Vulnerability to climate change in Arctic Canada

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Ford, James David
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University of Guelph

This thesis is an investigation of vulnerability to climate change in Arctic Canada. It develops a conceptual model and analytical approach to guide vulnerability analysis. The model conceptualizes vulnerability as a function of exposure-sensitivity to biophysical stresses and adaptive capacity to cope with these stresses. Both model elements are closely inter-linked and influenced by process and conditions endogenous and exogenous to the system of interest. The analytical framework utilizes community case studies to analyze vulnerability and its drivers. It starts by characterizing current vulnerability, which provides an empirical foundation and baseline for assessment of future vulnerability. Using case studies in two Inuit communities in the Canadian territory of Nunavut (Arctic Bay and Igloolik), 119 interviews were conducted. Interviews were complemented with participant observation and analysis of secondary sources. The work largely focuses on vulnerabilities surrounding resource harvesting, identified by communities as being most pertinent to their livelihoods. The study highlights the dynamic nature of vulnerability. A combination of changing climatic conditions superimposed on changes in harvesting behaviour has altered, and tended to increase, the exposure-sensitivity of both communities. In light of changing exposure-sensitivity, Inuit have demonstrated significant adaptive capacity. This adaptability is facilitated by traditional Inuit knowledge, strong social networks, and flexibility in seasonal hunting cycles. Changing Inuit livelihoods, however, have undermined certain aspects of adaptive capacity, and have resulted in emerging vulnerabilities. Future climate change will affect biophysical conditions to which Inuit in Arctic Bay and Igloolik are currently exposed. Decreasing sea-ice thickness, longer ice freeze-up, earlier sea ice break-up, changing occurrence of weather extremes, and alterations in animal numbers will increase the dangers of hunting, decrease access to hunting areas, and affect the availability of traditional foods. Exposure-sensitivity to these changes will be differentiated based on use of and dependence on the environment. Analysis of current vulnerability indicates significant adaptive capacity to deal with climate change related risks, although this capacity will vary among groups. The study argues that young generation Inuit, in particular, are vulnerable.

vulnerability, climate change, Arctic Canada, exposure-sensitivity, biophysical stresses, adaptive capacity