How does climate change affect indigenous people in the Arctic?

Published on
December 15, 2015

It was a historical moment when 195 countries in Paris at the United Nations climate summit agreed on the draft text this Saturday, December 12. Indigenous people in the Arctic are affected by both climate change and by mega-projects with heavy infrastructure involving mining and oil extraction.

In certain places the effects are cumulative. The major demand of indigenous people in negotiations was to include language of indigenous rights (for cold weather) into the agreement and the major slogan of indigenous activists in the Summit was “keep fossil fuels in the ground”  As one of the indigenous activists said: "We’re very, very concerned about the fact that reference to indigenous rights and human rights have been moved into an annex in the Paris text." Indigenous peoples voices were strong, as well as demands and solidarity in Paris.

But what are the consequences of the climate change and fossil fuel extraction for indigenous people in the Arctic?

The ENP group is focussing on the effects of climate change and extractive industries in Russia and Alaska. Climate change has severe consequences for people in the North. Communities in Russia and Alaska report that their indigenous knowledge related to weather prediction, planning of hunting and fishing trips is not working any longer, the weather became unpredictable. The situation with oil extraction is further complicated by declining oil prices, which forced the Royal Dutch Shell company to abandon its off-shore drilling plans in Alaska, sanctions on oil companies in Russia and the lack of the rule of law in Russia – also known as “fuzzy” law –  which does not effectively protect citizen rights.  In both the US and Russia, on the one hand, resource extracting industries embody a particular form of economic development that can challenge traditional livelihoods, violate indigenous peoples’ right to clean environment, and transform traditional cultures.  However, on the other hand, there is a significant dependency of indigenous people on oil revenues.  Therefore, the worlds transition from traditional fossil fuel economy to alternative energy sources will be a significant economic transition for the indigenous people of the North, who in recent decades become dependent on extractive industries.  Our research will analyse the consequences of these transitions.