Communities, Health and Well-Being

Communities throughout the North are already reporting impacts and challenges associated with climate change and variability (e.g. Krupnik and Jolly, 2002; Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN) North, 2006a–c; Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006). The distribution of economic, health, cultural and social impacts associated with changing climate will vary across regions and among segments of the population (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2004, 2005). Furthermore, climate is only one of several factors whose changes are influencing the nature of settlements and populations in the three Canadian territories (see Section 2.2). It is the interactions and effects of ongoing changes in human, economic and biophysical systems, exacerbated by changes in regional and local climate, that are disproportionately influencing the health and well-being of northern residents (Chapin et al., 2005). The majority of research conducted to date on climate impacts in Arctic human systems has been focused on the individual or subpopulation (e.g. hunters within a community) scale. Community case studies, such as those conducted by Ford et al. (2006b), have focused primarily on small remote Aboriginal populations and provide insights into the vulnerability of some northern residents. The challenge in understanding vulnerability throughout the North is complicated by the diversity of community types and their dynamic nature. The factors that influence community vulnerability (see Chapter 2) vary significantly between small, remote, predominantly Aboriginal communities, regional centres and larger northern municipalities.

Workshops (e.g. Council of Yukon First Nations and Arctic Athabaskan Council, 2003; Anonymous, 2006; Nickels et al., 2006) have identified a series of local impacts and future concerns throughout the northern territories. At one of the few workshops focused on larger municipalities, impacts and concerns raised by Yellowknife residents included, but were not limited to, municipal water and sanitation, municipal roads and related infrastructure, power sources, and adaptation strategies and planning (Anonymous, 2006). Although there has been little study on how climate change is being considered or integrated in municipal- and regional-level planning and other decision-making processes, some Northwest Territories communities have developed integrated planning processes that consider both the reduction of greenhouse gases and the development of long-term adaptive capacity (Bromley et al., 2004). In Nunavut, one regional workshop has taken place and others are planned that focus on adaptation planning for climate change, and specific community-based projects have begun as a result of this initial meeting (Government of Nunavut, 2006). Concerns shared by small, more remote settlements, in addition to effects on infrastructure from melting permafrost and coastal erosion, include the impacts that changing climate is already having on their relationship with the local environment, the services it provides (e.g. country/ traditional foods, raw water, aspects of health and well-being) and the environment's place in local culture, tradition and identity (e.g. Council of Yukon First Nations and Arctic Athabaskan Council, 2003; Nickels et al., 2006).

The effects of climate change on northern biophysical and economic systems (see Sections 3 and 4), interacting with non-climatic stressors, have both direct and indirect influences on residents, their health and well-being. The distribution and significance of these impacts is a function of existing vulnerabilities and the characteristics of adaptive capacity at individual and collective scales (Ford and Smit, 2004).


The direct influences of climate on human health and well-being in northern communities are primarily related to extreme weather and temperatures, and natural hazards (Table 15). A more detailed discussion of human health vulnerabilities to climate in the Canadian North is provided in Furgal et al. (in press). The effects on northern residents of changes in levels of ultraviolet-B exposure are discussed elsewhere (e.g. Berner et al., 2005).

TABLE 15: Summary of potential, direct, climate related health impacts in northern regions (adapted from Furgal et al., 2002).
Identified climate-related change Potential direct health impacts
Increase in temperature extremes magnitude and frequency) Increased heat- and cold-related morbidity and mortality
Increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (e.g. storms, etc.)
Increase in uncharacteristic weather patterns
Increased frequency and severity of accidents while hunting and travelling, resulting in injuries, death and psychosocial stress
Increase in ultraviolet-B exposure Increased risk of skin cancers, burns, infectious diseases, eye damage (cataracts), immunosuppression

Residents of small, predominantly Aboriginal communities in all regions of the Canadian Arctic have reported that the weather has become less predictable and, in some cases, that storm events progress more quickly today than in previous memory (e.g. Huntington et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006). This unpredictability limits participation in land-based and subsistence activities and travel, and increases the risks of being stranded or involved in accidents on the land (Ford and Smit, 2004; Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006). Residents of Arctic Bay, NU have reported that "increased storminess" increases the danger of summer boating and decreases access to some hunting grounds (Ford et al., 2006b). These changes have economic implications for individuals and households in terms of damage to equipment and decreased or lost country/traditional food catches. Extremes of temperature, both cold and heat, influence health directly. The Council of Yukon First Nations has reported that 7% of injuries among youth are cold related, such as hypothermia and frostbite (Council of Yukon First Nations, 2006), and reports of heat-related stress are being recorded, predominantly among elderly residents, in a number of regions (e.g. Communities of Labrador et al., 2005; Communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region et al., 2005). Qualitative data suggest that the incidence of accident-related injuries attributable to weather conditions is increasing in smaller coastal communities throughout the North (Nickels et al., 2006). Although preliminary analysis (Noonan et al., 2005) shows increased daily variability of weather in Nunavut, and climate models project an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme events (storms, floods, icing of snow layers, drought), the impacts of such events on health remain difficult to project (Berner et al., 2005).

In response to changing weather conditions, northern residents identified the need for improved infrastructure to communicate weather information, including cellular and improved citizens band radio (CB) service, and the need to construct more permanent shelters on the land as refuges from storms (Communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region et al., 2005). In the Nunavut communities of Repulse Bay and Arctic Bay, residents reported taking more supplies than has typically been the norm, such as additional warm clothing, lighters and extra food, when going hunting or travelling on the land, in order to be better prepared for uncharacteristic weather events (Community of Repulse Bay et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b). People are also becoming more risk averse, with some residents curtailing hunting and travelling activities to avoid storms. Increased use of global positioning systems (GPS) for navigation, and of larger or faster vehicles, was reported among hunters in several communities to compensate for unpredictable or challenging weather. However, these adaptations can also increase exposure to risk by raising the sense of security among hunters and increasing the amount of travel in dangerous circumstances.

Documentation of experience with weather-related natural hazards, such as avalanches, is limited in northern regions. Fatal avalanches and property damage have been recorded in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec), Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, but they are far less common than in British Columbia and Alberta. Events such as the avalanche in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik in 1999, which killed 9 and injured 25, demonstrate local northern vulnerability. Increased frequency of midwinter thaw-freeze events, creating conditions conducive to snow slides and avalanches, have been reported by residents mainly in eastern Arctic regions in recent years (Nickels et al., 2006). Parts of the western Arctic (e.g. communities within the mountainous regions of the Yukon), where significant winter warming has already been recorded, are particularly vulnerable to avalanche hazards. Landslides associated with heavy rainfall and/or permafrost melt represent another climate-related natural hazard. Communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and in Arctic Bay, NU have reported observations of such events for the first time in recent decades (Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006), and a resulting increase in dangerous travelling conditions (Ford and Smit, 2004; Community of Arctic Bay et al., 2006).

There has been little research that considers the risks associated with changing climate on hazard zonation and adaptation for northern communities (Lied and Domaas, 2000). Newton et al. (2005) recommended that such applied research be conducted in co-operation with northern communities and Aboriginal groups, in order to include local understanding and knowledge of such conditions. Some northern communities in mountainous regions have noted the increasing importance of adequate staffing and training of search-and-rescue personnel because of the increasing possibility of weather-related natural hazards (e.g. Communities of Labrador et al., 2005).


Indirect influences of changing climate on northern communities and residents' health and well-being result from shifts in ice conditions, changes in exposure to emerging diseases, changes and impacts to aspects of food security, implications of permafrost melting for community infrastructure, and the combined effects of environmental and other forms of change on northern residents. Furgal et al. (in press) have provided a detailed discussion of human health vulnerabilities associated with indirect relationships to climate (Table 16). The following is a general discussion of human impacts associated with climate-related changes in northern territories.

TABLE 16: Summary of potential indirect climate-related health impacts in northern regions (adapted from Furgal et al., 2002).
Identified climate related change Potential indirect health impacts
Increase in temperature extremes (magnitude and frequency) Increased incidence and transmission of infectious disease, psychosocial disruption
Decrease in ice distribution, stability and duration of coverage Increased frequency and severity of accidents while hunting and traveling, resulting in injuries, death and psychosocial stress
Decreased access to country food items, decreased food security, erosion of social and cultural values associated with country foods preparation, sharing and consumption
Change in snow composition (decrease in quality of snow for igloo construction with increased humidity) Challenges to building shelters (igloo) for safety while on the land
Increase in range and activity of existing and new infective agents (e.g. biting flies) Increased exposure to existing and new vector-borne diseases
Change in local ecology of water and food-borne infective agents (introduction of new parasites and perceived decrease in quality of natural sources) Increased incidence of diarrheal and other infectious diseases
Emergence of new diseases
Increase in permafrost melting, decrease in land surface stability Negative impacts on stability of public health, housing and transportation infrastructure
Psychosocial disruption associated with community relocation (partial or complete)
Sea-level rise Psychosocial disruption associated with infrastructure damage and community relocation (partial or complete)
Changes in air pollution (contaminants, pollens and spores) Increased incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, increased exposure to environmental contaminants and subsequent impacts

Ice Conditions and Safety

Scientific studies and local Aboriginal observations have reported an increasing length of the ice-free season and decreasing ice thickness and extent of sea-ice cover (see Section 3.1; Huntington et al., 2005; Walsh et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Gearheard et al., 2006; Nickels et al., 2006). Models project a continuation of these recent trends through the twenty-first century, with summer sea-ice loss expected to be greatest in the Beaufort Sea (Walsh et al., 2005). Flato and Brown (1996) estimated that continued warming will decrease landfast ice thickness and duration of cover by approximately 0.06 m and 7.5 days/°C, respectively. This would translate into a decrease in thickness of 50 cm and duration of coverage by 2 months by 2080 –2100 for a community such as Arctic Bay, NU (Ford et al., 2006b).

In addition to the implications of changes in ice conditions reported in Sections 3 and 4, such changes are also important for many traditional and subsistence activities. Sea-ice provides a stable travelling and hunting platform for northern residents and is critical to the reproduction and survival of several Arctic marine species (see Section 4.8). Inuit residents have reported recent changes in ice characteristics, increasing danger and decreasing access to hunting areas and country/traditional foods throughout the territories (Riedlinger and Berkes, 2001; Huntington et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006). A perceived increase in the number of accidents and drownings associated with ice conditions (Lafortune et al., 2004; Barron, 2006) may be reflected in statistics showing a higher incidence of accidental deaths and injuries in smaller settlements of the Northwest Territories (Government of the Northwest Territories, 2004). Increased velocity and volume of spring run-off from melting ice and snow create hazardous conditions for young children in northern communities. Economic impacts arising from changes in ice conditions include lost earnings from reduced seal or narwhal harvests, damage to equipment and loss of access to wildlife food resources (Ford et al., 2006b). These changes also have a negative impact on social cohesion and mental well-being by disrupting the traditional cycle of land-based practices (e.g. Furgal et al., 2002; Berner et al., 2005). Similar changes have been reported for freshwater ice and access to fish resources that are important for many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations across the North (see Section 4.7).

Adaptation to changes in ice conditions has involved shifts in individual behaviours and the adoption of new technologies. Shifts in hunting activities in response to changes in sea-, lake- or river-ice conditions have been reported by many communities. In Arctic Bay, NU, a portion of the narwhal quota for that community has been shifted from the spring to summer hunt to reduce safety risks associated with earlier and less predictable break-up conditions, and to increase chances of hunting success (Armitage, 2005; Community of Arctic Bay et al., 2006). Some hunters now take small boats with them in case they are stranded on drifting ice (Ford et al., 2006b). Inuit hunters in coastal communities report using new land-based or nearshore routes to access areas previously reached via sea-ice trails (Tremblay et al., 2006). Some residents now consult Internet-based satellite imagery of sea-ice conditions prior to travelling to the floe edge, and many carry GPS units to increase travel and hunting efficacy and decrease risks (Communities of Nunavut et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Gearheard et al., 2006).

Warming Temperatures and Emerging Diseases

Many zoonotic diseases currently exist in Arctic host species (e.g. trichinella in walrus and polar bear, and cryptosporidium in both marine and terrestrial mammals), and some regions have reported significant cases of zoonotic diseases in humans in the past (Proulx et al., 2000). A relationship between zoonotic diseases and temperature is evidenced by increased illness and parasitic infection in terrestrial mammals, marine mammals, birds, fish and shellfish in Arctic regions associated with past warm years related to El Ni ño Southern Oscillation events (Kutz et al., 2004). It is likely that longer warm seasons resulting from changing climate will be associated with a change in the type and incidence of disease in these species, which can be transmitted to northern residents (Bradley et al., 2005). Changes in the spatial occurrence of these diseases is also likely.

The most common forms of food- and water-borne diseases in the Northwest Territories are giardia (from drinking contaminated water), and salmonella and campylobacter (from eating typically raw or poorly cooked contaminated foods; Government of the Northwest Territories, 2005). Despite the consumption of some foods that are traditionally eaten raw in Aboriginal communities, the rates for campylobacter and salmonella have declined in recent years in the Northwest Territories (Government of the Northwest Territories, 2005). Communities in the central and eastern Arctic, however, have identified an increase in parasites in caribou over recent years, an observation that has been corroborated by studies of muskox (Kutz et al., 2004), and have expressed concerns about whether this meat is safe for consumption (Nickels et al., 2006).

Overwintering survival and distribution of some insect species are positively impacted by warming temperatures, leading to increased risk from human and animal vector-borne diseases already present in the region, as well as opportunities for the introduction of new diseases into Arctic regions (Parkinson and Butler, 2005). In the western Arctic, Inuvialuit residents have reported seeing increased numbers of insects and species not observed there previously, including biting flies and bees (Communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, 2005).

Food Security

The diet of many northern residents is a combination of imported foodstuffs and locally harvested foods (country/traditional foods). These foods from the land and sea, including animal and plant species, contribute significant amounts of energy and protein to the total diet, help individuals meet or exceed daily requirements for several vitamins and essential elements, and provide protection from some forms of cardiovascular disease and, potentially, contaminant toxicity (Blanchet et al., 2000; Kuhnlein et al., 2000; Van Oostdam et al., 2005). The proportion of the total diet consisting of country/traditional foods is significantly higher among Aboriginal residents and older age groups (Kuhnlein et al., 2000; Van Oostdam et al., 2005).

Hunting, fishing and gathering also figure prominently in the cash economy of northern communities, and are important for maintaining social relationships and cultural identity among Aboriginal populations (Nuttall et al., 2005). The dependence on country/traditional foods is greater in more remote communities, where access to affordable, fresh market foods is significantly less (see Section 2.2, Table 7). Despite their importance, there has been a shift away from country/traditional foods and an increase in the amount of store-bought foodstuffs in the diet of northern populations, especially among younger ages and residents of those communities with greater access to store foods (Receveur et al., 1997).

Shifts in animal distributions and local ecology, and changes in northerners' access to country/traditional food species as a result of changing climate have significant implications for food security (Furgal et al., 2002; Ford et al, 2006b; Guyot et al., 2006; Pratley, 2006). Climate-related changes in terrestrial and marine species, as outlined in Section 4.8, are reported to be affecting harvests of wildlife in some regions. For example, Inuvialuit residents have reported changes in fish and wildlife distributions in addition to the severe storms and changes in sea-ice and permafrost stability, all of which make harvesting more difficult (Riedlinger, 2001). Many other northern communities have also reported impacts on country/traditional food security as a result of changing environmental conditions (e.g. Berkes and Jolly, 2002; Huntington et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006). These challenges are not limited to coastal communities. For example, residents in Beaver Creek, YT and the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation in Fort Providence, NT have also witnessed changes in climate that are affecting aspects of their country food harvest (Guyot et al., 2006). The discussion of the impact of climate change on livelihoods of Aboriginal peoples is about sustaining relationships between humans and their food resources, as well as being aware that this impact poses the threat of irreversible social change (Nuttall et al., 2005).

Country/traditional food items are also the largest source of exposure to environmental contaminants for northern residents (Van Oostdam et al., 2005). Climate change will likely enhance transport, deposition and uptake into Arctic wildlife of contaminants, thereby influencing human exposures (see Section 4.8; Kraemer et al., 2005). These chemicals are known to adversely affect immune and neuromotor functioning in children (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, 2003a; Despr és et al., 2005). Current levels of exposure to mercury and organochlorine contaminants among some segments of the population in Nunavut already exceed recommended safety guidelines (Van Oostdam et al., 2005).

Increased temperatures and lengthening growing seasons present opportunities for the development and enhancement of small-scale northern agriculture, particularly in the western Arctic. Such opportunities would create additional and more cost-effective local sources of some food items. Increased warming will also lengthen the ice-free seasons and increase navigability of northern waters (see Section 4.5), and could therefore increase the frequency of transport to communities and reduce costs associated with some market items.

Individual adaptations to changes in country/traditional food access have included shifting times of hunting activities and the use of different forms of transportation (e.g. all-terrain vehicles rather than snowmobiles) to access some hunting and fishing grounds. Residents in all northern regions have reported species that are more difficult to locate and catch today, and are replacing them in the regular hunting schedule with species that are more readily accessible. In the community of Kugaaruk, NU, residents reported that, when the ice is dangerous for travel, people have started to go fishing instead of travelling on the ice to go seal hunting. Some regions have reported a greater need for the community freezer program (Communities of Nunavik et al., 2005; Communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region et al., 2005) or the development of intercommunity trade programs (e.g. Communities of Nunavik et al., 2005; Community of Arctic Bay et al., 2006). Increased costs associated with some responses (e.g. purchase of larger boats, use of more fuel to travel farther and access caribou whose migration route has changed) have implications for household budgets, but have not yet been evaluated.

Water Quality

There are significant concerns about access to, and quality of, freshwater resources in many northern communities (Box 1). In the Yukon, 25% of First Nations residents reported that their water was unsafe for consumption (Council of Yukon First Nations, 2006). Approximately 2% of Yukon First Nations residents use untreated water directly from a natural source for daily household use (Council of Yukon First Nations, 2006). Climate-related impacts on the quantity, quality and accessibility of drinking water resources are expected to affect mainly smaller, remote northern communities, some of which face challenges in effectively utilizing municipal treatment systems (Moquin, 2005). Increasing temperatures in the western Arctic have resulted in increased algal and plant growth, making untreated water sources less desirable.


Local observations of changing water resources

"Freshwater is not as good anymore. It tastes swampy because it is not moving as it should. The water flow in creeks is much less now …Some drinking water sources are not there now." (Tuktoyaktuk resident; Community of Tuktoyaktuk et al., 2005)
"The glaciers, which used to reach right into the sea, have all receded, some to the point that you can no longer see them. Permanent snow, which used to remain in the shady areas have started to melt and are no longer available for water in the summer …the Inuit really depend on this water for their tea." (Pijamini; Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated Elders Conference, 2001)

Decreases in water quality and accessibility have resulted in northern residents becoming increasingly reliant on bottled water when hunting and fishing away from the community (Nickels et al., 2006). Several communities have reported the need for more frequent water-quality testing of both municipal systems and untreated water sources to ensure safety and confidence in drinking water.

Community Infrastructure

Changes in permafrost may have significant implications for a variety of public infrastructure in northern settlements, including waste-water treatment and distribution, water distribution systems relying on pipes, housing and other buildings, and transportation access routes (Warren et al., 2005). Current issues of overcrowding and the quality and affordability of housing faced by many northern residents complicate these challenges. As of 2001, 54% of residents in Nunavut, 35% in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories and 43% in the Yukon lived in overcrowded homes (Statistics Canada, 2001; Council of Yukon First Nations, 2006). Moreover, 16% of homes in the Northwest Territories and 33% of those in the Yukon required major repairs, as compared with the national average of 8% (Statistics Canada, 2001; Government of the Northwest Territories, 2005; Council of Yukon First Nations, 2006). These issues are of greatest concern in small communities (Government of the Northwest Territories, 2005).

Low-lying coastal communities in areas of high risk of permafrost melting (i.e. areas with significant massive ground ice) are most vulnerable to infrastructure damage (cf. Smith and Burgess, 2004). Some communities in these regions are already reporting damage to community buildings from the combined forces of coastal erosion and permafrost degradation (Community of Aklavik et al., 2005; Community of Tuktoyaktuk et al., 2005; see also Section 3.7).

Permafrost degradation and coastal erosion are also damaging important cultural sites (Colette, 2007), and may mean partial or complete relocation of communities in the future (Barrow et al., 2004). Although the shoreline in some communities, such as Tuktoyaktuk, has been reinforced to reduce coastal erosion associated with increased storm surges, decreasing sea-ice cover and increasing water levels, this is only a temporary solution. In Tuktoyaktuk, the community has undertaken consultations on potential relocation plans for portions of the community (Community of Tuktoyaktuk et al., 2005). In many communities, residents are moving buildings back from the shoreline in response to erosion (Communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region et al., 2005).

In one of the few studies to estimate costs of infrastructure adaptation, Hoeve et al. (2006) developed an inventory of building foundations in six Northwest Territories communities and conducted a scenario-based approach to estimating costs of adaptation for the territory. Assuming these communities were representative of others in the Northwest Territories, preliminary cost estimates of adaptation could be up to $420 million ('worst case' scenario if all foundations require rehabilitation).

Multiple Stressors and Impacts

Changes in environmental conditions also influence the mental health and well-being of many northern residents whose livelihood and ways of life are strongly connected to the local environment. This is especially the case for the approximately half of Arctic residents whose culture, language and identity are tied inextricably to the land and sea via their Aboriginal heritage and identity (see Boxes 2–4). Disruption of traditional hunting cycles and patterns (Ford et al., 2006b; Nickels et al., 2006), reduced ability of elders to predict weather and provide information to others in the community, and concern over losses of cemeteries and homes due to coastal erosion (Community of Tuktoyaktuk et al., 2005) all represent forms of social disruption in communities already undergoing significant change as a result of both internal and external forces. The stresses resulting from these multiple changes have been associated with symptoms of psychosocial, mental and social distress, such as alcohol abuse, violence and suicide (Berner et al., 2005; Curtis et al., 2005).

Each region in Northern Canada is unique with regards to the environmental, social, cultural, economic and political forces that influence change at the local and regional scales. This is very important for regions or communities undergoing various forms of rapid change in many sectors at the same time (Chapin et al., 2005). For example, the increased growth of the wage economy in many regions has reduced both the necessity for, and time available for, hunting, fishing and gathering. This, in turn, has reduced the generation and transmission of traditional knowledge and environmental respect to younger generations, as well as diminishing the health benefits from the consumption of local foods. However, access to the cash economy provides resources for adaptation via the purchase of hunting equipment (e.g. boats, ATVs, snowmobiles) that, in turn, permits individuals to hunt more species over a larger geographic area. Dominant driving forces of change in any one community or region may be enhanced, reduced or altered by aspects of a changing climate (McCarthy et al., 2005). After reviewing key forces and their interactions, Chapin et al. (2005) reported that the deterioration of cultural ties to traditional and subsistence activities, and all they represent, is the most serious cause of decline in well-being among Aboriginal people in circumpolar Arctic regions today (Chapin et al., 2005).


Adaptation occurs at the individual, collective or systems level, and at local, regional or national scales (Government of Canada, 2001, see Chapter 10). For many issues, adaptations will be most effective and sustainable when they are developed at the local scale and directly involve the individuals affected (Clark, 2006; Furgal and Seguin, 2006). Institutions that facilitate connections across scales help to enhance resilience to change (Berkes et al., 2005). With respect to Northern Canada, studies to date on adaptation have focused mainly on remote communities made up of predominantly Aboriginal residents (e.g. Berkes and Jolly, 2002, and chapters contained therein; Nickels et al., 2002; Ford et al., 2006b). Comparatively less attention has been given in the academic literature to impacts of changing climate on non- Aboriginal residents or adaptation in large municipalities. However, issues such as impacts and vulnerabilities of municipal infrastructure and transportation have been recognized for their significance, and some governments have been working to address them in recent years (e.g. Government of Nunavut, 2006).


Aboriginal perspectives on climate change impacts and adaptation: Inuit concerns and priorities (prepared by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami)

The Inuit of Canada are approximately 53 400 in number, inhabiting the Inuvialuit Settlement Region on the Beaufort Sea; the Kitikmeot, Kivalliq and Qikiqtani regions in Nunavut; Nunavik, in northern Quebec; and Nunatsiavut, in northern Labrador (Statistics Canada, 2001). Inuit communities have several common characteristics that make them distinct from other northern Aboriginal populations and southern populations within Canada and strongly influence their vulnerability to changing climate.

Nearly all Inuit communities were established in the last 50 to 60 years, are located on the Arctic or Atlantic coasts, have no road access and depend upon the health and management of the land and oceans to support and sustain a way of life that is based largely on marine activities and resources. Prior to the formation of communities, Inuit were largely nomadic, living throughout the Arctic in dispersed hunting camps and following migratory wildlife. Today, communities are trying to find ways to provide adequate infrastructure and services to meet existing needs, while anticipating further pressures on a young and rapidly growing population. Like other Aboriginal peoples in Canada, Inuit have experienced fundamental and rapid change to their society, language and culture since contact, and these changes continue today. Significant gaps exist between Inuit and other Canadians in areas such as human health, level of secondary and post-secondary education, housing needs, access to early childhood development initiatives, rates of incarceration, and employment rates and income.

Innovative political and administrative institutions established by Inuit, in the form of the four land claim agreements for traditional Inuit territories, play a key role in addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change. Inuit Nunaat (Inuit homelands encompassed by the four agreements) make up approximately 40% of Canada's land mass and an even larger proportion of Canada's total land and marine areas. It includes nearly half of Canada's coastlines and forms virtually all of one territory (Nunavut) and portions of two other territories (Northwest Territories and Yukon) and two provinces (Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador). As land owners of some of the most sensitive and vulnerable regions in the country to the impacts of climate change, Inuit play a key role in addressing this very important issue.

Through their regional, national and international organizations, Inuit have taken steps to identify the impacts of climate variability and change that are of particular significance for their populations; these priorities are outlined in Table 17. A Partnership Accord, signed by the Inuit of Canada and the federal government on May 31, 2005, includes an Inuit Action Plan that identifies activities and initiatives to be conducted over a three-year period. One of the most important issues in this plan is climate variability and change. In this regard, the plan calls for: 1) a policy process that involves Inuit knowledge alongside science; 2) establishment of an Inuit-driven process to deal with Inuit-specific concerns; 3) increasing Inuit involvement with the Government of Canada to address climate change mitigation and adaptation, both domestically and internationally; 4) a process to follow up on the recommendations of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; 5) development of sustainable capacity-building tools supporting Inuit efforts in impacts and adaptations research and planning; and 6) the establishment of a Canadian Arctic Climate Change Strategy that addresses both mitigation and adaptation. The Action Plan also stresses the need for co-operation on key international activities related to climate change, such as those under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation, and the Arctic Council.

TABLE 17: Priority issues around climate change impacts and adaptation for the Inuit of Canada.
Key issue Importance for Inuit
Wildlife Wildlife is more than subsistence nd nutrition to Inuit. It plays a role in preservation and promotion of language, culture and traditional knowledge. Hunting is a social process of learning and knowledge transmission in communities, even today. Some key species (e.g. polar bear) require attention to balance interests between conservation and management for wise use by Inuit in the future.
Infrastructure Inuit communities are located in predominantly low-lying coastal zones, and many are already having to take actions to protect shorelines and buildings, and to consider future relocation as a result of encroaching erosion and existing damage.
Human health Health impacts of climate change are already reported in many Inuit communities today. Inuit health status is already challenged and climate will influence existing vulnerabilities (social, physical and mental). Ability to adapt is limited by such things as access to medical and emergency services, which are already significantly less in Inuit communities than in other parts of the country.
Food security and contaminants Reports of impacts on Inuit food security already exist and will combine with the influence of contaminants currently recognized in country foods. Adaptation in response to contaminants is dependent on outside information delivery and education. Current monitoring and research capacity to support informed decision-making is limited. Current economic access to alternatives (healthy market foods) is limited.
Traditional knowledge Traditional knowledge of the environment (seasonal rhythms, weather prediction, animal migration, and quality and quantity of sea ice) is an important part of Inuit culture. Inuit knowledge plays an important role in development of northern policy, and wildlife management and endangered species regulations. Climate change, along with other forms of change in communities, is threatening and eroding Inuit traditional knowledge. However, its role in adaptive capacity is raising awareness of its value and importance for the future.
Economies Changing climate is impacting the ability of Inuit to earn income and, at the same time, increasing their expenditures. Inuit have already started to adapt, with individual households bearing the brunt of economic impacts, which are expected to rise.
Emergency management Emergency preparedness is most critical for small remote communities, such as those in which many Inuit live. Increasing and changing environmental hazards are putting more young Inuit at risk while on the land. Search-and-rescue efforts are becoming more frequent and also more dangerous. Increasing potential risks to health call for enhanced emergency response capability, plans and disaster recovery strategies.
Security and sovereignty Inuit traditional lands include extensive Arctic coastline, and nearly all communities are coastal. Increased shipping and the opening of Arctic ports will mean significant changes for Inuit communities, including potential risks associated with environmental disasters (spills) and sociocultural change, and benefits (increased opportunities for wage employment).


Aboriginal perspectives on climate change impacts and adaptation: Yukon First Nation communities (prepared by Council of Yukon First Nations)

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) represents 11 of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon, as well as four Gwich'in First Nations in the Mackenzie Delta region. The CYFN is committed to the promotion of responsible management of the human and natural resources within all its member First Nation traditional territories. The effects of a changing climate on ecosystems are already evident, having been reported by elders and other First Nation members. They include such things as altered seasonal river discharges, insect infestations and changes in forest composition. In partnership with the Arctic Athabaskan Council, CYFN participated in the development of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and supports the implementation of its central recommendations. The CYFN has built its own climate change strategy around these objectives. The organization's response is organized around three primary themes:

  • core capacity to co-ordinate and manage Yukon First Nation responses to climate change impacts
  • support for directed community research
  • communication, public education and partnership development

Community-based research and monitoring are viewed as important for developing an overall understanding of potential adaptation. The CYFN argues that such research and monitoring would illustrate the importance of accumulating detailed knowledge of local perspectives and understanding of climate change, and the need for the exchange of information among a diverse group of individuals, including communities,scientists and policy makers. The concerns and priorities of the communities have been documented through workshops and conferences undertaken by CYFN over the past few years. They identify community concerns about the potential impacts of climate change on traditional and non-traditional aspects of society; community social and cultural interactions; and local- and regional-scale economic activities. They describe the problems communities believe they are either already dealing with or are likely to face in the future, and how they might organize themselves to take advantage of opportunities through effective adaptation. Key research themes identified in consultation with First Nations communities are presented in Table 18.

The focus of the CYFN's approach to enhancing adaptive capacity of communities is to provide the right information to the right people at the appropriate time. Drawing upon the findings of the latest research and assessments, it is argued that the promotion of, and support for, sustaining the livelihoods and cultural traditions of Aboriginal peoples and communities requires getting this information out to decision-makers at various levels to support the proactive development and implementation of policies and actions. Yukon First Nation elders have established the Elders Panel on Climate Change and have participated and assisted in directing the work for CYFN on climate change issues. The elders believe that sharing their knowledge will break new ground in contributing an understanding needed to formulate national and circumpolar strategies to investigate and address the issue. Engaging CYFN communities and assisting them in understanding and developing their own adaptive capacities and addressing conflicts in the face of climate change impacts is the primary goal of CYFN efforts in the near term.

TABLE 18: Priority themes for research related to climate change, identified by the Council of Yukon First Nations in consultation with Yukon First Nation communities.
Key issue Importance for Council of Yukon Nations communities
Food security Traditional resource practices of hunting, herding, fishing and gathering remain critically important for local economies, cultures and health of Yukon First Nation members. Characteristic environmental conditions over centuries have enabled communities and peoples to develop skills and knowledge and pass these down between generations. Conditions are changing, and impacts on resource practices are already occurring.
Access and legal right to harvest fish and wildlife are protected for Yukon First Nations under existing agreements, yet these institutions may be challenged by changes in climate. Thus, there are political implications for food security that require better understanding to protect these resources for First Nations members.
Community health and well-being The potential introduction of new diseases into the Yukon is a direct threat to First Nation communities. The combined effects of the biophysical (climate), social, economic and cultural change taking place have significant potential to negatively impact health, which is already stressed on many fronts. Potential impacts on the sustainability of traditional Yukon economies and indirect influences on health and well-being are significant but poorly understood.
Resource-use conflicts Because of strong involvement in both wage and traditional economies, and potential impacts to both via climate change, there is a need to better understand conflicts arising as a result of impacts and competition between economic sectors (traditional and wage based). There is a need to understand cumulative impacts, including climate, associated with large-scale developments in the Yukon.
Emergency preparedness There is currently a lack of understanding of the level of First Nations community emergency preparedness in the Yukon to deal with increased risks of extreme weather events and variability and associated natural disasters, such as forest fires, and the potential impacts of climate on remote communities.


Aboriginal perspectives on climate change impacts and adaptation: the Dene Nation (from Paci et al., 2005)

The Dene Nation is the Aboriginal political organization mandated to represent the interests and beliefs in Denendeh, which includes more than 25 000 residents living in 29 communities across five culturally and geographically distinct areas. As in other Arctic regions, Dene are experiencing and reporting changes in climate and the environment that are unique to the people of that land. The Denendeh Environmental Working Group (DEWG) brings together Dene and invited guests from government, universities and non-governmental organizations, and has held workshops on climate change knowledge and observations. Workshops have discussed the themes of climate change and impacts on forests, water and fish. Four central questions have shaped much of the DEWG discussion on climate to date (Paci et al., 2005, p. 80):

  • Is there a difference today in Denendeh and is climate change having a role in these changes? What else might be causing it?
  • What climate change programs are there, and how can our communities be more involved in research and communication about these changes?
  • If it is important to document Dene climate change views/knowledge, how should we communicate this knowledge with each other and policy-makers, governments and others outside the North?
  • Is the DEWG a good mechanism to discuss climate change? What should we be talking about and what else do we need to do?

A more comprehensive description of Dene observations of climate change and climate impacts in Denendeh is reported in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (Paci et al., 2005).

Workshops and research projects conducted throughout the North have reported that individuals are already adapting to reduce the impacts of climate change on aspects of their lives and livelihoods, primarily in a reactive manner (see examples in previous sections of this chapter). The ability to adapt is influenced by factors such as access to economic resources, technology, information and skills, institutional arrangements, equity among members of a group, risk perception and health status (see Chapter 2; e.g. Kovats et al., 2003; Smit and Pilifosova, 2003). As outlined in Section 2.2, many of these factors vary significantly between regions and also within regions between smaller remote communities and larger regional centres and municipalities. Consequently, the adaptive capacity and resilience of individuals and communities to climate and other forms of change vary by geography, sociodemography, economic status and culture. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify some sources of social and economic resilience and vulnerability, and associated opportunities for adaptation, that are common to many Arctic societies (Table 19; Chapin et al., 2006).

TABLE 19: Sources of social and economic resilience and vulnerability that characterize many Arctic systems (from Chapin et al., 2006).
Arctic characteristics Sources of resilience Sources of vulnerability Opportunities for adaptation
Social and institutional properties Sharing of resources and risks across kinship networks
Multiple jobs and job skills held by an individual (‘jack of all trades')
Inadequate educational infrastructure to plan for future change
Relatively unskilled labour force
Learning and innovation fostered by high cultural diversity
Land tenure and use rights are regionally variable; where strong there is flexibility for adaptation
Economic properties Flexibility to adjust to change in mixed wage-subsistence economy Decoupling of incentives driving climatic change from economic consequences
Non-diverse extractive economy: boom-bust cycles
Infrastructure and political barriers to relocation in response to climate change
Substitution of local resources or expensive imports (food, fuel)
National wealth sufficient to invest in adaptation
Retention of rents from development are regionally variable; where present, they can build infrastructure and social capital that allow adaptation and diversification

Erosion of Traditional Capacities

The Arctic has experienced significant climate change in the past. The archeological record, ethnohistorical accounts and memories of Aboriginal elders provide detailed accounts of how periodic, irregular and often dramatic ecosystem changes, triggered by periods of warming or cooling and extreme weather events, have been a dominating influence on human life in the Arctic. The successful long-term habitation of the Arctic by Aboriginal peoples has been possible because of the capacity of their social, economic and cultural practices to adjust to climate variation and change. For millennia, Arctic populations adapted to gradual or even rapid environmental change by resettling amid favourable environments and along the paths of animal migration routes (Nuttall et al., 2005). The massive social, cultural and economic changes that have occurred since Aboriginal peoples have settled in permanent communities, predominantly over the last 50 to 60 years, have significantly eroded the traditional aspects of their socioecological resilience and adaptive capacity (Berkes and Jolly, 2002). New economic opportunities that could be presented as a result of climate change should result in increased wage employment. This, in turn, is likely to further reduce opportunities for individuals to gain the land-based skills and traditional knowledge necessary to continue aspects of subsistence and traditional livelihoods.

Economic Resources

Northern communities, however remote or small, are tied economically and politically to the national mainstream. Trade barriers, wildlife management regimes, globalization, and political, legal and conservation interests all affect the abilities of northerners to meet the challenges posed by changing climate. Several northern issues are unique within Canada. For example, even though the Government of Nunavut estimates that it would cost approximately CDN$35 million annually to replace food secured through traditional and subsistence activities, virtually none of this traditional wealth can be converted into the money needed to purchase, operate and maintain the equipment that hunters use. Abandoning hunting for imported food would not only be less healthy than continued use of country/traditional foods, but would also be immensely costly (Nuttall et al., 2005).

The natural resource extraction economy of many northern regions provides an economic base to support various adaptations to environment change. As a result, some regions have a far greater capacity to adapt in the short term if they are able to benefit from these activities. However, as noted by Justice Berger (Berger, 2006), Inuit (and all northerners, for that matter) must be educated and ready to take part in the economic opportunities that future changes may create in the North, such as enhanced oil and gas exploration and development, intensive development of mineral resources, enhanced navigation, and port and other infrastructure development. Current levels of skilled labour and formal education often limit the abilities of northerners to take advantage of such opportunities.

Information and Technology

Ford et al. (2006b) discussed the importance of traditional skills and knowledge, social networks and flexibility towards resource use in their analyses of vulnerability to climate change, primarily among hunters. Many other studies have noted the importance of combining scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge in the effort to understand aspects of climate change, impacts and local-scale responses (e.g. Parlee et al., 2005; Furgal et al., 2006; Gearheard et al., 2006; Laidler, 2006;). Traditional knowledge systems and skills are central components to many individual responses to environmental change, yet are being challenged and, in some cases, eroded by the combined forces of environmental and social change in northern communities (Nuttall et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006b; Lacroix, 2006). This erosion is particularly acute among younger Aboriginal residents engaged in full-time wage-earning employment. Nevertheless, at the same time that their adaptive capacity in response to environmental change is diminishing in one respect, it is also enhanced as a result of increased access to economic resources and technology. As a result, it is difficult to project the net impact of all combined forces of change very far into the future.

Policies and Institutional Capacity

Chapin et al. (2006) and Ford et al. (2007) recommended adaptation policies aimed at supporting aspects of resilience in northern communities and sectors. These include such things as ensuring flexibility in resource management regimes (e.g. Adger, 2003), support for formalized teaching of traditional skills and knowledge, and economic support for the pursuit of traditional and subsistence ways of life (e.g. Ford et al., 2007). They also place emphasis on skills training and development so that northerners are better prepared to adapt to, and derive benefits from, the rapidly changing northern social, economic and physical environment (e.g. Berger, 2006).

The development and implementation of such policies requires institutional awareness and vision. Of particular importance is the manner in which organizations and individuals interact — in the public sector, across government and non-governmental organizations, and within society (Adger, 2003; Willems and Baumert, 2003; Berkes et al., 2005). There are some examples of institutional capacity in the North to address climate change. Where government departments and organizations have developed and implemented adaptation plans, or where groups engaging Aboriginal organizations, government representatives and the general public have convened to identify common challenges and how to address them, there is evidence of the effect that mobilizing the existing local, territorial and regional capacity can have. Nevertheless, the effective implementation of policies and measures will require maintenance and strengthening of climate-related expertise and perhaps the creation of new institutional arrangements for a variety of policy areas in the North, particularly related to public safety and economic development. Use of existing institutional capacity to integrate (mainstream) climate concerns into existing policy and program areas is an important goal.