IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Human populations

Neither Antarctica nor the sub-Antarctic islands have permanent human populations; the vast majority of residents are staff at scientific stations and summer-only visitors. While there are some areas of particular sensitivity (see Section 15.6.3), where climate change might dictate that facilities be abandoned, from a global perspective these can be viewed as logistical issues only for the organisations concerned.

In contrast, the archaeological record shows that humans have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years (Pavlov et al., 2001).

Previously, many Arctic peoples practised seasonal movements between settlements, and/or seasonally between activities (e.g., farming to fishing), and the semi-nomadic and nomadic following of game animals and herding. Today, most Arctic residents live in permanent communities, many of which exist in low-lying coastal areas. Despite the socio-economic changes taking place, many Arctic communities retain a strong relationship with the land and sea, with community economies that are a combination of subsistence and cash economies, in some cases, strongly associated with mineral, hydrocarbon and resource development (Duhaime, 2004). The vulnerable nature of Arctic communities, and particularly coastal indigenous communities, to climate change arises from their close relationship with the land, geographical location, reliance on the local environment for aspects of everyday life such as diet and economy, and the current state of social, cultural, economic and political change taking place in these regions.

Communities are already adapting to local environmental changes (Krupnik and Jolly, 2002; Nickels et al., 2002) through wildlife management regimes, and changes in individual behaviours (i.e., shifts in timing and locations of particular activities) and they retain a substantial capacity to adapt. This is related to flexibility in economic organisation, detailed local knowledge and skills, and the sharing mechanisms and social networks which provide support in times of need (Berkes and Jolly, 2001). However, for some Arctic peoples, movement into permanent communities, along with shifts in lifestyle and culture, limits some aspects of adaptive capacity as more sedentary lifestyles minimise mobility, and increased participation in wage-economy jobs decreases the number of individuals able to provide foods from the local environment. The sustainability of this trend is unknown.

Small Arctic communities, however remote, are tightly tied politically, economically and socially to the national mainstream, as well as being linked to and affected by the global economy (Nuttall et al., 2005). Today, trade barriers, resource management regimes, political, legal and conservation interests, and globalisation all affect, constrain or reduce the abilities of Arctic communities to adapt to climate change (Nuttall et al., 2005). Trends in modernity within communities also affect adaptive capacity in both positive and negative ways. Increased access to outside markets and new technologies improve the ability to develop resources and a local economic base; however, increased time spent in wage-earning employment, while providing significant benefits at the individual and household levels through enhanced economic capacity, reduces time on the land observing and developing the knowledge that strengthens the ability to adapt. This underscores the reality that climate change is one of several interrelated problems affecting Arctic communities and livelihoods today (Chapin et al., 2005a).

In some cases, indigenous peoples may consider adaptation strategies to be unacceptable, as they impact critical aspects of traditions and cultures. For example, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference has framed the issue of climate change in a submission to the United States Senate as an infringement on human rights because it restricts access to basic human needs as seen by the Inuit and will lead to the loss of culture and identity (Watt-Cloutier, 2004). Currently we do not know the limits of adaptive capacity among Arctic populations, or what the impacts of some adaptive measures will be.