Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in Northern Canada

Briefing Prepared for the Senate Standing Committee on Forestry and Agriculture

December 5, 2002

Aynslie Ogden, M.Sc., R.P.F., R.P.Bio, P.Ag. - Coordinator, Northern Climate ExChange; Manager, Northern Office of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network  

With assistance from 

Dr. Peter Johnson – Chair, Canadian Polar Commission; Professor, University of Ottawa; and Science Advisor to the Northern Office of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network


1.      In Canada’s North, climate change is no longer an abstract idea. There is strong evidence, both from scientific data and local observations, that climate change has had and is having an impact.   Substantial warming and increases in precipitation are projected for the 21st century. 

2.      The projected impacts of climate change are of considerable concern to residents of the North due to the potential consequences to traditional lifestyles, resource development and conservation. 

3.      The impacts of climate change on northern Indigenous peoples deserve special mention because of their relationship to the land and existing and emerging regional governance responsibilities.  

4.      In general, NCE analysis shows that our level of understanding of projected climate changes and the impacts of those changes is poor. 

5.      The ability to understand climate change and its impacts and, in turn, develop adaptation responses in Canada’s North is hampered by the current level of research and monitoring. 

6.      Discussion and development of climate change adaptation responses in Canada’s North are critical, and are now only in their very early stages.  Some important groundwork has been laid, but much more needs to be done to ensure sustainability of northern communities, ecosystems and ways of life in northern Canada.

1.   In Canada’s North, climate change is no longer an abstract idea.  There is strong evidence, both from scientific data and local observations, that climate change has had and is having an impact.  Substantial warming and increases in precipitation are projected for the 21st century. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that between 1861 and 2000, the global average surface temperature has warmed by 0.6oC.  In the Arctic, extensive land areas show a 20th century warming trend in air temperature of up to 5oC, with a slight warming observed over sea ice.  Global temperatures could increase by 1.4 to 5.8oC by 2100, and all studies agree that as the world becomes warmer, high latitudes will warm sooner and to a greater extent than low latitudes.  The greatest changes in temperature are projected to take place during the winter months -- extreme cold temperatures are expected to be less severe and occur less often.  Precipitation changes over the 21st century are expected to be modest; however, extreme precipitation events are likely to become more frequent.  Patterns of climate change are complicated, as they vary in rate and magnitude by region and by season.  Scientific data and local observations are summarized below.


Yukon Region - The Yukon has exhibited a clearly identifiable warming trend of 1.5oC over the past 100 years.  Warming has occurred mainly in winter and spring with a very weak trend in the summer and gradually decreasing temperatures in autumn.  Precipitation data shows that there has been an overall decrease in precipitation in the winter, while summer precipitation has been somewhat higher and more variable. Projections from climate models consistently show increases in temperatures year-round and increases in snow for the Yukon over the next century. Winters are projected to warm more than summers, with winter warming being greater at higher latitudes. Also, because of the moderating effect of the Beaufort Sea, summers are projected to warm up more in the south and central Yukon than in the North.  Projections for precipitation are considered to be more uncertain than for temperature change, and in general, models suggest increased winter precipitation that is greater with increasing latitude. Most models predict little change in average summer precipitation levels. Scenarios, however, point to more and bigger winter and summer storms.


Mackenzie Region – This region, which contains most of mainland Northwest Territories, has warmed by 1.5oC over the past 100 years. Scenarios project maximum warming in higher northern latitudes in winter, and little warming in summer.  Warming of up to 5oC by 2050 is expected, with variations from season to season.  A general increase in precipitation, of up to 25%, is also projected.


Arctic Tundra and Arctic Mountains and Fjords Regions – These two climate regions encompass the central and eastern Arctic. In the Arctic Tundra region, which includes the mainland of Nunavut, Banks Island and Victoria Island, there has been a warming of approximately 0.5°C.  In contrast, the Arctic Mountains and Fjords region in the extreme eastern high Arctic has cooled slightly, mainly in winter and spring. Scenarios for these regions project greater warming over land than over the sea, reduced warming or even cooling over part of the North Atlantic Ocean, greater warming in winter months, and greater warming with increasing latitude.   Winters should see a 5 to 7°C warming over the mainland and over much of the Arctic Islands, and up to a 10°C warming over central Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean northwest of the Islands.  Summers are likely to see up to a 5°C warming on the mainland and the central Arctic Islands, and a 1 to 2°C temperature rise over northern Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay and the northwestern High Arctic Islands. There is some suggestion that a modest cooling may occur over the extreme eastern Arctic in winter and spring. A general increase in precipitation, of up to 25%, is also projected for both regions.


Local Observations – Many northern Canadians are making first-hand observations of climate change. Local and traditional knowledge is adding an important dimension to our understanding of impacts.  Whitehorse-based Northern Climate ExChange (NCE) initiated discussions with Yukon communities in 2000 to get a sense of the level of concern and of what local information on climate change exists.  The NCE concluded from these discussions that climate change is no longer an abstract idea in the Yukon, and the issue has emerged as a major area of public concern.  However, public opinion on what to do about climate change differs, and varies within and among communities. We also noted that there exists a tremendous amount of extremely valuable local information on climate change, but very little of this information has been documented.   There are more questions than answers.  In addition, there is a paucity of information available to assist communities to understand and prepare for climate change impacts.  Even less information is available at a scale that is useful to community-level decision-making processes. Observations and concerns on climate change vary among and within communities, and community observations do not always mirror projections from models. 



2.   The projected impacts of climate change are of considerable concern to residents of the North due to the potential consequences to traditional lifestyles, resource development and conservation.  

From building winter roads on frozen lakes and rivers to the migration of caribou herds, climate is an important factor in the management, development and conservation of natural resources, and in the sustainability of northern communities.   An introduction to some of the potential impacts of climate change on the northern territories is provided below. 

Agriculture – Soils and climate conditions in the North are generally unfavourable to agricultural production. However, some areas in the Yukon have a moderate agricultural capability and agriculture is a small but important component of the Yukon wage economy. An increase in the growing season may enable cultivation of a wider variety of crops and increased yields. Longer growing seasons may increase the potential for greenhouse production. However, the capability for enhanced agricultural production as a result of climate change is limited by soil conditions, and future precipitation patterns.  The impacts of climate change on northern food supplies are much greater if subsistence activities, such as hunting and gathering, are considered – this is discussed below.

Forestry - In Yukon and NWT, forestry is a small but important contributor to the economy, and there is interest in growth in this sector.  In the Yukon, the number of forest fires and hectares burned has been increasing since the 1960s. This trend is expected to continue, as temperatures warm and lightning storms become more frequent. Spruce Bark beetles killed almost all of the mature white spruce over some 200,000 hectares in the Alsek River corridor in Kluane National Park and in the Shakwak Valley north of Haines Junction between 1994-1999. A series of mild winters and springs provided good breeding conditions for the beetles, allowing them to multiply rapidly.  In the Mackenzie Basin, without changes in fire management the number and severity of forest fires is projected to increase and the average number of hectares burned annually is expected to double by 2050. In addition, the number of hectares in the Basin that are projected to become susceptible to the White Pine Weevil would more than double to include all of the forested area.


Infrastructure  - In some areas, permafrost melt will increase the risk of landslides, which, if located near infrastructure, can result in considerable damage.  Permafrost melt also threatens the structural integrity of older buildings, water supplies and waste disposal infrastructure. Melting of permafrost may cause the rupture and buckling of pipelines and storage tanks used for water and sewage. Roads, airstrips and buildings will also suffer from ground instability, particularly in areas where the soil contains a lot of ice.


Industry - Climate change has the potential to significantly affect commercial and industrial activity, resulting in economic impacts. Changes to precipitation could require costly upgrades and redesign of tailings dams and water diversion structures in the mining industry. As well, an increase in the frost-free period could affect access to many oil and gas exploration sites, now reached via winter roads built on frozen ground. More erratic winter conditions could affect the developing film production sector in the Yukon, as one of the major factors in its success has been the ability to provide snow much earlier and much later than other locations. On the positive side, longer, warmer summers could increase tourism and the number of visitors to the northern territories.


Transportation – In many areas of the North, transportation routes rely on the properties of frozen ground materials for stability.  Warmer winters are causing problems for ice roads. They are freezing later and melting earlier in the spring. This has made transporting goods to the communities and mines that depend on these roads more difficult. As the climate changes and temperatures rise, these problems are expected to increase. With warmer temperatures, the Northwest Passage may become an international shipping route. While this may bring opportunities for enhanced trade, there are also many potential environmental and social implications.  Indeed, the matter is already raising questions of Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters.


Water Resources – The hydrology of the North is particularly susceptible to warming because small rises in temperature will result in increased melting of snow and ice. The runoff regime is expected to be driven increasingly by rainfall, with less seasonal variation in runoff.  There will be more ponding of water in some areas, but peatlands may dry out because of increased evaporation and plant transpiration.  In some areas, thawing of permafrost may affect infiltration.  Climate change may affect hydropower generation in the Yukon. While the net effect is uncertain, increases in the amount of water runoff may boost hydropower capacity, while possible heavy storms and sediment loading may reduce its potential. Spring flood damage could be more severe and frequent along rivers and streams.


Permafrost - Perennially frozen ground, or permafrost, can be found in a significant portion of the North.  In the southern Yukon and NWT, permafrost is discontinuous and is only present beneath about 10% of the land but the proportion of permanently frozen land increases with increasing latitude with decreasing mean annual temperatures.  In areas where the permafrost is only a few degrees below 0°C it is considered to be particularly vulnerable to climate change.  Already, permafrost areas have been reduced, and a general warming of ground temperatures has been observed in many areas. If the climate warms as projected, seasonal thaw will increase and permafrost will become thinner or disappear in some areas. 


Sea Ice – Arctic sea-ice extent has decreased by 2.9% per decade over the 1978-1996 period. Sea ice has thinned, and there are now more melt days in the summer. Climate change models are projecting major changes in northern sea ice, including a possible reduction in summer ice extent by 60% for a doubling of carbon dioxide and possibly a complete disappearance of summer ice by 2100. Early ice breakup or complete loss of ice would have a profound effect on northern lifestyles.  Already, communities along the Arctic Coast are experiencing problems because of lower winter ice levels. Open water in early winter is causing stormy waters to accelerate the erosion of Tuktoyaktuk’s coastline.  In some areas, coastal erosion is requiring buildings to be abandoned or relocated.


Marine Ecosystems – Climate change is expected to reduce the extent and thickness of sea ice in many parts of the Arctic, and cause it to break up earlier. In areas with extensive ice further north, climate change may be advantageous if it results in more areas of open water. However, where ice breaks up earlier, animals that are dependent on sea ice - including seals, walrus and polar bears - will be disadvantaged. Walrus and some seals (bearded, ringed, harp and hooded seals) may lose the sea ice platforms they use for breeding, nursing pups, resting and moulting.  Polar bears rely on ice to give them access to the seals that are their main source of food.   In Western Hudson Bay, ice break-up was on average 2 weeks earlier in the 1990s than in the 1970s, and these changing ice conditions may result in no Polar bears residing in the Hudson Bay area within 50 years.  The entire marine food chain depends on plankton and other microrganisms, the abundance of which may be affected by changes in the thickness and distribution of sea ice. This could have far-reaching effects on the marine ecosystem.


Terrestrial Ecosystems – As warming occurs, there will be changes in species compositions with a tendency for poleward shifts in species assemblages and loss of some polar species.   In some areas of the Yukon and NWT, mammals, like moose, whitetail deer, coyotes, and cougars, are already being observed further north than usual.  This may be related to effects of climate change further down the food chain.  An increase in the number and types of plants available for herbivores as a result of warmer temperatures may be attracting herbivores further north, and carnivores will follow the herbivores.  However, changes in the timing and location of food sources, an increase in parasites and insect-borne disease, and more insect harassment may lead to declines in some animal populations, such as caribou and muskox.  For birds, warming may extend nesting seasons, provide more food for young, and decrease chick mortality. However, delayed spring thaw may decrease the foraging ability of migrating birds. Permafrost melt may substantially alter ecosystems and landscapes and, where melting permafrost results in landslides, water quality and fish and wildlife will be harmed.


Traditional Lifestyles - Changes in sea ice, seasonality of snow, and habitat and diversity of food species will affect hunting and gathering practices and could threaten long-standing traditions and ways of life.  Increased temperatures cause birds, mammals and insects to move further north every year.  Elders are already reporting species of birds and wildlife that have never been seen as far north before. Changes to the range, number and health of animals, fish and plant species will ultimately affect the lives of Indigenous people who depend on them. This may lead to changes in hunting and harvesting practices, and may threaten traditional food supplies. Traditional knowledge is used to predict ice conditions and guide hunters in their travels and work. However, as temperatures increase and ice conditions change, predictions become more difficult and travelling more dangerous. 


3.   The impacts of climate change on northern Indigenous peoples deserve special mention because of their relationship to the land and existing and emerging regional governance responsibilities.  

The natural history of Canada’s North is a powerful example of the strong relationships between climate, environmental conditions, and human activity.  Climate has been a major influence on the settlement and development of Canada’s northern regions.  Long before Europeans arrived in North America, Indigenous peoples of the North survived and prospered in this region because they understood the natural environment and how to adapt to its changing conditions. Climate influenced every aspect of the lives of the First peoples who inhabited the North, including where they lived, gathered food, and established their seasonal hunting and fishing camps.


Today, residents of northern Canada are seeing increasing evidence of climate change and experiencing the effects first hand. These direct observations add an important dimension to our understanding of climate change. Experience-based ecological knowledge, also referred to as traditional ecological knowledge, offers insights into animal behaviour, ecological relationships, and environmental health and is broadly recognized as a legitimate, accurate and useful source of information.   A great deal of local and traditional knowledge about climate change impacts exists, but relatively little of it has been documented.  Local observations can complement scientific information, offering a more regional, holistic and longer-term perspective.  Local knowledge can also provide a level of regional detail beyond the capacity of current scientific models and analyses. Interest in building partnerships among scientists, First Nations, and northern communities has increased in the past couple of decades, and most of the documented local and traditional knowledge has been collected in regions where scientific research has been focused.


Northern Indigenous peoples are highly resilient; however, the cumulative effects of climate change and globalization may result in unexpected challenges to cultural sustainability. In some areas, Indigenous peoples are already altering their hunting patterns to accommodate changes to the ice regime and distribution of harvested species.  It is well known that northern Indigenous peoples are likely to be heavily impacted -- culturally, socially, environmentally and economically -- as a result of climate change.  As a result, Indigenous organizations in northern Canada are seeking a more meaningful role in research, outreach, action and international negotiations on climate change. 


4.   In general, NCE analysis shows that our level of understanding of projected climate changes and the impacts of those changes is poor. 

The NCE completed a Gap Analysis to assess the current state of knowledge of the impacts of climate change in northern Canada.  In general, our analysis showed that current information concerning northern systems, predicted climate changes, and the impacts of those changes on northern systems is poor. There are over 1800 references in our Climate Change Infosources Database but many make only a passing reference to climate change. Impacts at the regional scale are very poorly understood and studies are not evenly distributed across the North.


Most climate change research in the North has focused on physical environmental features such as land, permafrost, and coastlines.  Therefore, we are better able to project changes in physical systems than in biological or socio-economic ones.  As a further challenge, complex systems, which are influenced by many variables, are more poorly understood than simple ones. In addition, existing knowledge tends to be focused more on aspects of economic significance than on non-economic ones. Terrestrial ecosystems have received more research attention than have marine or aquatic ecosystems.  Suprisingly enough, social impacts of climate change have received the least amount of research attention.  In fact, most of the documented information on this topic merely confirms the lack of knowledge in this area.


5.   The ability to understand climate change and its impacts and, in turn, develop adaptation responses in Canada’s North is hampered by the current level of research and monitoring.  

There are information gaps that need to be filled through a process of communication and community engagement. As noted before, long-term, regionally focused studies of climate change and its impacts on northern systems are scarce, and yet they are critical to understanding vulnerability and to develop adaptation responses.  One multi-year study, the Mackenzie Basin Impact Study (MBIS), conducted multidisciplinary, stakeholder-directed research that integrated various sources of knowledge, and added greatly to the understanding of climate change and its impacts in northern Canada.  This study is discussed in more detail in section 6 of this document. Similarly structured studies would be valuable for other regions in the North as this approach emphasizes building partnerships, includes social, political and economic perspectives, and ensures that knowledge gaps are addressed in a systematic manner.


The level of funding directed towards northern research affects the ability of those interested in pursuing large-scale research efforts such as MBIS, which are essential if Northerners are to cope with the unprecedented social, physical and environmental challenges currently facing the region. Funding cutbacks and government downsizing over the past decade have resulted in a decline in research activity and training on northern issues at Canadian universities. The situation became so serious that, in 1998, the Arctic science community was called upon by a group of alarmed researchers to alert the Canadian government to take action to secure the future of Arctic science before Canada’s capacity to perform Arctic research collapses entirely.


In September 2000, a task force was established by two of the primary funders of university-based research in Canada -- the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) -- to look into these concerns.  Following extensive consultation and investigation, they concluded that northern research is in a state of crisis.  The task force urged Canada to rebuild its university-based northern research capacity.  In addition, it developed a number of program and policy recommendations to address these issues.  The report called for new partnerships between universities and northern communities and the direct involvement of Northerners in research and training.  Some of these recommendations, including the establishment of Northern Chairs, were implemented.  However, funding for community-based initiatives has not yet improved.


Lack of long-term data collection and climate monitoring in the North affect also our collective ability to understand climate trends. In most areas, monitoring in northern Canada only began in the 1950s.   Cutbacks to the climate and hydrology monitoring networks took place in the late 1990s.  According to Environment Canada, of the 41 climate monitoring stations currently operating in the Yukon, 18 are considered vulnerable and scheduled for closure if third-party funding is not found to keep them open. Similar reductions are expected in Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These additional cutbacks are likely to hamper the amount and quality of research in the North that is directed at understanding the impacts of climate change.  The tragedy is that the current density does not permit a sufficient understanding of climate trends.  Adaptation planning must be based on a factual understanding of climate trends, and without this basic information we may be unable to prevent ineffective or maladaptive measures from being implemented.


Clearly, challenges lie ahead for developing responses to climate change in northern Canada. The crisis in northern research in Canada will not be resolved simply or quickly. It requires a long-term commitment to capacity building and new, flexible, funding initiatives. Building capacity for research must take place within the context of a broad policy development process.


6.   Discussion and development of climate change adaptation responses in Canada’s North are critical, and are now only in their very early stages.  Some important groundwork has been laid, but much more needs to be done to ensure sustainability of northern communities, ecosystems and ways of life in northern Canada. 

Adaptation has always been part of the way of life in the North. The rate, however, at which changes are projected to occur will make future adaptation much more challenging.  Climate change is altering the relationships of people to their environments.  Consequently, it is vital that we understand those relationships so we can determine vulnerability. Northern Canada is extremely vulnerable to climate change.  Major ecological, sociological, and economic impacts are expected.  Places where water is close to its melting point are highly sensitive to climate change, so biophysical and socioeconomic systems in these areas are particularly vulnerable.


Vulnerability to climate change differs from community to community.  Furthermore, as communities grow and change, the nature of their vulnerability and responses can change. There are large regional differences in development, infrastructure, governance, and the adaptive capacity across the North.  Northern communities are fairly reliant on assistance from the South for their ongoing sustainability, and this reliance may well increase with the pressures caused by climate change.  However, it is vital to recognize that local communities are best positioned to understand and assess their vulnerability to climate change. 


The IPCC has concluded that Indigenous peoples of the North are more sensitive to climate change than non-indigenous peoples because their homelands and hunting habitats will be directly affected.  The Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Ed Schultz, has stated that CYFN is particularly concerned about the impact of climate change on the northern food chain.  Chief Shultz has identified the need to work in international arenas to encourage people everywhere to change their ways as a priority item for his organization.


The rate and magnitude of present-day climate change is unprecedented. It will affect the future of northern Canada.  At present, there is an insufficient understanding of the implications, especially within the context of other forces of change affecting the region, including oil and gas development, population expansion, diamond mining, and wilderness tourism.  Successful long-term responses to climate change will require action by many stakeholders.  As noted before, there is a crucial need for the direct participation of northern residents and institutions in climate change impacts and adaptation dialogue.  Research to fill critical information gaps will be essential to enable northern decision makers to develop appropriate strategies and responses. Researcher-stakeholder partnerships are essential to address the particular information needs of northern communities, and to incorporate sound information into management and planning activities.


Successful adaptation to the impacts of climate change will depend on technological advances, institutional arrangements, and availability of financing and information exchange. To develop effective adaptation strategies, it is vital to link scientists, policy makers and practitioners.  However, discussions and development of responses on adaptation in Canada’s North are currently in their very early stages.  Although some important groundwork has been laid, through initiatives such as the MBIS, the NCE, and C-CIARN North, much more work in this area is required to ensure sustainability of northern communities, ecosystems and ways of life in northern Canada.


Mackenzie Basin Impact Study  

The Mackenzie Basin in northwestern Canada was the subject of a major climate change study between 1990-1996. At 1800 km in length, the Mackenzie River is the longest in Canada and its basin drains approximately 20% of the country.   MBIS sought to understand the potential impacts of global warming on regions and inhabitants within the basin. This six-year cooperative study, which applied a scientist-stakeholder approach, was one of the first attempts at an integrated regional assessment of climate change. The assessment framework recognized that stakeholder involvement was essential in defining the objectives of the study and in identifying priority areas for research to help to target limited financial and human resources.   Scientists examined “what if” scenarios of climate change and stakeholders answered “so what” discussions on responses to the issues.  Both groups collaborated on “what should be done” and suggestions were both reactive and proactive. The MBIS collaboration helped to build capacity, increase stakeholders’ sense of ownership of the issue, provide opportunities for mutual learning, and prepare a foundation for creating a regionally based institution focused on disseminating climate change information.  As a result, this kind of approach led to a richer form of integration; one that is more relevant to the end-users of the information, than would have been achieved by models alone. This one study added greatly to the understanding of climate change and its impacts in northern Canada.


Northern Climate ExChange 

Dialogue and information exchange are critical to developing adaptation responses.  The NCE is a new organization at the Northern Research Institute of Yukon College.  It was established in 2000 and evolved from a need for enhanced institutional capacity in the North that was recognized by both the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada.  The Government of Yukon understood the significance of the science of climate change and the need to encourage adaptation due to the unique vulnerabilities of the territory. In addition, the Government of Yukon wanted enhanced capacity in tracking the results of research to highlight issues that may require a response by government.  The Government of Canada recognized the need for regional capacity building as a requirement for Canada to meet its international Kyoto commitments.


The primary objective of the new NCE was to initiate a dialogue with stakeholder organizations and government agencies to determine priority activities for the centre.  We received advice that the NCE should be a catalyst for climate change knowledge and awareness and be a central source of information with respect to climate change initiatives. We were also recommended to allow for various tiers of access (levels of detail and manners of presentation) when providing information.  We were requested to facilitate processes whereby experts and decision makers could gather to develop a dialogue on strategies to reduce our vulnerability to climate change impacts.  We were asked to track industries, sectors and ecosystems that are being affected by current climatic variation to identify emerging issues, and to thoroughly investigate the nature of information required to address climate change impacts and adaptation issues across the North.  We were also recommended to foster partnerships and to assist with getting climate change on the agenda of existing consultation processes, and to play a facilitative role in generating consensus in the community on difficult adaptation questions.  The final recommendation was to visit Yukon communities to record community observations on climate change, and discuss what should be accomplished in the Yukon to tackle climate change in the short and long term. These recommendations have largely defined the programs and activities underway at the centre.


In March 2001, the NCE hosted the Circumpolar Climate Change Summit.  This event brought together scientists, policy makers, industry representatives and community leaders from northern regions to discuss what we know, what we don’t know, and where we should go from here with respect to actions on climate change.  The primary conference theme, Uncertain Future, Deliberate Action – Climate Change in the Circumpolar North, resulted in the release of the Whitehorse Declaration on Northern Climate Change (Appendix A).  This declaration is symbolic of northerners’ strong desire to work towards northern-relevant solutions on the climate change issue. The strength of the Declaration lies in the process through which it was created, as it represents the collective voice of a wide range of interested parties and individuals.



C-CIARN North 

Discussions on the role and structure of C-CIARN North first began at a workshop in Yellowknife in February 2000. At this workshop, many commonalties emerged in concerns and ideas for further action regarding climate change impacts and adaptation.  There was wide agreement that climate change is very real, and is occurring with observable and significant impacts that are likely to increase resulting in potential negative consequences. Establishing focal points for coordination and communication of climate change information and research was a need that was identified for the North. It was also generally agreed that the geography and diversity that characterize the North make it necessary to have several offices, operating in each territory, that are linked together by a network.


Focusing on the impacts of climate change and adaptation to a changing climate, C-CIARN North began operations in November 2001 and is now a growing network of researchers and stakeholders spanning the North, and is part of the national network. Its goal is to facilitate collaboration, reduce duplication in research, and help focus the efforts of researchers where they are needed most. The northern office consists of one coordinator in each territory: at the Northern Climate ExChange in Yukon, Aurora Research Institute in the Northwest Territories and at the Nunavut Research Institute in Nunavut.  A territorial working group and a pan-northern information-sharing group support each coordinating office in their efforts to initiate dialogues around impacts and adaptation research.   This important initiative will continue to build capacity by drawing together researchers and stakeholders, identifying knowledge gaps and research questions, improving access to information, and providing a stronger voice and visibility to the issue.

Appendix A

Circumpolar Climate Change Summit

Whitehorse Declaration on Northern

Climate Change


Whereas we recognize that residents of the Circumpolar North are witnessing disturbing and severe climatic and ecological changes; and,


Whereas we recognize that this interdisciplinary issue requires an unprecedented level of collaboration by all nations and all sectors of their societies; and


Whereas we recognize that Northern residents need to take stronger measures to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, and we also recognize that, regardless of the success of these measures, the Circumpolar North will remain highly reliant upon global actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;


Therefore, we the undersigned participants at the Circumpolar Climate Change Summit, held in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, on March 19th to 21st, 2001, declare that the following actions need to be taken to address climate change and its impacts in the Circumpolar North:



1.      We must develop a strong northern message on the effects of climate change and present this message nationally and internationally;


2.      We must use traditional knowledge and improve our scientific capacity to understand climate change impacts on northern ecosystems, economies, cultures, traditions and communities;


3.      We must develop tools that will enable communities to better understand climate change, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to changing climatic and environmental conditions;


4.      We must ensure that all new and existing policies, standards, regulations, legislation, and management agreements become consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our vulnerability to climate change;


5.      We must establish effective incentives and remove the many barriers to improved energy efficiency and the  widespread use of renewable energy; and,


6.      We must ensure that all institutions, businesses, governments, families and individuals take far stronger measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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