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 Prior is a PhD candidate in global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo, and a visiting researcher the International Institute for Applied Systems in Laxenburg, Austria. She holds a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Her doctoral work in global environmental governance examines the role of legal systems in maintaining or preventing our ability to adapt to rapidly changing and complex environments, like the Arctic. Tahnee has written on gender and the circumpolar North as team member of a Finnish Academy project on “Human Security as a Promotional Tool for Societal Security in the Arctic” and as a contributing author to the 2016 Arctic Resilience Report. She is also co-leading a NordForsk-funded project titled “Women of the Arctic”, as well as a soon-to-be digital platform for women to share research and stories on the circumpolar North.

Throughout her doctoral work, Tahnee has served as a  research assistant on a range of projects including a SSHRC-funded project on “Understanding Sovereignty and Security in the Circumpolar Arctic” with Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer; EU-Canada Arctic Strategies with Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer and Suzanne Lalonde; 'Challenges and Opportunities for the Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems in a Comparative Perspective' with Dr. John McLevey and Dr. Vanessa Schweizer; and indigenous visions of mass extinction with Dr. Audra Mitchell. She has also collaborated with Dr. Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk on their The Pluralism Project, funded by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation; the Danish Alternative Party on their #wearebiggerthanthis campaign; and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on their Alternative Federal Budget 2017. In 2016, she was humbled to land on Corporate Knight’s #30under30 list of Sustainability Leaders in Canada.

Previously, she was the lead author of a Finnish Foreign Ministry project at the intersection of gender, climate change, and human rights. During her time at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi, Finland, 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.

In her spare time, Tahnee co-builds global communities like the Sandbox Network, a family of young changemakers on five continents who excel in and collaborate across their respective fields, from opera singing to engineering bionic eyes. She is also a member of the Gender CC — Women for Climate Justice network, 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. You can follow her here: @tahnsta.