Pan-Territorial Adaptation Strategy

Climate Change Impacts in the North

Climate change specialists recognize two general types of climate change impacts:
Biophysical Impacts including physical changes to northern landscapes and ecosystems.
Socio-economic Impacts that arise from bio-physical impacts and that affect the health, safety and lifestyles of Northerners.

The two types of climate change impacts interact in complex ways, which can place increased stress on the ecosystems, infrastructure, economies, and cultures of the North. They can also have positive effects in some cases.

  • Thawing permafrost affects the integrity of buildings, roads and other critical infrastructure (e.g. airport runways, sewer systems, water systems, and tailings ponds). This increases maintenance costs and can threaten health and safety of both humans and wildlife.
  • Shifting Biomes affect the distribution and health of various species. This can result in the spreading of certain illnesses and parasites further North, and may interrupt access to traditional food sources in some communities. Shifting biomes may also increase potential for agriculture and forestry activity.
  • Changing sea ice patterns cause widespread effects on marine ecosystems, which in turn affect traditional food harvesting practices and compromise the safety of traditional travel routes on ice.
  • Reduction in sea ice thickness and cover, and an increase in the length of the summer shipping season, will open up previously inaccessible areas of both land and water, allowing for increased shipping, tourism, resource exploration and industrial activities. Increased access may lead to challenges in security and environmental regulation and could lead to the disruption of traditional lifestyles.
  • Changes in freeze-up and break-up of Northern water bodies affect the reliability of winter roads and the ability to transport essential goods for communities and industry.
  • Rising sea levels cause coastal erosion and storm surges that damage buildings, thus increasing maintenance costs or forcing relocation of the buildings.
  • Rising temperatures increase the risk of wildfire and forest pest infestations, threatening community infrastructure and destroying forest resources. Rising temperatures may also allow invasive species including disease vectors and parasites to survive in new locations in the North, threatening wildlife and human health.
  • Melting glaciers, reduced ice covers and changing stream flows may result in flooding or water shortages in the future. Both transportation infrastructure and water supply, treatment and distribution systems are vulnerable and may need to be updated or modified.
  • Extreme or unexpected weather events such as severe storms and intense precipitation or low water levels may threaten infrastructure and shipping as well as human safety.
Photos courtesy of Patrick Kane/Up Here, Dianne Villesèche/www.ravenink.ca and ArcticNet. © 2016 A Northern Vision