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The role of multiple stressors in adaptation to climate change in the Canadian Arctic

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Climate change is occurring at accelerated rates in the Arctic, and its impacts are being experienced by human communities in the context of other environmental and societal stressors. This paper argues that an assessment of human vulnerability to climate change requires knowledge of these stressors, including the interactions among them that influence people’s sensitivity to climate risks and adaptability. This paper examines the role of multiple stressors in adaptation to climate change through a case study of Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, Canada. It is based on collaborative research involving semi-structured interviews with 28 participants, participant observation, and analysis of secondary sources of information. In the context of subsistence harvesting, climatic stressors have affected access to, and the availability of, some fish and wildlife and are making travel conditions more unpredictable and dangerous. These stressors are being experienced at the same time as societal stressors such as financial and social barriers to participating in subsistence, challenges with local schooling, lifestyle changes, housing shortage and overcrowding, and addiction. Many of the coping strategies used by people in Paulatuk to deal with stressors involve trade-offs, such as leaving the community for school or leaving school to participate in subsistence and switching species harvested in response to a decline in one species, which has undermined resilience to other stressors. This research demonstrates the need to consider the role of pre-existing environmental and societal stressors and diversity within communities in climate change adaptation planning in the Arctic.

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Quyanainni to the people of Paulatuk for your wonderful hospitality, generosity, and support for this research. Thank you to those who shared your knowledge, experiences, stories, and insights that are at the heart of this study. Thank you, to the members of the PCC, HTC, and Hamlet for your continued support for this study. Thank you to Professor Roy Sidle, Professor Frank Duerden and Dr. Jesse Sayles for feedback on previous versions of this paper. Thank you to Marie Puddister, Department of Geography, University of Guelph for Fig. 1.


This research was made possible through the financial support of ArcticNet Project 1.1 “Community vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to climate change in the Canadian Arctic,” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant Project “Vulnerability and resilience to climate change in the Canadian Arctic,” the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, a University of the Sunshine Coast Faculty of Arts, Business and Law Higher Degree by Research scholarship and infrastructure support from Parks Canada and the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

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Correspondence to Eric Lede.

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Communicated by Robbert Biesbroek

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Lede, E., Pearce, T., Furgal, C. et al. The role of multiple stressors in adaptation to climate change in the Canadian Arctic. Reg Environ Change 21, 50 (2021).

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