., Libarkin, J.C. et al. Ensuring climate services serve society: examining tribes’ collaborations with climate scientists using a capability approach. Climatic Change 157, 115–131 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02429-2

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