Spotlight November 2020

Conflict in the Arctic and the Indigenous Peoples

In the North Pole, global warming is more noticeable than anywhere else. This development is causing crucial changes in the area. The two more worrying changes are the threat of conflict between the Arctic countries and the increasingly struggle to manage lifestyles of the indigenous peoples who inhabit the area.

Rising temperatures on earth are causing ice sheets in the Arctic to melt. Raw materials that were inaccessible for a long time are now being released for resource exploitation. In addition, shipping routes are becoming available that could shorten certain trade routes. The economic interests that can be obtained here mean that all surrounding countries now claim disputed areas. Russia was the first to do so; already in 2007 the country planted the Russian flag in the ice. In the following years, other countries also started making such claims. Even China believes it has a right to these areas by labeling itself as a “near-Arctic country”. But these claims often seem to contradict each other, leading to political tensions in the area. Several army troops have already been sent to the area for training and surveillance. The political threats, economic interests and military presence mean that conflict is lurking.

The second change brought about by the rise in temperature is causing difficult living conditions for indigenous peoples in the area. While climate change has always been a factor that the population has lived with and adapted to, it is now made more difficult for them by the speed of the change. Relatively speaking, the temperature rise in the Arctic is almost twice as fast as in the rest of the world.

The climate changes in the area pose various dangers to the indigenous population. The peoples who often live on the edges of the ice sheets are now seeing these edges melting away at an extreme rate – also during the colder months. As a result, they often have to pick up and move locations. The people who live on these edges are also hit hard by the more extreme weather conditions that occur more often than before. These communities are regularly hit by unprecedented high waves of at least 6 meters high.

In addition, hunting is becoming increasingly difficult due to the absence of animals in the area. Where normally many animals migrated over the ice sheets, this is now no longer possible due to the lack of ice sheets.

Finally, drowning deaths are increasingly being reported among the indigineous communities. In the past, people could assume that ice sheets were thick enough to walk and travel by, but this is no longer a matter of course everywhere. “The risk of drowning was highest in places where indigenous livelihoods require extended periods on the ice, particularly in Canada’s northern territories,” said Sapna Sharma, the lead researcher from York University in Toronto. Many children in particular are victims of this.

These serious developments – the threat of a geopolitical conflict and the threat to the indigenous lifestyle – show how climate change in the Arctic has extreme consequences.

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