Loss of Arctic snow and ice heightens the risk of heatwaves and heat stress events, droughts, other forms of extreme weather and increased disease. This will lead to a rise in humanitarian crises. Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic also face threats to their food, cultures and livelihoods that dependent on the predictability of the climate.
Preserving the Arctic is key to achieving good health and wellbeing across the planet.
Reducing the albedo effect due to loss of Arctic ice amplifies the risk of global heatwaves, meaning more intense heat stress in already-hot parts of the world. Unprecedented drought across large swaths of Africa – from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and Angola – are causing severe and protracted humanitarian crises.
Climate change affects peoples’ mental health, including Indigenous Peoples in and outside of the Arctic whose cultures and livelihoods often depend on the predictability of the climate.
Failing to curtail Arctic and global warming will lead to an alarming increase in vector-, water- and food-borne disease, including cholera, typhoid, dengue fever, malaria, Zika virus, and salmonella (Wellcome, 2022).
Across the Arctic, Indigenous Peoples are directly affected by the activities that drive climate change (most notably extraction of minerals, oil and gas), climate change itself, and measures to mitigate it. The latter includes renewable energy projects such as hydro and wind. Each of these activities damages and fragments the Sámi reindeer grazing lands and migration routes, and is often done without adequate application of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) laws. In effect, climate change is escalating Arctic Indigenous peoples’ loss of land, rights, community, and culture, which are cornerstones to their health and wellbeing.
Between 1961 and 2017, the annual suicide rate amongst reindeer herding Sámi in Swedish Sápmi reached 17.5-43.9 per 100.000 people, with young Indigenous men accounting for some of the world’s highest suicide rates (Jacobsson, Stoor and Eriksson, 2020). For comparison, the 2020 suicide rate in the U.S. was 13.5 per 100.000 (National Institute of Health, 2022).
Long-range pollution creates toxic food chains, which contaminates traditional Indigenous foods (such as bowhead whales and walrus). Imported foods, however, are generally of poor nutritional quality and come with skyrocketing prices. In Canada, prices up to three or four times the national average are common. However, due to the toxins and climate-induced dangers hunting food (e.g., thinner ice), Indigenous peoples in the North American Arctic have increasingly abandoned traditional foods and developed unhealthy dietary habits. This is driving obesity and diabetes in places without adequate medical services and where such lifestyle diseases were previously very rare. In Canada, reserve-residing First Nations adults are now identified as one of the most at risk groups for developing diabetes, the prevalence of which is reaching 19.2 percent. This is three times higher than non-Indigenous adults in Canada (Halseth, 2019). Additionally, this loss of traditional food is a change of Indigenous culture and heritage.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.