Almost four million people live in the Arctic today, with the precise number depending on where the boundary is drawn. They include indigenous people and recent arrivals, hunters and herders living on the land, and city dwellers. Many distinct indigenous groups are found only in the Arctic, where they continue traditional activities and adapt to the modern world at the same time. Humans have long been a part of the arctic system, shaping and being shaped by the local and regional environment. In the past few centuries, the influx of new arrivals has increased pressure on the arctic environment through rising fish and wildlife harvests and industrial development.

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The Arctic includes part or all of the territories of eight nations: Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Russia and the United States, as well as the homelands of dozens of indigenous groups that encompass distinct sub-groups and communities. Indigenous people currently make up roughly 10% of the total arctic population, though in Canada, they represent about half the nation's arctic population, and in Greenland they are the majority. Non-indigenous residents also include many different peoples with distinct identities and ways of life.

Populations are changing and northern regions are becoming more tightly related economically, politically, and socially to national mainstreams. Life expectancy has increased greatly across most of the Arctic in recent decades. The prevalence of indigenous language use, however, has decreased in most areas, with several languages in danger of disappearing in coming decades. In some respects, the disparities between northern and southern arctic communities in terms of living standards, income, and education are decreasing, although the gaps remain large in most cases.

The economy of the region is based largely on natural resources, from oil, gas, and metal ores to fish, reindeer, caribou, whales, seals and birds. In recent decades, tourism has added a growing sector to the economies of many communities and regions of the Arctic. Government services including the military are also a major part of the economy in nearly all areas of the Arctic, responsible in some cases for over half of the available jobs. In addition to the cash economy, traditional subsistence and barter economies make a major contribution to the overall well-being of parts of the region, producing significant value that is not recorded in official statistics.1

The Arctic Council promote sustainable development in the Arctic region, including economic and social development, improved health conditions and cultural well-being for Arctic peoples.

(Ref. 1. ACIA, Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press, 2004. pp. 6-7)


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Photo: Jewelry made of reindeer antlers with reindeer etching | Original photo by Linnea Nordström