Sustainable Development Initiatives in the Polar Town of Iqaluit, Canada

Kirsten Feifel
Posted on: 3/15/2010 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

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Kirsten Feifel

Project Summary

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada funded the city of Iqaluit to identify vulnerabilities of existing infrastructure and develop adaptation options. In particular, the city focused on the impacts that thawing permafrost, increases in extreme weather, changes in precipitation patterns, changes to the coastal environment, and increases in ultraviolet radiation could have on its buildings, roads, water supply, and wastewater treatment facilities. To complete this project, an extensive literature review was conducted and future climate was inferred using seven General Circulation Models (GCMs) run under 29 temperature and precipitation scenarios. The report includes several adaptation options to increase the resilience of this coastal, polar community.


Iqaluit is the capital of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut. It is located on the south coast of Baffin Island adjacent to Frobisher Bay. It has a typically Arctic climate with cold winters and short summers; the mean annual temperature is minus 10°C. Climate models project that temperatures will be 1.5-4°C warmer by the 2050s. Its growing population is forcing the government to plan for new residential units; in 2001, the city’s population was just over 7,250, a 24% increase from the 1996 census. High birth rates, increased life expectancy, and a relatively young population (~60% are under the age of 25) account for the rapid increases in population. Eighty-five percent of the population identify themselves as Inuit and the most common spoken language is Inuktitut. Existing infrastructure has been damaged due to recent changes in climate. Iqaluit’s buildings and roads were designed based upon historical climate data, but warmer temperatures, increased precipitation, and thawing permafrost are proving to be incompatible with existing building codes.


To complete the project, an extensive literature review was conducted to assess regional climatic conditions, projected climatic trends, and probable impacts to Arctic communities. Local community residents and those individuals who design, build, and maintain infrastructure within Iqaluit were interviewed. Climate scenarios were developed for Iqaluit using 29 temperature and precipitation scenarios from seven GCMs. By 2069, the models predict a mean temperature increase of 3.1°C with a range of 2.5-4.3°C relative to the baseline climate from 1961-1990. Precipitation is projected to increase by six percent with a range of 0-9% relative to baseline climate. Buildings in Iqaluit are mostly built on pile foundations that elevate the structures off the ground to protect the permafrost layer below. If temperatures rise, the integrity of the permafrost layer could become compromised and cause an increase in the active layer; foundations could experience a loss of bearing capacity and result in structural damage, causing economic losses to the city. Similarly, an increased active layer within the permafrost could compromise roads, causing buckling and pitting as the ground thaws and readjusts. Many of Iqaluit’s water and wastewater pipes are buried in the ground to protect them from the harsh environment. Changes in temperature will have implications on the buried pipe system.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The final report outlines and ranks adaptation options for each projected climate impact. Notable strategies include:

Changes in permafrost

  • Inventory vulnerable infrastructure and buildings
  • Identify roads that are vulnerable to land subsidence
  • Monitor changes in permafrost and ground temperatures

Changes in extreme weather events and precipitation

  • Revise the city’s disaster management plan
  • Examine the city’s drainage system and identify vulnerabilities
  • Develop an anti-litter campaign to reduce drainage blocks
  • Develop protocol to close city operations during extreme weather
  • Promote building codes that can withstand extreme weather events

Changes in the coastal environment

  • Develop a flood and storm surge recovery plan for vulnerable infrastructure
  • Develop a Coastal Area Protection Plan
  • Install tide gauges to assess sea level rise

Changes in water quality and quantity

  • Increase local water storage reservoirs to offset potential losses of precipitation.
  • Develop and implement a water conservation program


  • Create an Impacts & Adaptation Information Database to house all information related to climate change and infrastructure.

To enhance the community’s resilience to climate change, the report recommends that the local government integrate climate change into all future decisions. Some suggested policies include:

  • Restrict development in areas vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.
  • Require that all future construction projects be designed with future climate change considerations incorporated.
  • Regulate culvert size in new developments to assure they have the capacity to cope with projected increases in precipitation.


Feifel, K. (2010). Sustainable Development Initiatives in the Polar Town of Iqaluit, Canada [Case study on a project of the City of Iqaluit]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated March 2010)

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Working together with our citizens, we will create a sustainable and environmentally responsible Arctic capital. By respecting our rich historical and cultural heritage, we will succeed in forging a community government that empowers our citizens to participate in positive community development.

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