Indigenous peoples of the Arctic are currently faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, the preservation of their customs, the traditional lifestyles and cultural values is closely related to the maintenance of the environmental characteristics of the territories inhabited since time immemorial. On the other hand, the needs of the development of economic activities, represented primarily by the extraction of minerals and exploitation of energy resources, pose new challenges with respect to which the decisions are not taken – as is obvious – only by Arctic indigenous communities, and that may also be important for the natives as a chance to better their overall living conditions (in terms of labor, employment and education, for example). Arctic states have addressed these issues with different legal tools. The latter range from US land claims settlements to recognition of ‘ancestral’ and treaty rights in the constitutional order of Canada, to the creation of Sámi Parliaments in the Nordic countries, or the peculiar rules for the county of Finnmark in Northern Norway, approved in 2005, which give broad powers to the indigenous communities. In turn, the Greenlandic statute of autonomy in force since 2009 did not prevent tensions between the Inuit communities in Greenland and the Danish central authorities regarding the exploitation of natural resources and energy, including uranium. Less adequate, in comparison with the other Arctic states, appears the protection of Sámi in northern Russia, not so much in terms of regulation, but from the point of view of the effective application of existing rules. Anyway, useful legal instruments for effective protection of specific minorities represented by Arctic indigenous peoples can come also from the provisions of the international law of human rights, both that specifically dedicated to the natives and the rules of general human rights. In the light, therefore, of the tensions, but also the opportunities, offered by the exploitation of natural resources, the article examines the legal systems of the Arctic states, with particular attention to the situation of indigenous peoples.
What will take place in the Arctic in the next decade will have consequences for us all, as the changing of the “Albedo effect” is altering the global climate, disrupting many equilibria both in the ecosystem and in the social sphere. Changes in the Arctic will not stay in the Arctic, but will affect the rest of the planet. The need to exploit resources, the emergence of new actors in the Arctic and the discovery of abundant oil, gas, mineral and renewable energy resources mean that we have to literally rethink and reconstruct the “Arctic” as a concept. Huge promises are made, but big questions are also raised about how we are to rethink and regulate our “blue planet.” A new regulatory framework is thus inevitable. This article deals with the social aspects of the climate change’s effects and the understanding of human adaptation to climate change by explaining how the problem of exploration and exploitation of oil and gas and their use by indigenous people are strictly interconnected with Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and environmental protection. The article focuses on the social dimension of climate change coupled with business development of oil and gas firms in the Arctic with Greenland as a case study to illustrate opportunities and tensions affecting the indigenous Greenlandic people. Some conclusions are drawn with the formulation of recommendations on the urgent need for direct participation of Arctic indigenous people in the decision-making policy creation on environmental protection measures and culture and advice on how to implement such recommendations. A solution to implement such recommendation would be to develop an interdisciplinary research programme to be implemented through an interdisciplinary research centre susceptible to be turned into an international organization after a certain period of working activity at the academic level.