A rapidly changing climate in the Arctic is dramatically impacting the health and well-being of Alaska Native communities.

Erosion and repeated extreme weather events damage infrastructure, including health clinics, water and sewage treatment facilities. Saline intrusion and thawing permafrost impact access to potable water. In the most extreme cases, accelerating rates of erosion are life-threatening and are causing Alaska Native communities to choose to relocate their entire community. AIJ is conducting research that strives to increase the adaptive capacity of Alaska Native communities experiencing the impacts of climate-induced environmental change on their health and well-being.

Environmental Justice

Alaska Native villages disproportionately face intensifying climate change impacts as global temperatures and sea levels rise.  Alaska Native livelihoods and health are closely tied with their environment but climate change is dramatically altering this relationship. The Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant titled “Climate Change and Community-Based Relocation”, which enabled two indigenous groups, the Yup’ik of Newtok, Alaska and people of the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea to explore opportunities for social and cultural resilience as they plan to relocate their communities. This project brought together traditional ecological knowledge and scientific research supported by the Arctic Social Sciences Program to ensure the long-term sustainability of indigenous communities in the Arctic and abroad.

Community-based Monitoring and Assessment for Climate Resilience

The Alaska Institute for Justice received a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to strengthen the adaptive capacity of Alaska Native communities experiencing flooding and erosion. Co-producing of knowledge between communities, university researchers, government representatives, and non-governmental organizations will assist in the creation of a community-based social-ecological monitoring and assessment model. The model will take into account erosion and repeated extreme weather events damage to critical infrastructure, saline intrusion and thawing permafrost impacts to drinking water, and life-threatening rates of erosion that are causing Alaska Native communities to relocate. The goal of AIJ’s work is to develop community-based adaptation strategies that protect the health and well-being of Alaska Native communities, and to communicate their needs to organizations that might be able to provide technical or financial assistance.

Disaster Displacement

Disaster displacement is one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21st century. Scientists warn that climate change is projected to increase displacement in the future, both internally and across borders. Large-scale displacements have devastating effects on people and communities. They create complex humanitarian and development challenges that call for urgent partnerships and action beyond traditional silos.

The Platform on Disaster Displacement Advisory Committee Workshop held in Geneva in October 2016, attended by AIJ’s Executive Director, allowed members to provide expert input and strategic advice to the Platform. The Platform’s mission is to work towards enhanced cooperation, coordination and action in order to improve the protection of disaster displaced persons, including those linked to the effects of climate change.

More information on the Platform on Disaster Displacement can be found at disasterdisplacement.org.

Rights, Resilience and Community-led Relocation

In April 2017, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund provided a two-year grant to the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) for its climate justice project: Rights, Resilience and Community-led Relocation.  AIJ will work with 15 coastal Alaska Native villages to design and implement a community-led approach to decision-making about community relocation in the face of climate change.  AIJ seeks to ensure that communities’ human rights are protected before, during and after relocation occurs. As part of this work, AIJ will work with community elders and youth to develop a social and ecological monitoring and assessment tool, and will host activities that bring coastal Alaska Native villagers together to facilitate relocation knowledge sharing and collaboration. The grant also enables AIJ to engage tribal, state, and federal government agencies in exploring how communities can be supported in their adaptation and relocation efforts.  More information on this grant can be found at  www.cjrfund.org/ourgrantees.