Sometimes what is believed to be true by both school children and policymakers about the population of the Circumpolar North can be wildly off the mark. Often it is assumed that the North is an empty land—that no one lives there. More informed opinion might acknowledge that there are some people residing in the North, but it is usually suggested that they represent only a few widely scattered Native groups who wander in nomadic fashion through a harsh, cold environment. The fact there might be cities of several thousand people lying north of the 60th parallel usually escapes the attention of most. So does the fact that the circumpolar north has a wide variety of population profiles—the Russian North looking significantly different from the Nordic North and the North American North.

Broadly speaking, there are approximately 13.1 million individuals residing in the area of the circumpolar North. This figure represents less than one per cent of the total global population. The population is distributed across some 21.5 million square kilometres of territory spanning three continents and eight national jurisdictions. While the North is not an “empty land” by any means, it does not possess a very high population density ratio by any calculation.

Map Source: SEDAC/CIESIN

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