Tahnee Prior

Study program:
Global Governance
Current affiliation:
University of Waterloo

Tahnee Prior (global governance, University of Waterloo) hopes to define a new governance framework that will address the emerging and complex issues caused by climate change, resource extraction, migration, and potential inter-state conflict in the Arctic.

Broadly, Tahnee Prior (global governance, University of Waterloo) focuses on how we design institutions for rapidly changing environments. More specifically, she focuses on how we translate social-ecological resilience into legal doctrine. Her doctoral work draws on complex systems theory, environmental law, and global governance to understand what a legalized international governance structure that could account for the complexity and rapid change might look like and how we could achieve it. Tahnee’s other projects focus on: human security and gender and the Arctic; Arctic governance, including EU-Canada Arctic relations; Arctic security and sovereignty; the impact of climate change on women and indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women; and building resilient on- and offline communities.

Doctoral research

The Arctic at a Crossroads: Legalizing Arctic Environmental Governance

Environmental change in the Arctic – driven by climate change, technological innovation, increased resource extraction, migration to the North, and potential inter-state conflict – is leading to a gap between existing institutions and the institutions required to meet new interests and demands. Over the past two decades, the eight Arctic states have developed non-binding agreements and informal organizations to govern issues like transboundary pollution. The flexible nature of these instruments has been commended for enabling Indigenous peoples’ organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and non-Arctic states to actively participate in Arctic governance. Because the agreements are often non-binding, however, they are difficult to enforce. Consequently, scholars and policymakers argue that the region requires a more comprehensive and legally binding agreement. But treaties are costly and often take a long time to negotiate. Once in place, they are difficult to alter, making them inadequate for a rapidly changing environment. So both options are problematic.

Tahnee argues that Arctic governance is becoming ineffective and that maintaining stability will be increasingly difficult as the number of actors and overlapping problems rise. She thus proposes a new approach: a flexible governance structure that can account for the region’s complex nature. Her research aims to understand what such a structure might look like and how we could achieve it.

Tahnee is a PhD candidate in global governance and a doctoral fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. Her dissertation seeks to understand what a legalized international governance structure that could account for the complexity and rapid change of the Arctic could look like and how we could get there from here.

Tahnee is a team member of an Academy of Finland research project on Human Security as a Promotional Tool for Societal Security in the Arctic; a contributing author to the Arctic Council’s upcoming Arctic Resilience Report; and a research assistant to a range of projects including a SSHRC-funded project on 'Understanding Sovereignty and Security in the Circumpolar Arctic', a project on EU-Canada Arctic Strategies, a project on 'Challenges and Opportunities for the Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems in a Comparative Perspective', and a project on indigenous visions of mass extinction.

Previously, she was the lead researcher of a project on climate change and human rights at the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, in Rovaniemi, Finland. This project was commissioned by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs with the aim of identifying how Finnish foreign policy could help address the climate vulnerability of Indigenous peoples and women. While at the Arctic Centre, Tahnee was an editorial assistant to Dr. Timo Koivurova and Nigel Bankes during the final stages of The Proposed Nordic Saami Convention, a book that builds on the legal chapter of the Arctic Human Development Report and aims to strengthen the recognition of Indigenous property regimes in Arctic states.

While working on her master’s degree in global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Tahnee was a CIGI Junior Fellow and a research assistant at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development. Tahnee’s master’s thesis on polycentricity in the governance of persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic was published in the Yearbook of Polar Law (2013) and presented at the 2011 Falling Walls LAB (100 scholars under thirty) at the International Conference on Future Breakthroughs In Science and Society.

Tahnee sits on the board of the Thousand Network, where she is co-building a community of young changemakers. Previously, she was the global head of community engagement at the Sandbox Network. She is also a mentor with the Future Global Leaders Foundation and a member of the Tromsø-Umeå-Arkhangelsk-Kingston Network on Gender and Law, the University of Waterloo Complexity Working Group, the Balsillie School of International Affairs Environment Working Group, the Nordic Research Network for Sami and Indigenous Peoples’ Law, the Arctic Social Sciences Association, and the Association of Early Polar Career Scientists.