Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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16.2.8. Impact on Human Communities in the Arctic Impacts on Indigenous Peoples

Historically, most indigenous groups have shown resilience and ability to survive changes in resource availability (e.g., the transition from Dorset to Thule cultures), but they may be less well equipped to cope with the combined impacts of climate change and globalization (Peterson and Johnson, 1995). Indigenous peoples, who number 1.5 million of a total Arctic population of 10 million, have a mixture of formal economies (e.g., commercial harvesting of fish, oil and mineral extraction, forestry, and tourism) and informal economies (e.g., harvesting of natural renewable resources). Increasingly, the overall economy is tied to distant markets. For example, in Alaska, gross income from tourism is US$1.4 billion, and in Russia 92% of exported oil is extracted from wells north of the Arctic Circle (Nuttall, 1998). The distinction between formal and informal economies becomes blurred by transfer payments and income derived from commercial ventures. The value of native harvests of renewable resources has been estimated to be 33-57% of the total economy of some northern communities (Quigley and McBridge, 1987; Brody, 1991). However, harvesting of renewable resources also must be considered in terms of maintaining cultural activities (Duerden, 1992). Harvesting contributes to community cohesion and self-esteem, and knowledge of wildlife and the environment strengthens social relationships (Warren et al., 1995; Berkes, 1998). For example, hunting of wildlife is an essential part of Inuit tradition (Wenzel, 1995).

Climate change and economic development associated with oil extraction, mining, and fish farming will result in changes in diet and nutritional health and exposure to air-, water-, and food-borne contaminants in northern people (Bernes, 1996; Rees and Williams, 1997; Vilchek and Tishkov, 1997; AMAP, 1998; Weller and Lange, 1999; Freese, 2000). People who rely on marine systems for food resources are particularly at risk because Arctic marine food chains are long (Welch, 1995; AMAP, 1997). Low-lying Arctic coasts of western Canada, Alaska, and the Russian Far East are particularly sensitive to sea-level rise. Coastal erosion and retreat as a result of thawing of ice-rich permafrost already are threatening communities, heritage sites, and oil and gas facilities (Forbes and Taylor, 1994; Dallimore et al., 1996; Cohen, 1997a,b; Shaw et al., 1998; Wolfe et al., 1998; Are, 1999).

Along the Bering and Chukchi Sea coasts, indigenous peoples report thinning and retreating sea ice, drying tundra, increased storms, reduced summer rainfall, warmer winters, and changes in the distribution, migration patterns, and numbers of some wildlife species. These peoples testify that they already are feeling some of the impacts of a changing, warming climate (Mulvaney, 1998). For example, when sea ice is late in forming, certain forms of hunting are delayed or may not take place at all. When sea ice in the spring melts or deteriorates too rapidly, it greatly decreases the length of the hunting season. Many traditional foods are dried (e.g., walrus, whale, seal, fish, and birds) in the spring and summer to preserve them for consumption over the long winter months. When the air is too damp and wet during the "drying" seasons, food becomes moldy and sour. The length of the wet season also affects the ability to gather greens such as willow leaves, beach greens, dock, and wild celery. These testimonies reflect the kinds of changes that could be expected as global warming affects the Arctic (Mulvaney, 1998). As climate continues to change, there will be significant impacts on the availability of key subsistence marine and terrestrial species. At a minimum, salmon, herring, walrus, seals, whales, caribou, moose, and various species of waterfowl are likely to undergo shifts in range and abundance. This will entail local adjustments in harvest strategies as well as in allocations of labor and resources (e.g., boats, snowmobiles, weapons). As the climate changes, community involvement in decisionmaking has the potential to promote sustainable harvesting of renewable resources, thereby avoiding deterioration of common property. However, factors that are beyond the control of the local community may frustrate this ideal. For example, many migratory animals are beyond the hunters' geographical range for much of the year—and thus beyond the management of small, isolated communities. Traditional subsistence activities are being progressively marginalized by increasing populations and by transnational commercial activities (Sklair, 1991; Nuttall, 1998).

In the past, when population densities of indigenous people were lower and economic and social structures were linked only weakly to those in the south, northern peoples showed significant flexibility in coping with climate variability (Sabo, 1991; Odner, 1992). Now, commercial, local, and conservation interests have reduced their options. Predicted climate change is likely to have impacts on marine and terrestrial animal populations; changes in population size, structure, and migration routes also are probable (Beamish, 1995; Gunn, 1995; Ono, 1995). Careful management of these resources will be required within a properly consultative framework, similar to recent agreements that are wide-ranging and endeavor to underpin the culture and economy of indigenous peoples (Nuttall, 1998). Langdon (1995) claims that "the combination of alternative cultural lifestyles and altered subsistence opportunities resulting from a warmer climate may pose the greatest threat of all to the continuity of indigenous cultures in northern North America." An alternative view is that northern people live with uncertainty and learn to cope with it; this view suggests that "for indigenous people, climate change is often not a top priority, but a luxury, and Western scientists may well be indoctrinating Natives with their own terminology and agenda on climate change" (BESIS, 1999). Impacts on Economic Activity

The following subsections summarize the impacts of climate change and adaptive responses for different economic sectors that are relevant to the Arctic. Within different regions of the Arctic, important economic sectors differ substantially; some sectors are underrepresented, and others are just developing in certain regions (e.g., tourism). This latter topic (like agriculture and forestry) receives little or no comment in this section because there is insufficient literature to address the effects of climate change from a polar perspective.

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