Arctic areas are inhabited approximately by four million people according to the AHDR definition (Arctic Human Development Report) of the Arctic. The settlement area is divided between eight Arctic countries; Canada, United States, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. The circumpolar region is extremely sparsely populated. Using more broad definition, according to the University of the Arctic Atlas, there are approximately 13.1 million people living in the area of the circumpolar North, see the map Indigenous population in the Arctic.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Arctic people started to grow rapidly because of improved health care for indigenous populations and the discovery of vast natural resources located in North which led to a large influx of immigrants. Recently population growth in the Arctic has slowed down in general and in some cases (e.g. Russian North) the total population has been even declining. It is estimated that two thirds of the total population lives in relatively large settlements. The settlement of the indigenous peoples living in circumpolar countries is characterized by small, widely scattered communities.
Climate change poses a new threat for all of the indigenous peoples
Regardless of underlying causes, the Arctic is undergoing a period of significant change that is likely to continue well into the next century, if not longer, and affect all sectors of the circumpolar North. People in the Arctic are worried about contaminants, land use, climate, security and access in the form of rights to land and sea.
Arctic peoples often point out that their environment has always been dynamic and that constant adaptation to ‘change’ is simply a part of what they do and who they are (Forbes, B.C. Who are the peoples of the North? WWF Circle 2/2010: 6-9).
Climate change significantly impacts the traditional harvesting activities of indigenous peoples. Rapid weather changes and occurrence of thin ice and severe weather conditions (e.g. strong winds and storms) makes hunting more dangerous. Furthermore, disappearing sea ice affects many species that are subject to harvest, for instance polar bears, seals, whales and some fish stocks depend on ice cover. Additionally, the ice plays an important role in sea temperature regulation and primary productivity. As a result, the livelihoods connected with hunting, fishing and herding are under threat. Indigenous peoples have an especially strong bond with nature and the changes in harvesting activities may have implications on the economy, society, culture and health.
Eventually, the survival of many groups as distinctive peoples is endangered. Additionally, housing, infrastructure and transport connections of coastal indigenous communities are seriously affected by climate changes, with rising maintenance costs and sometimes even the necessity of relocation.