Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for Ulukhaktok

With support from ArcticNorth consulting, Ulukhaktok developed the ‘Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for Ulukhaktok’ which builds on previously established relationships to document climate change issues in the community, prioritize key concerns, and identify potential adaptation strategies. Ulukhaktok is a small community (approximately 400 people) located in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of the Northwest Territories. This region is at the forefront of climate change: increasing temperatures, shifting seasonal patterns, reductions in summer sea ice, and weather variability threaten the natural environment as well as individual and community livelihood. Currently, adaptation to climate change impacts occurs at the individual or household level; they adapt to threats such as hazardous travel conditions by purchasing satellite radios and stockpiling fuel supplies. While this level of adaptation is important, broader policy initiatives are needed to deliver long-term strategies for this community to cope with the likely effects of future climate change.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of the Northwest Territories, Canada is at the forefront of climate change: increasing temperatures, shifting seasonal patterns, reductions in summer sea ice, and weather variability threaten the natural environment as well as individual and community livelihood. Changes in the local environment are affecting subsistence harvesting, which people in these communities depend on, thus food security becomes an issue. Simultaneously, harvester safety is a concern because of risks associated with travel as well as limited search and rescue capabilities. At the community level, permafrost thaw threatens municipal infrastructure and buildings. Increased cruise ship tourism as a result of reductions in summer sea ice is another impact of climate change on the Ulukhaktok community.

Currently, adaptation to climate change is autonomous; individuals or households are adapting to threats such as food security and hazardous travel conditions by stockpiling food, purchasing satellite radios and phones, or utilizing different modes of transportation.

While this level of adaptation is important, broader policy initiatives are needed to deliver long-term solutions and strategies for these communities to cope with the likely effects of future climate change.

Identifying Actions

The community of Ulukhaktok undertook a four-stage climate change adaptation planning process to document climate change issues in the community, prioritize key concerns, and identify potential adaptation strategies. The ‘Literature review and gap analysis’ was the first step and it identified current understanding of climate change vulnerability in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) and was completed in 2009. Then, the ‘Vulnerability assessment and identification of adaptation actions’ (Step 2) built on previous relationships with Ulukhaktok community members in order to access stakeholder knowledge related to climate change impacts and adaptation. Initial individual or household level consultations provided the starting point to document issues and key concerns related to climate change in the community. The highest priority issues identified by the Ulukhaktok community were grouped into a series of themes, including: Business and Economy, Culture and Learning, Health and Well-being, Subsistence Harvesting, and Transportation and Infrastructure. Specific examples of climate change impacts within these categories include: fewer polar bear sport hunters means less income for guides and helpers (Business and Economy); Erosion of traditional knowledge and land skills could lead to increased risk of danger (Culture and Learning); and Permafrost thaw increases the potential for leaching contaminants from municipal waste site (Health and Well being). A series of adaptation planning working groups were convened to identify potential adaptation actions to address climate change issues affecting the community. The third stage was an examination and prioritization of adaptation actions (Step 3), followed by implementation and performance monitoring (Step 4).

Implementation

Once key problems and proposed actions were identified, local working groups and decision-making bodies prioritized and reviewed actions to determine the most effective and direct use of community resources. Adaptation actions were assessed for importance, urgency, feasibility, durability, opportunities for mainstreaming, and timeline. Detailed technical and policy analysis of adaptation actions also occurred. Five themes of highest priority issues were identified by the Ulukhaktok community: Business and Economy; Culture and Learning; Health and Well-being; Subsistence Harvesting; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Adaptation Action Tables summarized key results for each sector. The tables contained five columns of information including: priority, adaptation action, climate change issue, desired outcome, and resources and leadership. Types of adaptation strategies include, but are not limited to: capacity building and education, conducting scenario planning exercises, reducing non-climate stressors, conducting vulnerability assessments and studies, and increasing/improving public awareness and outreach.

Next Steps

Implementation of adaptation actions that address the priority concerns will hopefully occur soon. Climate change is an important factor in the Ulukhaktok community; however many other factors (e.g., health, housing, substance abuse, infrastructure, etc.) take the forefront. In order to mainstream adaptation, climate change should be addressed simultaneously with these other issues. Additionally, adaptation strategies do not necessarily need to be something new, but can make use of existing strategies by incorporating climate change into them. A similar adaptation action plan was designed for the Hamlet of Paulatuk, although their community priorities differed slightly.