The Saami people are increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change

The traditional Saami lifestyle and diet have protected the physical and mental health of the Saami people. However, according to the latest study, social and cultural changes have increased the occurrence of lifestyle diseases in the Saami people and created threats to their mental health. Many societal and lifestyle changes have also made the Saami people more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

Based on the study, the physical health of the Saami people is similar to or better than that of the mainstream population. At the same time, however, it indicates that the Saami lifestyle, diet and morbidity have started to resemble the mainstream culture.

The endangerment of Saami language, social development, industrialisation, changes in livelihood, lifestyle and diet, and outmigration from the Saami Homeland have made the Saami people more and more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

A joint research project of the University of Oulu’s Center for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research (CERH) and the University of Lapland's Arctic Indigenous Research examined the effects of climate change on the health, well-being and culture of the Saami people. The research material consisted of peer-reviewed publications on the Saami people and cultural-anthropological field studies carried out in the Finnish Saami Homeland.

"The Saami people form a population group that is particularly sensitive to the adverse effects of climate change for two mutually reinforcing reasons. Climate change is at its strongest in the Arctic region, and the Saami people engaged in the traditional livelihood, reindeer husbandry, live in a close interaction with the rapidly changing nature,” says Professor Jouni Jaakkola from the University of Oulu.

“The study also reveals an important ethical problem: the people who live in harmony with the nature and contribute only little to climate change may be the population that suffers the most from the adverse effects of climate change.”

The Saami people face the impacts of climate change directly, via the ecosystem, and through administration, economy and legislation. The warming climate alters the vegetation conditions and threatens the reindeer’s well-being and access to food. The changed conditions increase the risk of serious snowmobile and ATV accidents. The warming climate increases cardiovascular disease mortality and the prevalence of asthma and allergies. New zoonotic diseases spread further and further north.

"Climate change threatens the cultural well-being and lifestyle of the Saami people, and this must be considered also in administration and legislation. For indigenous people, the ability to adapt to climate change and safeguard their cultural continuity is above all a question of human rights. Adapting to climate change means a cultural change and survival to the Saami people. We need more anthropological research on this subject, because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change draws its conclusions based on research data,” says Postdoctoral researcher Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi from the University of Lapland.

There is only sparse and scattered research data available on the health and wellbeing of the Saami people. The health of the Saami people has been studied most extensively in Norway, whereas the least amount of research has been carried out in Russia and Finland. The new study highlights the need to systematically monitor the effects of climate change on the health, well-being and culture of the Saami people.

The study was based on all existing peer-reviewed scientific literature on the Saami and ethnographical  field work in the Saami Homeland. The results were published in Current Environmental Health Reports. The study was partially funded grants from the Finnish Cultural Fund and Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation.


Article: Jaakkola, J.J.K., Juntunen, S. & Näkkäläjärvi, K. Curr Envir Health Rpt (2018).



Last updated: 4.6.2019