Inuit Vulnerability Index – Northern Canada (McGill 2016-2018)



North to south, east to west, governments around the world are trying to assess their vulnerability to climatic change and extreme weather events. Assessments often take one of two forms: (1) regional and national level assessments provide coarse-grained quantitative information about large regions, which is of limited use to decision makers in local communities; and (2) local community assessments often rely on nuanced qualitative and mixed-methods data, which can be difficult to scale-up.

With most of Canadas 60,000 Inuit living in 53 Arctic communities, relationships with the physical environment and the land are particularly strong, with many community members relying on land-based activities for their livelihood. Environmental and climatic changes such as temperatures changes, permafrost thaw, storm surges, and loss of sea ice are greatly impacting resource-dependent livelihoods.

While previous research provides a comprehensive picture of climate-related vulnerabilities among these communities, few studies have utilized an integrated framework to map and assess the totality of vulnerability to natural hazards and climatic change scenarios.  To address this, we are developing an integrative, multilevel vulnerability assessment in the Canadian Arctic that can support integrated local-to-regional planning.


We present a first step in developing a Canadian Arctic Vulnerability Index, to assess communities’ vulnerability to climatic change, including a baseline scenario and future projections. Approaches have been informed by the Brazilian National Vulnerability Assessment, Arctic vulnerability scholarship, and community input. Specifically, we plan to assess 1) what indicators are available at local, regional and federal level in the Arctic, 2) their feasibility for inclusion in the model, and 3) their importance for local communities. Our work will use downscaled weather data (exposure analysis) from Global Climate Models to regional levels, and use ground stations. These data sets will measure local changes on wind speed and direction, temperature, precipitation, permafrost thaw, sea ice extent, storm surge and extreme indices.

Other analysis indicators (sensitivity and adaptation capacity) include, but are not limited to: income, access to technologies such as snow machines and GPS, housing quality and quantity, education, mental health, wider economic activities and opportunities, and built infrastructure. We also consider intercommunity collaborations, search and rescue activities, and collaborations among and between local, provincial, and federal agencies as well as between public and private sectors. Our aim is to assess present and future vulnerabilities to climate changes in an integrative way that can assist local, province/territorial, and federal policies and decision making.

For the proposed vulnerability assessment, we will use the IPCC AR4 Report framework, which considers vulnerability to be a composite function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. In general, indices are more robust when parameterized for smaller areas; thus, compiling a unique index for a large area like the Canadian Arctic is a complex task. Some limitations will be inevitable due to the multiple stressors occurring in the area, and the responses communities are able to give in terms of exposure and sensitivity. These relations among vulnerability variables will have to be expressed by a mix of qualitative and quantitative indicators, which can be challenging to represent in their full complexity. In order to select the “best” indicators, we are planning to work with communities and regional stakeholders (through focus groups).

Phase I – Multiplex network analysis


Climatic Change (CC) is affecting Northern Canada abruptly raising concerns about Inuit resilience and adaptation in the long term. Even though much has been done at the local level to understand vulnerability in “Inuit Nunangat”, few studies have integrated findings into a system framework able to map Inuit exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. In this study we capture Inuit vulnerability transposing literature review findings into a multiplex network analysis determining which variables poses a higher degree of connectivity and importance in total Inuit vulnerability to CC. The aim of the multiplex network approach is to launch the parameterization of a CC index model to identify Inuit vulnerability hotspots covering Canada’s Northern Coasts. To accomplish this task, we fostered the detection of sources of vulnerability into four segments of Inuit life such as: infrastructure and transportation, business and economy, health and well-being and culture-education/subsistence and harvesting. The multiplex network analysis unfolded n = 58 paramount variables aggregated into n = 13 categories cross-cutting three vulnerability dimensions. Vulnerability results depict a high degree of exposure caused by extreme weather events such as floods, temperature changes, storm surge and coastal erosion. Sensitivity is mostly driven by cost of living and relative poverty, while adaptive capacity decreases the latter through natural resources and risk management, future planning and wage income. The multiplex results also revealed that some nodes edges are more multiplex than others, showing that certain variables are highly interchangeable in the entire Inuit vulnerability system.

Phase II – Vulnerability Index

  • in development…

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