Climate Change Adaptation for the Community of Ulukhaktok

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 12/13/2010 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Jessi Kershner

Project Summary

Ulukhaktok is a small community of primarily Inuit people in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of the western Canadian Arctic. Climate change is considered to be a significant challenge for Inuit communities and is already being experienced in the Canadian Arctic. Currently, adaptation to climate change impacts occurs at the individual or household level; they adapt to threats such as hazardous travel conditions by purchasing satellite radios and stockpiling fuel supplies. While this level of adaptation is important, enacting broader policy initiatives that provide long-term strategies for the community is key. The Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for Ulukhaktok builds on previously established relationships to document climate change issues in the community, prioritize key concerns, and identify potential adaptation strategies. 


Ulukhaktok is a small community (approximately 400 people) located on the west coast of Victoria Island in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of the Northwest Territories, Canada. This region is at the forefront of climate change: increasing temperatures, shifting seasonal patterns, reductions in summer sea ice, and weather variability threaten the natural environment as well as individual and community livelihood. Changes in the local environment are affecting subsistence harvesting, which people in these communities depend on, thus food security becomes an issue. Simultaneously, harvester safety is a concern because of risks associated with travel as well as limited search and rescue capabilities. At the community level, permafrost thaw threatens municipal infrastructure and buildings. Increased cruise ship tourism as a result of reductions in summer sea ice is another impact of climate change on the Ulukhaktok community.

Currently, adaptation to climate change is autonomous; individuals or households are adapting to threats such as food security and hazardous travel conditions by stockpiling food, purchasing satellite radios and phones, or utilizing different modes of transportation.

While this level of adaptation is important, broader policy initiatives are needed to deliver long-term solutions and strategies for these communities to cope with the likely effects of future climate change. 


The climate change adaptation planning process in Ulukhaktok was divided into four stages:

  1. Literature review and gap analysis. This stage identified current understanding of climate change vulnerability in the ISR and was completed in 2009 (see Pearce et al. 2009; Ford and Pearce 2010).
  2. Vulnerability assessment and identification of adaptation actions. This stage built on previous relationships with Ulukhaktok community members in order to access stakeholder knowledge (e.g., understanding of local subsistence economy) related to climate change impacts and adaptation. Initial individual or household level consultations provided the starting point to document issues and key concerns related to climate change in the community. A series of adaptation planning working groups were convened to identify potential adaptation actions to address climate change issues affecting the community.
  3. Examine and prioritize adaptation actions. Once key problems and proposed actions were identified, local working groups and decision-making bodies prioritized and reviewed actions to determine the most effective and direct use of community resources. Adaptation actions were assessed for importance, urgency, feasibility, durability, opportunities for mainstreaming, and timeline. Detailed technical and policy analysis of adaptation actions also occurred.
  4. Implementation and performance monitoring. Prioritized adaptation actions will be implemented and monitored to evaluate progress.

Steps 2-3 were addressed in the Ulukhaktok Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan. Five working group themes were identified: Business and Economy; Culture and Learning; Health and Well-being; Subsistence Harvesting; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Adaptation Action Tables summarized key results for each sector. The tables contained five columns of information including: priority, adaptation action, climate change issue, desired outcome, and resources and leadership.

The highest priority issues identified by the Ulukhaktok community included:

  • Business and Economy
    • Fewer polar bear sport hunters means less income for guides and helpers
    • Increased cruise ship traffic because of less multi-year ice can boost tourism revenue, but may cause problems if ships are unregulated (e.g., sewage discharge and other contaminants)
  • Culture and Learning
    • Erosion of traditional knowledge and land skills could lead to increased risk of danger
    • Changing environmental conditions affects hunting and creates need to develop new skills to travel and hunt
    • Loss of language impedes transmission of knowledge and land skills between generations
  • Health and Well-being
    • Changing travel conditions and species availability affects access to foods, leading to increased consumption of store-bought foods and decreased health
    • Warmer temperatures increases risk of meat spoiling
    • Permafrost thaw increases the potential for leaching contaminants from municipal waste site
    • Increasingly dry summers leads to more incidents of health problems
  • Subsistence Harvesting
    • Changing and unpredictable conditions restricts access to hunting areas
    • Changes in traveling conditions and species availability necessitates that hunters take longer trips and carry more supplies, which increases the cost of hunting
  • Transportation and Infrastructure
    • Changing environmental conditions affects garbage dump
    • Permafrost thaw affects building integrity

Outcomes and Conclusions

Implementation of adaptation actions that address the above priority concerns will hopefully occur soon. Climate change is an important factor in the Ulukhaktok community; however many other factors (e.g., health, housing, substance abuse, infrastructure, etc.) take the forefront. In order to mainstream adaptation, climate change should be addressed simultaneously with these other issues. Additionally, adaptation strategies do not necessarily need to be something new, but can make use of existing strategies by incorporating climate change into them. A similar adaptation action plan was designed for the Hamlet of Paulatuk, although their community priorities differed slightly.


Kershner, J. (2010). Climate Change Adaptation for the Community of Ulukhaktok [Case study on a project of ArcticNorth Consulting]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated December 2010)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

ArcticNorth Consulting was established by James Ford (PhD) and Tristan Pearce (PhD) to assist communities, businesses, and industry adapt to a changing climate. Dr. James Ford and Tristan Pearce are award winning scientists with extensive experience working with communities, governments, NGOs, and First Nations Groups across Canada and internationally on climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning. Their work has been disseminated in scholarly journals, books, policy reports, and major international publications (e.g. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report).

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