Photograph © Ros Smith

People of the Arctic

Almost 4 million people live in the Arctic including many indigenous groups, people who live in cities, and hunters and herders. People have lived in some parts of the region for more than 20,000 years, shaping and being shaped by the environment that they live in.

Indigenous people make up about 10% of the population and keep alive traditional ways of living while also adapting to the modern world. In the 20th century immigration to the Arctic increased – people were drawn to the region by new opportunities in industry.

While many aspects of life in the Arctic have changed for the better – for example life expectancy, access to food and other resources – the increase in population has led to conflict in some places as modern and traditional ways of life clash and there is increased pressure on limited resources.

Photograph by Ros Smith

How is Climate Change affecting the people living in the Arctic?

Many people living on the coast will face more, and more severe storms as sea levels rise and less sea ice allows higher waves to reach the shore. More floods in wetland areas will have a devastating impact on people and wildlife of those areas.

Indigenous communities in particular face major economic and cultural problems. Many indigenous peoples depend on hunting polar bear, walrus, seals, and caribou.  They herd reindeer, fish, and gather food to support the local economy, and these activities form the basis of their cultural and social identity. Changes in where animals live, less access to these animals, and more difficult travel due to changing ice and weather conditions cause serious challenges to human health, access to food, and possibly even the survival of some cultures.

A significant amount of the infrastructure of the Arctic region such as roads, buildings, airports and industrial facilities are built on frozen ground and rely on ice roads and tundra being frozen solid enough to safely travel along. If the ground thaws this could destabilize buildings and make places harder to reach as well as impact natural ecosystems.

Reports from the indiginous people about the effects of climate change on their lives provide very important information to those studying climate change. This knowledge adds local detail about ongoing climate changes and how it affects the Arctic region.

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