Government of Québec
Anticipated changes in the Arctic environment due to climate change and global warming will affect all circumpolar regions. The impact of these changes, which could directly or indirectly affect the equilibrium of the entire planet, raise issues that are at the center of a global debate requiring the collaboration and cooperation of all actors, including subnational states. Québec, which partly lies in the Arctic and is very active on the international scene, wants to be part of this discussion. As such, it seeks to participate in international Arctic forums and strengthen its relations with other federated states and circumpolar regions that share Arctic challenges in its particular areas of jurisdiction. These are related to sustainable northern development, environmental protection and the development of northern communities.
Northern Québec and Its Development
Northern Québec is a vast region that encompasses part of the Arctic called Nunavik (meaning "place to live" in Inuktitut). Nunavik extends over 500 000 sq. km between the 55th and 62nd parallels. Although it makes up approximately 30% of Québec's land area, it only has about 12,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are Inuit living in the 14 villages scattered along its coast. Nunavik is rich in mineral resources, including nickel, iron, rare earths, gold and diamonds. The region also has strong hydroelectric potential. Given the numerous national parks and protected areas in Northern Québec, the government would like to develop this territory responsibly in order to maximize the benefits for local communities and for Quebecers as a whole.
The impacts on local communities and biodiversity, and the challenges the North faces with respect to transportation, adaptation to climate change and civil security require that northern development be carried out in accordance with environmental best practices and in partnership with Aboriginal nations, northern communities, businesses, scientific experts and decision makers. It is with this in mind that the government specifically set up the Secrétariat au développement nordique (SDN; Northern Development Secretariat), whose mandate is to coordinate government actions with respect to the economic and social development of the North. SDN is also tasked with developing a responsible northern development policy based on innovative ideas that will maximize benefits for local communities as well as all Quebecers - hence the interest in sharing expertise with other Arctic stakeholders.
Support for Local Communities
Inuit communities will be the first to be impacted and affected by climate change. For example, changes in the distribution of certain animal species caused by modifications to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could result in major changes to hunting and fishing activities, which are a powerful force for social and cultural cohesion and ensure food security for many families in Nunavik. Given that their way of life is closely linked to the environment, the direct and indirect effects of climate change will have an impact on the health and security as well as on the economies and traditional activities of these communities.
The Québec government established channels of communication and consultation with northern communities years ago. Signed in 1975, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) has contributed greatly to the political and administrative autonomy of First Nations and Inuit by delegating certain responsibilities, including education and health, and giving them exclusive rights to hunt and fish on a large portion of the area. Under this agreement, it took action in Nunavik to ensure proper housing for local inhabitants. The already considerable challenges in this area will only increase with climate change. Investments in social housing and support for home ownership in Nunavik are among the solutions that have been put forward.
In light of the many difficulties facing the people of northern Québec, the Government of Québec also laid the groundwork for a new relationship with the Inuit in 2002 through the Partnership Agreement on Economic and Community Development in Nunavik, or Sanarrutik (meaning "development tool" in Inuktitut). This was followed in 2004 by the Sivunirmut Agreement (meaning "toward the future" in Inuktitut) to consolidate the relationship and seal a commitment to more adequate funding. These two agreements marked the start of a new era of partnership focused on creating wealth in Nunavik through a sustainable approach in harmony with Inuit culture.
A Government That Listens
Under the 2013–2020 Government Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation, the Government of Québec has put forth a number of measures for northern Québec. These include support for Aboriginal communities in adapting to climate change, an analysis of the risks and impacts of climate change for the mining industry, the strengthening of Nunavik's infrastructure management and maintenance practices, and the integration of new infrastructure design criteria, especially for infrastructure built on permafrost. To this end, the government has set up a large network of gauging stations, meteorological stations and cables to provide continuous data on the evolution of the climate and the permafrost. Transports Québec is also playing a part in this effort through Nunavik's Marine Infrastructures and Climate Change Research Project. This project is also looking at northern airport and road infrastructures.
The Government of Québec is interested in the Arctic because climate change, which will increasingly affect the region in decades to come, is likely to have a major impact on northern populations and their ecosystems. There is much thinking and effort going on right now to facilitate the adaptation of northern communities to their changing environment and find the best ways to capitalize - in an environmentally sustainable manner - on the new opportunities in the North and the Arctic. Through its international initiatives, the government is showcasing Québec's northern expertise and research capabilities and developing new partnerships and new channels of communication and dialogue with other Arctic regions. For Québec, it is essential that regional actors from all across the Arctic share their knowledge and work together to adapt successfully, while at the same time establishing a strong voice on the international Arctic stage.