Inuvialuit on the Frontline of Climate Change: Development of a regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

In 2016, six communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) developed community-led adaptation plans, including Aklavik, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk and Ulukhaktok. Located in Canada’s western Arctic, ISR is one of the four Inuit regions of Canada. The potential impacts of climate change on the ISR are numerous, substantial and complexly interconnected. Inuvialuit culture and daily living are closely tied to the natural world. From developing ice roads to practicing subsistence harvesting, any alteration to the regional landscape will have profound impacts on local residents. Since the early 2000s, local observers have documented that weather patterns in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region have become increasingly unpredictable, annual temperatures are increasing, freeze up/break up dates have shifted, multi-year ice is diminishing, species migration patterns are shifting and inland lakes are draining due to permafrost melting. These regional changes have been linked to increased risk when traveling on the tundra/ice, decreased ability to access country foods and an overall decrease in species health. Climate change observations and recommended adaptation actions for future implementation make up this community-led baseline on climate change in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The potential impacts of climate change on the ISR are numerous, substantial and complexly interconnected. Since the early 2000s, local observers have documented that weather patterns in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region have becoming increasingly unpredictable, annual temperatures are increasing, freeze up/break up dates have shifted, multi-year ice is diminishing, species migration patterns are shifting and inland lakes are draining due to permafrost melting. These regional changes have been linked to increased risk when traveling on the tundra/ice, decreased ability to access country foods and an overall decreased species health.

To collect information on climate change observations, each of the six communities in ISR led the collection of information at various information-gathering sessions. Inuvialuit contributed their views on the current and potential impacts of climate change on their communities and region in workshops, interviews and other information-gathering sessions conducted in all six ISR communities by Youth Climate Change Coordinators during 2015-16, and at the ISR’s Regional Climate Change Strategy Meeting held March 21-24, 2016 in Inuvik.

These impacts were grouped into five categories – business and economy, culture and learning, health and well-being, subsistence hunting and fishing, and transportation and infrastructure. Furthermore, among the six ISR communities, there was a great deal of commonality regarding perceptions of climate-change threats and adaptation measures. For instance, most or all communities agree that climate change poses challenges to Inuvialuit subsistence-harvesting practices and has or will cause food insecurity in ISR communities.

Identifying Actions

At the Inuvialuit Settlement Region’s Regional Climate Change Strategy Meeting, held March 21-24, 2016, in Inuvik, attendees identified eight principles, based on Inuvialuit societal values, to guide the region’s climate-change adaptation efforts and provide Inuvialuit with increased resilience and adaptive capacity. Examples include: “respecting others, relationships and caring for people”, and “working together for a common cause”. Adaptation actions were identified by community members at various information-gathering sessions. As with climate change impacts, adaptation actions are outlined in the following categories:

  1. Business and economy
  2. Culture and learning
  3. Health and well-being
  4. Subsistence Hunting and Fishing
  5. Transportation and Infrastructure.

Examples of adaptation actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Promote better monitoring of, and communication about, shipping hazards (business and economy)
  • Promote emergency preparedness in schools (culture and learning)
  • Develop community infrastructure/programs, such as greenhouses, food banks, community freezers, and “harvester’s markets” (health and wellbeing)
  • Reduce harvesting pressure on threatened species (subsistence hunting and fishing)
  • Avoid building in areas vulnerable to erosion and slumping (transportation and infrastructure).

Implementation

Adaptation actions are ranked according to how soon or easily they can be implemented:

  1. In progress: action is already under way and should be evaluated after a reasonable trial period
  2. Short term: action can be easily implemented now
  3. Medium term: action is feasible to implement with some planning and recruiting of resources
  4. Long term: action will require substantial planning, time, and /or resources to implement but is a reasonable goal

Each community adaptation plan lists adaptation actions by sector and period for implementation. As an example, under the ‘business and economy’ sector the following adaptation actions are listed: bridge inserted near foothills (in progress); increase opportunities for local training on road construction (short term); increase sharing/trading with other communities who have access to traditional food (midterm); and tourism around the delta & coastline (long term). Along with each adaptation action, information is available on the related climate change issue, outcome, and resources and leadership.

Next Steps

Based on the recommendations in this report and continued engagement with Inuvialuit beneficiaries, the ISR Climate Change Strategy was drafted in 2020. The strategy aims to establish a comprehensive climate change program in the ISR focused on six thematic areas: food and wellness, safety, housing and infrastructure, education and awareness, ecosystem health and diversity, and energy. The strategy identifies goals and actions related to both climate change mitigation and adaptation in the ISR and aligns the region to the vision of Inuit self-determination in climate change policymaking as expressed in the National Inuit Climate Change Strategy.