Climate Justice Advocacy
Justice Policy & Research
Population displacement presents one of the most complex human rights challenges created by the climate crisis.
The climate justice research projects focus on community-based climate change adaptation that protects human rights and the environment.
AIJ’s research is cutting-edge, a trusted resource, and spans a broad range of climate justice issues. AIJ shapes public policy on the international, national and state level through compelling research and innovative ideas. We partner with communities for just, meaningful impact to address the climate crisis.
AIJ is proud to be a key partner
Severe gaps in Arctic carbon monitoring and Modeling have created large uncertainties in estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost thaw. As a result, these emissions are not fully counted in global carbon budgets and have been left out of climate policy. Protecting the human rights of Alaska Native communities as permafrost thaw radically changes the land upon which people live is fundamental to implementing climate adaptation strategies.
Catastrophic Land Collapse caused by the combination of permafrost thaw, erosion and flooding.
Community-based Environmental Monitoring for Climate Resilience
Co-production of knowledge between Indigenous and natural and physical scientists is essential to strengthen the adaptive capacity of Alaska Native communities experiencing flooding, permafrost thaw and erosion. Community-based environmental monitoring is the mechanism to monitor slow-ongoing environmental change, such as permafrost thaw and erosion, and also extreme weather events that damage critical infrastructure and are life-threatening causing Alaska Native communities to relocate. Community-led adaptation strategies protect the health and well-being of Alaska Native communities.
Rights, Resilience and
Community relocation is a complex and multi-year adaptation strategy and must always be an adaptation strategy of last resort. The right to self-determination is the most important human right to protect and ensure that communities make the decision about whether, when and how relocation happens.
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’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. AIJ’s Executive Director is an advisory committee member to provide expert input and strategic advice to the Platform.
More information on the Platform on Disaster Displacement can be found at disasterdisplacement.org.
Reports and Publications
RIGHTS, RESILIENCE, and COMMUNITY-LED RELOCATION Perspectives from fifteen Alaska Native coastal communities
The Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of Alaskans. AIJ’s goal is to work with Alaska Native communities and State and Federal government agencies to design and implement a community-led relocation process based in human rights.
One Story: A Report of the First Peoples Convening on Climate-Forced Displacement
AIJ is engaged in groundbreaking research
This article presents governance and institutional strategies for climate-induced community relocations. In Alaska, repeated extreme weather events coupled with climate change-induced coastal erosion impact the habitability of entire communities. Community residents and government agencies concur that relocation is the only adaptation strategy that can protect lives and infrastructure. Community relocation stretches the financial and institutional capacity of existing governance institutions. Based on a comparative analysis of three Alaskan communities, Kivalina, Newtok, and Shishmaref, which have chosen to relocate, we examine the institutional constraints to relocation in the United States. We identify policy changes and components of a toolkit that can facilitate community-based adaptation when environmental events threaten people’s lives and protection in place is not possible. Policy changes include amendment of the Stafford Act to include gradual geophysical processes, such as erosion, in the statutory definition of disaster and the creation of an adaptive governance framework to allow communities a continuum of responses from protection in place to community relocation. Key components of the toolkit are local leadership and integration of social and ecological well-being into adaptation planning.
Climate-Induced Community Relocations:
Creating An Adaptive Governance Framework Based In Human Rights Doctrine
The specter of millions of people fleeing their homes because of climate change has sparked an international debate about creating human rights protections for climate refugees. Though scholars and journalists have focused on the southern hemisphere, this crisis is occurring with unprecedented rapidity in the Arctic. In Alaska, temperatures have increased at twice the rate of the global average. Arctic sea ice is decreasing and permafrost is thawing. These ecological phenomena are creating a humanitarian crisis for the 200 indigenous communities that have inhabited the Arctic for millennia. Dozens of these communities are threatened because of climate-accelerated erosion, flooding, and extreme weather events. The traditional responses of hazard prevention and disaster relief are no longer protecting communities despite millions of dollars spent on erosion control and flood relief. Community relocation is the only feasible solution to permanently protect the inhabitants of these communities. This article describes the steps that federal, state, and tribal governments have taken to relocate Newtok, one of at least twelve indigenous communities in Alaska that need to relocate due to climate change. The policy and practical challenges to relocate the community are enormous and clearly demonstrate that new governance institutions need to be designed to specifically respond to climate-induced relocation. This Article ultimately proposes the creation of Guiding Principles of Climigration outlining key human rights principles that can guide an adaptive governance framework. This framework, in turn, will allow government agencies to transition their humanitarian response from protection in place to community relocation.
Using Integrated Social-Ecological Assessments to Foster Adaptation and Resilience
Extreme weather events coupled with sea level rise and erosion will cause coastal and riverine areas where people live and maintain livelihoods to disappear permanently. Adaptation to these environmental changes, including the permanent relocation of millions of people, requires new governance tools. In the USA, local governments, often with state-level and national-level support, will be primarily responsible for protecting residents from climate-change impacts and implementing policies needed to protect their welfare. Government agencies have a variety of tools to facilitate protection in place and managed coastal retreat but have very limited tools to facilitate community relocation. In addition, no institutional mechanism currently exists to determine whether and when preventive relocation needs to occur to protect people from climate change impacts. Based on research involving four Alaska Native communities threatened by climate-induced environmental impacts, I propose the design and implementation of an adaptive governance framework to respond to the need to relocate populations. In this context, adaptive governance means the ability of institutions to dynamically respond to climate change impacts. A component of this adaptive governance framework is a social-ecological monitoring and assessment tool that can facilitate collaborative knowledge production by community residents and governance institutions to guide sustainable adaptation strategies and determine whether and when relocation needs to occur. The framework, including the monitoring and assessment tool, has not been systematically tested. However, the potential use of this tool is discussed by drawing on empirical examples of Alaskan communities faced with accelerating rates of erosion.
Rights, Resilience, and Community-Led Relocation: Perspectives from Fifteen Alaska Native Coastal Communities
The Alaska Institute for Justice, in partnership with NOAA and the Alaska Native Science Commission, held its first Rights, Resilience, and Community-Based Adaptation Workshop in September 2016 in Anchorage, Alaska. The 2016 adaptation workshop agenda was designed by and for the 15 Alaska Native communities during advisory committee meetings held several months before the workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to enable 15 Alaska Native communities to begin to design a relocation governance framework that protects their human rights. Climate-induced community relocations are perhaps the greatest human rights challenge of our time. Those who have least contributed to our climate crisis are now the first to face the permanent loss of their homelands, and thus, need to relocate. Currently, no Federal or State government agency in the United States has the mandate or funding to implement a relocation process if a community makes the decision to relocate. Here are the stories from 15 Alaska Native communities designing a community-led relocation process.
Climate Crisis in Kwigillingok
Impacts of Permafrost Thaw on Community SafetyIntroduction The Native Village of Kwigillingok, a federally recognized Tribe, is the main governing body of the community. Kwigillingok is home to 399 residents—an 18% growth over the past decade. Most residents identify...
Climate Crisis in Nunapitchuk
Impacts of Permafrost Thaw on Public HealthPrepared for the Nunapitchuk IRA Council by theAlaska Institute for Justice on behalf of the Native Village of NunapitchukIntroduction ● Located on the Yukon-KuskokwimDelta● Approximate population of 680,with 143 homes● There...
Alaska, Louisiana Native Communities Show International Commission Climate Change Impacts
Tribal leaders will guide a special representative from an international human rights commission on a tour of three Alaska villages and four Indigenous Louisiana communities to discuss the effects of climate change and forced displacement on Indigenous...
CareersCome join an exciting non-profit transforming lives, strengthening communities and protecting the human rights of all AlaskansAbout AIJ The Alaska Institute for Justice is a non-profit organization headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska. Our mission is to protect...
Permafrost Pathways celebrates six months
Here’s what the project has been up to since it launched in April 2022 Six months ago, with funding through the TED Audacious Project, we launched Permafrost Pathways—a new multidisciplinary project connecting science, people, and policy for Arctic justice and global...
RIGHTS, RESILIENCE, and COMMUNITY-LED RELOCATION Perspectives from fifteen Alaska Native coastal communities
The Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of Alaskans. AIJ’s goal is to work with Alaska Native communities and State and Federal government agencies to design and implement a community-led relocation...
UN Special Rapporteur Complaint
UUSC and its members are deeply committed to centering and uplifting the voices of Indigenous communities living at the forefront of the climate crisis. Climate change events such as soil erosion, sea level rise, massive storms, and saltwater intrusion paired with...
The Alaska Institute for Justice Addresses the Climate Change Crisis
The Alaska Institute for Justice’s (AIJ) mission is to promote and protect the human rights of all Alaskans, including immigrants, refugees, crime victims including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Alaska Native communities by providing critical...
Kotlik: Background Report
Kotlik, an Alaska Native community in southwestern Alaska, works in partnership with AIJ to monitor the erosion and other weather events that present an increasingly severe risk to the community as the climate changes. The homes and infrastructure in Kotlik are...
Climate and Societal Interactions: Supporting Resilient Coastal Communities and Ecosystems
Supporting Resilient Coastal Communities and Ecosystems in a Changing Climate: Understanding Climate-Related Human Health Risks Within the Coastal Environment A rapidly changing climate in the Arctic is dramatically impacting the health and well-being of Alaska Native...
Kwigillingok: Community Profile
Prepared on behalf of the Native Village of Kwigillingok Kwigillingok (Kuigilnguq), Alaska, is imminently threatened by flooding and erosion. Flooding occurs annually in Kwigillingok as a result of storm surge, ice jams, ice override (called venuq), and other factors....
Rights, Resilience and Community-led Relocation: Creating a National Governance Framework
Honoring the Earth and Human Rights in a climate-altered world. Article by Robin Bronen, N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, Vol 45. April 21, 2021. Read the article: ABSTRACTPopulation displacement presents one of the most complex governancechallenges created...
Permafrost PathwaysStrategyOur PeoplePartnersPermafrost Pathways A critical window of opportunity.STRATEGY A critical window of opportunity.Carbon monitoring and modeling have created large uncertainties in estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost thaw....
Donors Pledge $41 Million to Monitor Thawing Arctic Permafrost
The six-year effort by climate scientists and policy experts aims to fill gaps in knowledge about planet-warming emissions and help affected communities in Alaska.By Henry Fountain April 11, 2022 Climate scientists, policy experts and environmental justice advocates...
Thematic Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons
In the present thematic report, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, examines internal displacement in the context of the slow-onset adverse effects of climate change. She analyses the impacts of this type...
First Peoples’ and Indigenous Peoples’ Convening
In October, over 60 representatives of Indigenous and First Peoples communities from around the Pacific met in Girdwood, Alaska to share their experiences and knowledge about the ways the climate crisis is threatening their communities. The representatives adopted the...
International Climate Justice Convening to Address Displacement of Indigenous Communities
Three-day conference will see more than 60 community leaders and advocates come together to develop a plan to address climate injustice facing Indigenous communities GIRDWOOD, AK—More than 60 community leaders and advocates from across the world will gather in...
As permafrost thaws, Western Alaska village cemeteries sink into swampland
As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. (Teresa Cotsirilos / KYUK) KONGIGANAK — On a crisp day in September, the village of Kongiganak, or Kong, filed into a little white church and laid Maggie Mary Otto to rest.The...
Murkowski introduces bill to study ocean acidification
Global warming is causing ocean water to become less like baking soda and more like milk, chemically speaking. It’s a phenomena called ocean acidification (OA) and it could have damaging effects for marine life. A bill announced week by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski...
Stretch of road in Southwest Alaska village falls into the sea
Port Heiden’s road to the safe harbor and old village was closed in November due to erosion. Photo taken Nov. 22, 2017. (Chasen Cunitz via KDLG) Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula is losing shoreline quickly. Wind and waves have pushed the coast inland...