This website is the digital version of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, produced in collaboration with the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

For the official version, please refer to the PDF in the downloads section. The downloadable PDF is the official version of the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

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Welcome to the National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Indigenous Peoples

Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples’ health, well-being, and ways of life. (Background: Iñupiat blanket toss ceremony during Nalukataq festival)

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Introduction

salmon fishing

Human-caused stresses such as dam building have greatly reduced salmon on the Klamath River.

The peoples, lands, and resources of indigenous communities in the United States, including Alaska and the Pacific Rim, face an array of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities. The consequences of observed and projected climate change have and will undermine indigenous ways of life that have persisted for thousands of years. Native cultures are directly tied to Native places and homelands, and many indigenous peoples regard all people, plants, and animals that share our world as relatives rather than resources. Language, ceremonies, cultures, practices, and food sources evolved in concert with the inhabitants, human and non-human, of specific homelands.

Key Message: Forests, Fires, and Food

Observed and future impacts from climate change threaten Native Peoples’ access to traditional foods such as fish, game, and wild and cultivated crops, which have provided sustenance as well as cultural, economic, medicinal, and community health for generations.

Key Message: Water Quality and Quantity

A significant decrease in water quality and quantity due to a variety of factors, including climate change, is affecting drinking water, food, and cultures. Native communities’ vulnerabilities and limited capacity to adapt to water-related challenges are exacerbated by historical and contemporary government policies and poor socioeconomic conditions.

Key Message: Declining Sea Ice

Declining sea ice in Alaska is causing significant impacts to Native communities, including increasingly risky travel and hunting conditions, damage and loss to settlements, food insecurity, and socioeconomic and health impacts from loss of cultures, traditional knowledge, and homelands.

Key Message: Permafrost Thaw

Alaska Native communities are increasingly exposed to health and livelihood hazards from increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost, which are damaging critical infrastructure, adding to other stressors on traditional lifestyles.

Key Message: Relocation

Climate change related impacts are forcing relocation of tribal and indigenous communities, especially in coastal locations. These relocations, and the lack of governance mechanisms or funding to support them, are causing loss of community and culture, health impacts, and economic decline, further exacerbating tribal impoverishment.

Indigenous Peoples

Climate change impacts on many of the 566 federally recognized tribes and other tribal and indigenous groups are projected to be especially severe, since these impacts are compounded by a number of persistent social and economic problems.1,2 Key vulnerabilities include the loss of traditional knowledge in the face of rapidly changing ecological conditions, increased food insecurity due to reduced availability of traditional foods, changing water availability, Arctic sea ice loss, permafrost thaw, and relocation from historic homelands.3,4,5,6

We humbly ask permission from all our relatives; our elders, our families, our children, the winged and the insects, the four-legged, the swimmers, and all the plant and animal nations, to speak. Our Mother has cried out to us. She is in pain. We are called to answer her cries. Msit No’Kmaq – All my relations!
— Indigenous Prayer

wild rice harvesting

Harvesting traditional foods is important to Native Peoples’ culture, health, and economic well being. In the Great Lakes region, wild rice is unable to grow in its traditional range due to warming winters and changing water levels.

Indigenous communities in various parts of the U.S. have observed climatic changes that result in impacts such as the loss of traditional foods, medicines, and water supplies. The Southwest’s 182 federally recognized tribes and communities in its U.S.-Mexico border region share particularly high vulnerabilities to climate changes such as high temperatures, drought, and severe storms. Changes in long-term average temperature, precipitation, and declining snowpack have altered the physical and hydrologic environment on the Colorado Plateau, making the Navajo Nation more susceptible to drought impacts.7 Southwest tribes have observed damage to agriculture and livestock, the loss of springs and medicinal and culturally important plants and animals, and impacts on drinking water supplies.8,9,10,11 In the Northwest, tribal treaty rights are being affected by the reduction of rainfall and snowmelt in the mountains, melting glaciers, rising temperatures, and shifts in ocean currents.12,13,14 Tribal communities in coastal Louisiana are experiencing climate change induced rising sea levels, along with saltwater intrusion, subsidence, and intense erosion and land loss due to oil and gas extraction, levees, dams, and other river management techniques, forcing them to either relocate or try to find ways to save their land.15 In Hawai‘i, Native peoples have observed a shortening of the rainy season, increasing intensity of storms and flooding, and unpredictable rainfall patterns.16

Alaska Natives Face Multiple Climate Impacts

Alaska is home to 40% (229 of 566) of the federally recognized tribes in the United States.17 The small number of jobs, high cost of living, and rapid social change make rural, predominantly Native, communities highly vulnerable to climate change through impacts on traditional hunting and fishing practices. In Alaska, water availability, quality, and quantity are threatened by the consequences of permafrost thaw, which has damaged community water infrastructure, as well as by the northward extension of diseases such as those caused by the Giardia parasite.18

Man and girl surveying water line

Rising temperatures are causing damage in Native villages in Alaska as sea ice declines and permafrost thaws. Resident of Selawik, Alaska, and his granddaughter survey a water line sinking into the thawing permafrost, August 2011.

Arctic regional temperatures have risen at twice the global rate over the past few decades.3 This temperature increase – which is expected to continue with future climate change – is accompanied by significant reductions in sea ice thickness and extent, increased permafrost thaw, more extreme weather and severe storms, and changes in seasonal ice melt/freeze of lakes and rivers, water temperature, sea level, flooding patterns, erosion, and snowfall timing and type.19,20,21,22,1 These changes increase the number of serious problems for Alaska Native populations, which include: injury from extreme or unpredictable weather and thinning sea ice; changing snow and ice conditions that limit safe hunting, fishing, or herding practices; malnutrition and food insecurity from lack of access to subsistence food; contamination of food and water; increasing economic, mental, and social problems from loss of culture and traditional livelihood; increases in infectious diseases; and loss of buildings and infrastructure from permafrost erosion and thawing, resulting in the relocation of entire communities.3,18,21,1,23 For more, see Alaska.

References

  1. BIA, 2012: Alaska Region Overview. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. URL

  2. Brubaker, M. Y., J. N. Bell, J. E. Berner, and J. A. Warren, 2011: Climate change health assessment: A novel approach for Alaska Native communities. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 70, doi:10.3402/ijch.v70i3.17820.

  3. Christensen, K., 2003: Cooperative Drought Contingency Plan - Hualapai Reservation. Hualapai Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Peach Springs, AZ. URL

  4. Coastal Louisiana Tribal Communities, 2012: Stories of Change: Coastal Louisiana Tribal Communities’ Experiences of a Transforming Environment (Grand Bayou, Grand Caillou/Dulac, Isle de Jean Charles, Pointe-au-Chien). Workshop Report Input into the National Climate Assessment. URL

  5. Cochran, P., O. H. Huntington, C. Pungowiyi, S. Tom, S. F. Chapin, III, H. P. Huntington, N. G. Maynard, and S. F. Trainor, 2013: Indigenous frameworks for observing and responding to climate change in Alaska. Climatic Change, 120, 557-567, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0735-2.

  6. Dittmer, K., 2013: Changing streamflow on Columbia basin tribal lands—climate change and salmon. Climatic Change, 120, 627-641, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0745-0. URL

  7. Ferguson, D. B., C. Alvord, M. Crimmins, H. M. Redsteer, M. Hayes, C. McNutt, R. Pulwarty, and M. Svoboda, 2011: Drought Preparedness for Tribes in the Four Corners Region. Report from April 2010 Workshop. Tucson, AZ: Climate Assessment for the Southwest. 42 pp., The Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), The Institute of the Environment, The University of Arizona. URL

  8. Garfin, G., A. Jardine, R. Merideth, M. Black, and S. LeRoy, 2013: Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States: A Report Prepared for the National Climate Assessment. Island press, 528 pp. URL

  9. Gautam, M. R., K. Chief, and W. J. Smith, Jr., 2013: Climate change in arid lands and Native American socioeconomic vulnerability: The case of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Climatic Change, 120, 585-599, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0737-0. URL

  10. Grah, O., and J. Beaulieu, 2013: The effect of climate change on glacier ablation and baseflow support in the Nooksack River basin and implications on Pacific salmonid species protection and recovery. Climatic Change, 120, 657-670, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0747-y.

  11. Hinzman, L. D. et al., 2005: Evidence and implications of recent climate change in Northern Alaska and other Arctic regions. Climatic Change, 72, 251-298, doi:10.1007/s10584-005-5352-2. URL

  12. Houser, S., V. Teller, M. MacCracken, R. Gough, and P. Spears, 2001: Ch. 12: Potential consequences of climate variability and change for native peoples and homelands. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: Potential Consequences of Climate Change and Variability and Change,, Cambridge University Press, 351-377. URL

  13. Laidler, G. J., J. D. Ford, W. A. Gough, T. Ikummaq, A. S. Gagnon, S. Kowal, K. Qrunnut, and C. Irngaut, 2009: Travelling and hunting in a changing Arctic: Assessing Inuit vulnerability to sea ice change in Igloolik, Nunavut. Climatic Change, 94, 363-397, doi:10.1007/s10584-008-9512-z.

  14. Lynn, K., J. Daigle, J. Hoffman, F. Lake, N. Michelle, D. Ranco, C. Viles, G. Voggesser, and P. Williams, 2013: The impacts of climate change on tribal traditional foods. Climatic Change, 120, 545-556, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0736-1.

  15. Maldonado, J. Koppel, C. Shearer, R. Bronen, K. Peterson, and H. Lazrus, 2013: The impact of climate change on tribal communities in the US: Displacement, relocation, and human rights. Climatic Change, 120, 601-614, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0746-z.

  16. Maynard, N.G., Ed., 2002: Native Peoples-Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop. Final Report: Circles of Wisdom. URL

  17. McNutt, D., 2008: Native Peoples: The "Miners Canary" on Climate Change. 16 pp., Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute, Evergreen State College. URL

  18. Parkinson, A. J., 2010: Sustainable development, climate change and human health in the Arctic. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 69, 99-105. URL

  19. Pungowiyi, C., 2009: Siberian Yup'ik Elder, personal communication.

  20. Redsteer, M. H., K. B. Kelley, H. Francis, and D. Block, 2011: Disaster Risk Assessment Case Study: Recent Drought on the Navajo Nation, Southwestern United States. Contributing Paper for the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. 19 pp., United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA. URL

  21. Souza, K., and J. Tanimoto, 2012: PRiMO IKE Hui Technical Input for the National Climate Assessment – Tribal Chapter. PRiMO IKE Hui Meeting – January 2012, Hawai‘i. 5 pp., U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, D.C. URL

  22. Voggesser, G., K. Lynn, J. Daigle, F. K. Lake, and D. Ranco, 2013: Cultural impacts to tribes from climate change influences on forests. Climatic Change, 120, 615-626, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0733-4.

  23. Wang, M., and J. E. Overland, 2012: A sea ice free summer Arctic within 30 years: An update from CMIP5 models. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, L18501, doi:10.1029/2012GL052868. URL

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

United States Global Change Research Program logo United States Global Change Research Program participating agency logos