By ignoring the needs of indigenous livelihoods, traditional forms of land use that have long been sustainable, new forms of land use and the construction of infrastructure threaten the right of indigenous peoples to engage in traditional livelihoods. It is the aim of this article to analyze the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of primary and secondary effects of climate change. For the purposes of this paper, the term “primary effects” will be used to describe immediate effects of climate change. This includes temperatures which move around freezing instead of being solidly below freezing.

Primary effects of climate change also include the increased presence of deciduous instead of evergreen coniferous trees. The loss of leaves causes less snow to stay on top of the trees, when compared to evergreen trees, hence more snow reaches the ground, resulting in an increase in snow cover, which in turn makes it more difficult for reindeer to move around and to dig through the snow for food.

Secondary effects of climate change, for the purposes of this research, refer to increased (usually but not necessarily non-indigenous) activities in previously inaccessible areas such as Sápmi. This can include the construction of new roads, railways or other infrastructure, increased logging, mining or tourism activities, but also, for example, the construction of wind energy installations. Although the focus of the legal issue will be secondary effects, the text will first provide a look at primary effects of climate change on reindeer herding before looking at the secondary effects caused by an increase in infrastructure which has been made possible by climate change.

Because it would go beyond the scope of an article, the issue of wind energy installations will be dealt with in more detail as an example for such measures which cause secondary effects. Wind energy was chosen as an example because it remains an emerging issue in Sápmi, but one which has a lot of growth potential and which can be seen as a way to fight climate change. It is also highly relevant due to the continued uncertainty with regard to the long-term effect it has on reindeer herding.

After these practical considerations, the focus of the text will shift towards rights of indigenous peoples under international law in order to answer the question of how international law protects indigenous reindeer herders in the context of climate change.