As it is warming 4 times faster than the global average, the Arctic is a new hotspot for geopolitical tension. Global nations are racing to claim the Arctic’s natural resources and territories as access increases due to melt. In this process, those who rely on the resources and lands, such as Sámi reindeer herders and Inuit hunters, are forced to look elsewhere for livelihoods.
Arctic change has global ripple effects that disproportionately affect climate-vulnerable regions across the tropics. One example is the melting Arctic glaciers that lead to sea level rise, threatening to permanently inundate Pacific Island nations such as Kiribati and Vanuatu (Earth.org, 2020). Communal and gender-based violence spikes when households and communities are confronted with conflicts caused by limited resources and displacement, both of which can result from climate change.
Arctic change amplifies existing conflict and drives geopolitical tension in the region, for example, through increasing competition over access to natural resources and new shipping routes. As the Arctic melts, nations – Arctic and non-Arctic alike – are racing to claim newly accessible natural resources, strategic geographic position, and unclaimed territories (Gross, 2020). Russia and China are deepening their collaboration by establishing a global transport corridor through the Northern Sea Route, which is estimated to be 40 percent faster than the passage via the Suez Canal (Defense News, 2020). The Arctic also contains roughly 13 percent of the world’s unexplored oil resources and 30 percent of its unconfirmed natural gas reserves – “the largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on earth”, according to Donald Gautier (Gautier et al., 2009; Ferris, 2022).
Human rights of Arctic Indigenous communities are repeatedly violated, as rights, such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), are rarely applied or enforced when external actors engage in new developments on Sámi lands, such as tourism, deforestation, extraction of natural resources, and even renewable energy projects. Since 2013, Sámi in Swedish Sápmi have protested the prospective iron-ore mine in Gállok on the basis of the lands traditionally belonging to them and that mining will endanger their cultural practices and economic wellbeing. Despite repeated criticism from the UN regarding the threat of mining to reindeer migration and ecosystems, in 2022 the Swedish government granted Beowulf permission to mine (Persson, Harnesk and Islar, 2017; OHCHR, 2022).
Indigenous peoples are bearing the brunt of rapid Arctic warming, while having done little historically and currently to create the climate crisis. This highlights a gross climate injustice.