A woman and child in the Arctic. Photo: iStock

The Arctic is home to almost four million people today – Indigenous peoples, more recent arrivals, hunters and herders living on the land and city dwellers. Roughly 10 percent of the inhabitants are Indigenous and many of their peoples distinct to the Arctic. They continue their traditional activities in the context of an ever-changing world. Yet, as the Arctic environment changes, so do livelihoods, cultures, traditions, languages and identities of Indigenous peoples and other communities.

Changes in the Arctic affect inhabitants in various ways. Arctic communities are already facing challenges that result from the impacts of climate change, demonstrating the need for action to strengthen resilience and facilitate adaptation. At the same time, the Arctic offers potential for sustainable economic development that both brings benefits to local communities and offers ground for innovation transcending the region.

Human well-being in the Arctic

To cater for the differing needs of Arctic inhabitants, the human dimension of the Arctic Council’s work covers a wide array of areas, from mental and physical health and well-being, to sustainable development, local engagement, education, youth and gender equality. Arctic peoples are represented in the Council by the Permanent Participants, and their work is supported by the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat.

Improving physical and mental health

Several groups of people in the Arctic are highly exposed to environmental contaminants, such as mercury. Their level of exposure is greatly dependent on their lifestyle, including diets. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) has been assessing the impacts of various contaminants on human health since 1998 and is continuing to contribute to a substantial knowledge base on the issue.

Arctic communities are also experiencing elevated rates of suicide, especially amongst young people. The Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) has been leading the Council’s efforts to address this issue and to engage those most affected in an open discussion about mental health and suicide prevention.

Engaging Indigenous peoples and local communities

Indigenous peoples have lived in the Arctic for centuries. They have learned to adopt to a changing environment over time, and thus hold a fundamental knowledge base of the lands and waters of their homelands. The Arctic Council and its Working Groups acknowledge that the inclusion of traditional knowledge and local knowledge is vital for exploring solutions to emerging issues in the Arctic, and to provide the best available knowledge as a basis for decision-making.

The active participation of the Permanent Participants is one of the key features of the Arctic Council and both the Protection of Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group and SDWG have developed good practices for an active involvement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Giving a voice to Arctic youth

"Arctic youth is not just the future but also the present."

Indigenous youth leaders coined this slogan when they gathered for the first Arctic Leaders’ Youth Summit in Rovaniemi, Finland. They called for a more active involvement in the issues that affect them – now and in the future.

Over the years, the Arctic Council has stepped up its efforts to engage youth. Working Groups like CAFF and SDWG have been forerunners in not just looking at how youth is affected by a changing Arctic but in actively involving them in their projects. Now the Arctic Council is taking its effort to involve youth to the next level and is exploring cooperation possibilities with organizations like the Arctic Youth Network.

For a gender equal Arctic

Changes in the Arctic affect both men and women – although sometimes in different ways. Gender equality is therefore an important element for achieving sustainable development. The Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2019-2021) has made it a priority to promote a dialogue on gender equality in the Arctic and to strengthen a network of experts and stakeholders in the field.

Featured Projects

Garbage incinerator in Greenland. Photo: iStock / olli0815
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Assessing and mitigating the risks of black carbon to public health.
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The Tundra Project
Energy security is an ongoing issue for remote, off-grid communities in the Arctic, and maintaining systems that provide reliable and uninterrupted sources of energy can be difficult and expensive. Co...
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Cod drying. Photo: iStock
Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic Region
The sustainable and intelligent use of renewable aquatic natural resources, with a focus on improving utilization and creating higher-value products.
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Indigenous Youth, Food Knowledge and Arctic Change (EALLU) II
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Good Practices for impact assessments and engagement
The Good Practices for Environmental Impact Assessment and Meaningful Engagement in the Arctic (Arctic EIA) provides Arctic-specific recommendations for large-scale projects in the vulnerable and chan...
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Arctic Sustainable Energy Futures Toolkit
The project created a comprehensive long-­term energy planning process for socially-­desirable and economically-­feasible energy solutions for communities in the Arctic by developing an Arctic Sustain...
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Prevention, Preparedness and Response for small communities
EPPR has been working with small communities to improve their safety in case of an oil spill event.
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Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy (ARENA)
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Resilience and management of Arctic wetlands
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Local 2 Global: Circumpolar collaboration for suicide prevention and mental wellness
Local 2 Global aims to facilitate international collaboration and connections between circumpolar communities working to prevent suicide and support the mental wellbeing of all Arctic youth and commun...
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Arctic Children: Preschool and School Education
The nomadic school project is aimed at the analysis and evaluation of educational practices without interrupting the traditional way of life of Indigenous peoples – children of nomads, providing them ...
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Photo: Hjalti Hreinsson
Gender Equality in the Arctic
GEA is an international collaborative project focusing on gender equality in the Arctic, beginning in 2013. Phase 3 of the project began in 2019.
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Photo: iStock / RyersonClark
One Health
A theoretical concept and practical approach for developing and sustaining broad interdisciplinary collaboration – to identify, prevent, and mitigate health risks in humans, animals and the environmen...
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Ship in the Arctic. Photo: iStock / Alexey_Seafarer
Arctic Marine Tourism: Development in the Arctic and enabling real change
The Arctic Marine Tourism Project (AMTP) analyzes and promotes sustainable tourism across the circumpolar Arctic.
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Permafrost erosion in Alaska. Photo: USGS / M. Torre Jorgenson
Climate Issues: Cryosphere, meteorology, ecosystem impacts
AMAP is further developing work on thresholds and extremes, Arctic/mid-latitude weather connections and performance of global models in the Arctic, with contributions from the meteorology community. T...
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