Dangerous climate change and the importance of adaptation for the Arctic’s Inuit population
Ford, J. (2009). Environmental Research Letters 4, 1-9. Download PDF.
The Arctic’s climate is changing rapidly, to the extent that ‘dangerous’ climate change as defined by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change might already be occurring. These changes are having implications for the Arctic’s Inuit population and are being exacerbated by the dependence of Inuit on biophysical resources for livelihoods and the low socio-economic–health status of many northern communities. Given the nature of current climate change and projections of a rapidly warming Arctic, climate policy assumes a particular importance for Inuit regions. This paper argues that efforts to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are urgent if we are to avoid runaway climate change in the Arctic, but unlikely to prevent changes which will be dangerous for Inuit. In this context, a new policy discourse on climate change is required for Arctic regions—one that focuses on adaptation. The paper demonstrates that states with Inuit populations and the international community in general has obligations to assist Inuit to adapt to climate change through international human rights and climate change treaties. However, the adaptation deficit, in terms of what we know and what we need to know to facilitate successful adaptation, is particularly large in an Arctic context and limiting the ability to develop response options. Moreover, adaptation as an option of response to climate change is still marginal in policy negotiations and Inuit political actors have been slow to argue the need for adaptation assistance. A new focus on adaptation in both policy negotiations and scientific research is needed to enhance Inuit resilience and reduce vulnerability in a rapidly changing climate.