There is a broad consensus that NCP-funded research and monitoring has increased the overall capacity of Northerners and northern communities, particularly through the development of ongoing working relationships between territorial governments, Aboriginal organizations, and researchers.
Approximately half of the project leaders interviewed agreed that the NCP has increased northern capacity to engage in the program (e.g. identifying research priorities, preparing proposals, and participating in research and monitoring activities). Other project leaders said that this issue was not relevant to their project (e.g., modeling work) or that it is difficult to assess whether the NCP has built capacity among Northerners (e.g., because of a lack of quantitative evidence of improved capacity).
Through involvement with NCP, partner Aboriginal organizations have increased their capacity to work on contaminants issues at the national and international levels. For instance, they have played an active role in the Arctic Council as well as influencing the Executive Body of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, leading to the protocol for POPs. Similarly, northern Aboriginal organizations formed the Canadian Arctic Indigenous Peoples against POPs with support from NCP. This organization has influenced global negotiations and agreements on POPs. Northern Aboriginal organization representatives have been part of Canada's Delegation to international agreements such as the Stockholm Convention and also international negotiating meetings such as the United Nations Environment Programme Global Mercury Negotiations. It is reportedly unique in the world to have non-governmental reps from Aboriginal organizations as part of a national delegation, and Canada has been commended by many nations for doing this. Program managers say that this international involvement has been a result of the direct involvement of the northern Aboriginal organization representatives in all aspects of the NCP.
NCP has built capacity among northern Aboriginal organizations and encouraged them to become involved in both the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks. Similarly, NCP supported a northern Aboriginal representative to join the Canadian delegation to the POPs convention and mercury negotiations held May 2007, 2009, and 2011 (POPs) as well as June 2010, January 2011 and November 2011 (mercury).
Territorial government representatives reported that there is a capacity-building component in every NCP proposal. When reviewing proposals for NCP projects, they review "what locals will do" and the extent to which the project will hire and train locals and Northerners as researchers.
Many Northerners have been trained through NCP projects, mostly for work as field assistants (e.g., collecting samples), field coordinators, and lab technicians. Through this training, NCP projects have developed local data collection skills and a sustainable data collection capacity. A small number of Northerners have gone on to more advanced post-secondary training, something that is strongly encouraged and supported whenever possible by all key organizations involved in the NCP.
Territorial government representatives stated that a lack of capacity, not money, makes it difficult for their governments to incorporate research into policy. They have problems finding qualified people and there is high staff turnover. Consequently, it is difficult for them to be proactive in policy development, health planning, and public communications related to contaminants.
One territorial government representative stated that territorial governments and Aboriginal organizations are "bombarded" with NCP and other research proposals to review. They have limited capacity and limited time to engage in this process and to undertake the background and capacity-building work required to be prepared for it. They advised a more strategic approach by the federal government to engagement by, for example, conducting shorter meetings, providing opportunities to participate at a distance, and providing summaries of key documents. It should be noted that unlike most government programs that engage stakeholders in helping to select projects to be funded, the NCP financially compensates organizations for their time reviewing proposals and taking part in review meetings.
Other remaining challenges to NCP's efforts to increase northern capacity include the following:
- There is a need for better mechanisms to strengthen community partnerships, which must be fostered during the program design and which require ongoing attention throughout the research.
- There is widespread perception across the North that research is driven by southern interests and priorities. There is a perceived need for more meaningful northern input on priority setting.
- Communities have concerns about contaminants, but it is very difficult for them to develop proposals to meet scientific standards. There is a need to establish research teams with local leads or co-leads and to foster North-South partnerships.
b. Creation of new data, information and knowledge related to impacts of pollutants on human health and ecosystems in the North through culturally-sensitive research
The NCP incorporates several components designed to create and disseminate new knowledge gained through research funded by the program:
- NCP science projects are designed specifically to generate new data on contaminants and their impacts.
- NCP project leaders are required to develop a plain language summary of their findings to ensure that project results can be communicated to Northerners in a manner that is understandable and useful.
- NCP assesses the performance of laboratories carrying out contaminant analyses to ensure inter-comparability of data. There is a requirement that any laboratory receiving funding from the NCP to conduct analyses must participate in the NCP's quality assurance quality control program to ensure high quality data and inter-comparability.
- NCP holds an annual Results Workshop to share the results of funded projects. Project leaders are allocated up to $2,000 for costs associated with travel for one individual per project to take part in the workshop.
- NCP publishes an annual synopsis of research report outlining project results.
All key informants, including project leaders, project managers and international respondents agreed that the NCP has contributed to the development of new contaminants data, information and knowledge since 2003-2004. These stakeholders reported that the NCP has made "significant" and "extensive" contributions to the development of new contaminants data, information and knowledge related to impacts on human health and ecosystems. The contributions include important research on contaminants in marine and mammal health – information that Inuit are reportedly asking for - and research on the nutrient values and the health protective factors associated with country foods – research that is needed to provide people with the information to balance the risks and benefits of eating a traditional diet.
A majority of project leaders reported that their projects integrated traditional knowledge and practices (for applicable projects).
NCP-generated contaminants data are the basis for numerous key Arctic research publications and have been included in publications by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, in the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report and the Canadian Arctic Contaminants and Health Assessment Report produced by NCP in 2003 and 2009 respectively.
Key informants stated that the contaminants component of the Inuit Health Survey "definitely succeeded", with results showing higher than expected lead and methyl mercury levels in some people. A Government of Nunavut representative agreed that the Inuit Health Survey provided an opportunity to get more detailed data on contaminants and the linkages to diet for Nunavut. Key informants also stated that future iterations of the survey will allow health officials to look at trends in contaminants and contaminant-related health issues.
A territorial government representative agreed that the NCP has advanced knowledge of contaminants. In their opinion, the next step is to move beyond looking at contaminants in isolation and to consider other lifestyle and environmental factors such as smoking, diet, indoor air quality. A representative of a northern-based organization stated that, while there are no obvious gaps in the contaminant sources covered by the program, the absence of Canadian guidelines for acceptable levels of contaminants is an issue. Other northern-based key informants noted that the NCP focus on long-range contaminants and not on what they described as issues of greatest concern to local communities (locally produced contaminants) can make NCP seem less relevant to these communities and limit their interest and engagement.
An AANDC official emphasized the international impacts of NCP research, stating that the research provides scientific evidence about POPs and mercury in the environment that Northerners and Canadians can use in international forums, which have led to international agreements/regulations on the production, use and release to the environment of several contaminants.
c. Through greater awareness of nutrition and contaminant issues, Northerners and northern communities make informed decisions related to their food use
In addition to funding studies that contribute to an understanding of the nature and extent of contaminants in the North, NCP and its partner organizations take direct action on contaminants data that may present serious health consequences to the northern population. The program has in place well-defined processes that validate data collected through the program, initiate health risk assessments when deemed necessary and disseminate information to communities regarding risks of consuming country food in a particular area.
The NCP has been communicating findings related to long-range contaminants for over 20 years. A great deal has been learned over this time about the presence, trends, and health effects of contaminants in the North, as well as about how to communicate complex information about contaminants. Target audiences have included community members, front-line workers, hunters, youth, mothers, pregnant women and women of childbearing age. Many efforts to reach these target audiences have been made over the years using a variety of methods such as posters, newsletters, development of school curricula, community tours, radio call-in shows, workshops, frontline training courses, and Elder-Scientist retreats.
The NCP emphasizes the need to place communications efforts within the broader context of research in the North, and where possible, in collaboration with other programs. The methods used to reach target audiences have evolved over the years. Recently, instead of targeting community members directly, the program now emphasizes the need to target front-line personnel who community members turn to for information on contaminants. These personnel include Regional Contaminants Committees, nurses, doctors, community leaders, nutritionists, wildlife and fisheries officers, land and environmental protection offices, adult educators, school teachers and Inuit Research Advisors. This approach is expected to help ensure that information is communicated within an appropriate regional context.
NCP contaminants research has led directly to public health advisories being issued in the Northwest Territories, a long-standing consumption advisory regarding toxaphene in fish in Yukon lakes being lifted based on long-term monitoring data from NCP; and a public health advisory and messaging being released in Nunavik as a result of long-term NCP-funded health effects study.
There is a consensus among key informants that NCP-funded initiatives have led to an increase in broad public awareness of contaminant issues in the North. Although awareness has increased, northern key informants stated that a lack of trust can still be a big issue in some communities, and that northern communities usually prefer direct participation in research to simply being informed after the fact. Northern-based key informants emphasized that cooperation from local people and communities improves when they understand the rationale for research. They also reported that direct communications about research results at the community level has proven successful, with one citing an example of people in communities who initially were concerned about food contamination being less concerned following a series of community events involving presentations by the researchers and territorial health officials.
The inherent complexity of contaminants research findings has also made communications about their meaning difficult. Key informants reported that NCP-generated knowledge has had both positive and negative impacts on food choices. In the past, information about contaminants led some consumers to (temporarily at least) stop eating country foods. More recently, researchers, Regional Contaminants Committees, northern governments and organizations are being careful to present a balanced perspective, one that includes the benefits of eating country food and that is more specific about risks, when communicating research results.
Most northern-based key informants stated that project results sometimes are too complicated for most Regional Contaminants Committee members to understand given how the results are presented. Consequently, Regional Contaminants Committee members often do not bring the results back to their constituents. The Results Workshops are viewed as valuable for networking among scientists but not as the best mechanism for conveying information to northern participants.
d. World-class innovative research results and information are made accessible nationally and internationally
There was broad agreement among stakeholders that the results of NCP-sponsored research are widely and readily accessible, both nationally and internationally. It is fair to say that as a result of the NCP, Canada has become a world leader in POPs research and monitoring. NCP project-level synopsis reports are produced and made available annually. In addition, project leaders must now enter metadata into the Polar Data Catalogue, which has strengthened data sharing. Interest in meta-analysis of NCP research findings is one of the outcomes of improved data access and sharing.
At the regional level, health-related NCP information is relayed to communities through the local health authorities, and synopsis reports are distributed to all jurisdictions. The annual NCP Results Workshop also serves to communicate NCP results to other scientists and stakeholders.
At the national level, high-level NCP results are incorporated into the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report, which has been published periodically by AANDC beginning in 1997. The second Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report was published in 2003, and a third set of reports is expected in 2012-2013. Key informants reported that NCP-generated data has informed both Canada's national regulatory framework and the international regulatory framework. They also reported that NCP has helped to foster excellent networks among Canadian and international scientists, with good cross-linkages among senior researchers.
Other ways in which NCP results have had an impact internationally include the establishment of an NCP publications database, and the use of NCP data and high-level results in the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme reports. Individual scientists and their teams regularly publish NCP-funded research in international science journals. The Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada has received support through NCP to engage in work related to the United Nations Environment Programme and Stockholm Convention. NCP results have been used to identify priorities under the Convention on Long-range Trans-boundary Air Pollution. The fact that NCP data has influenced international agreements was cited as evidence by key informants that NCP-generated data is accessible to decisions makers.
Key informants identified two challenges to the accessibility of results. These challenges are the perceived inaccessibility of workshops and project reports for community audiences that make it more difficult for researchers to present their work both internationally and at the community level.
e. Contribution to the development and implementation of domestic and global regulations, agreements to reduce and/or eliminate the production, use and release of contaminating substances into the environment
NCP contributions to domestic and global regulations and agreements have been longstanding. Chapter Six of the 1999 Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Report, Making International Environmental Agreements Work: The Canadian Arctic Experience, reports that research developed through NCP helped to establish that Arctic pollutants are derived from external sources and "provided much of the scientific evidence to underpin Canada's push for international controls on certain pollutants", for example, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and similar work on mercury that is expected to influence international approaches for control.
The NCP plays a leadership role in Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, a body that coordinates international Arctic science activities under the Arctic Council. The NCP is also playing a role in the development of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks, an initiative that aims to achieve "long-term Arctic-wide observing activities that provide free, open, and timely access to high-quality data that will realize pan-Arctic and global value-added services and provide societal benefits".
Internationally, key informants reported that the NCP is contributing to international agreements by providing an evidence base to support negotiations of new conventions and agreements, and by providing the data that enables monitoring of the impacts of international agreements. NCP data has been used by international bodies to help shape international policies and in several important processes leading to regulation and/or agreements on contaminants. For example, through negotiations for the Stockholm Convention, nine new chemicals were added to the list, making a total of 21 restricted or banned chemicals. With input from Canada based on NCP-funded research, the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council agreed to negotiations for legally binding agreement on mercury. The Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, with financial support from the NCP, supported Arctic Council activities such as work on the Mercury Assessment of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.
NCP data has supported policy development and influenced Canadian positions in several areas beyond those mentioned above. These include a northern ban on lead shot, better methods for cleaning up contaminated sites, and lifting of the 20-year advisory on consumption of certain fish in Lac Labarge, related to levels of toxaphene.
f. Creation of a new generation of northern scientists, and increased capacity of northern scientists and northern organizations to conduct research and address environmental and health issues
Earlier sections have discussed the contributions of the NCP to northern capacity, and the remaining challenges. However, it is worth noting here that NCP-funded projects have led to increased capacity of some organizations to undertake work such as:
- Improved contaminants research approaches and methodologies, as well as enhanced capacity to support other organizations conducting contaminants research through the provision of expertise and equipment related to health and safety, sample storage, and data management (e.g., Makivik Corporation in Nunavik); and
- Reviewing contaminant related information and communicating with communities and with authorities such as Members of the Regional Contaminants Committees.
A majority of research project leaders reported that the NCP funding had an impact on their career and on their decision to continue in northern research. Most importantly, almost all of the project leaders reported that they were introduced to northern research through NCP-funded projects and that the funding available from the program has allowed them to continue to conduct research in the North. Other reported impacts that the program has had on the careers of funded researchers include helping to determine research directions, inspiring further education, and increasing research networks. The NCP was also credited by researchers with increasing awareness of the importance of Aboriginal involvement in research, as exemplified by the program's requirements on community engagement, its support for Inuit Research Advisors, and its inclusion of northern community and organizational representatives on Regional Contaminants Committees.
Key informants emphasized the importance of the development of good networks to collect data (e.g., tissue samples) that have been established through NCP-funded research. Hunters, trappers and others have been trained in proper data collection procedures, which is extremely valuable to high quality research into contaminants. Despite some success at training personnel to support and assist with research, key informants identified human resources at this level as a major issue in the North. They reported that finding students to be research assistants and staff and technicians to work in research stations is difficult. The seasonal work and lack of available full-time positions are deterrents to potential candidates.
g. Improved health and reduced risk to northern communities and ecosystems as a result of reduced contaminants levels
Key informants identified three main ways in which NCP-funded research has contributed to benefits related to the mitigation of health risks: identification of pollutant levels, Canadian and international protocols on the use of toxic substances, and health advisories resulting from the findings of NCP research.
NCP-funded research has determined that some contaminants have increased and some decreased in the Arctic, and this report has documented how NCP information and activities have contributed to Canadian and international action on contaminants.
h. Improved Canadian and international regulations
Earlier sections have demonstrated the considerable contribution that the NCP has made in influencing Canadian and international regulations related to contaminants. A large majority of key informants reported that their work specifically, or the collective body of work of the NCP more generally, have had an impact on the development and implementation of both domestic and international policy and regulation, as described earlier. None of the key informants disagreed with this proposition. Others either indicated that an influence on domestic or global agreements or regulation was not applicable to their project or that it is too early to determine whether their specific project would have an impact on policy or regulation.