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.
Higher Ground: Protecting Human Rights as the Climate Crisis Forces Coastal Retreat
Human rights are the moral fibers woven throughout humanity and remind us that we each deserve to live lives of dignity. The right to be free from hunger, the right to housing, the right to safe drinking water, and the right to an adequate standard of living...
Immigration Attorneys Warn Against Using The Term “Climate Refugee”
With so much destruction from this season's hurricanes in the Caribbean, there are going to be a lot of people on the move — looking to start their lives in new places. We’ve already seen mass movements of people from areas plagued by drought, floods or storms. Many...
Many Native Communities Are Being Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change
Globally, the twenty-first century has seen 16 of the hottest 17 years on record. In the Pacific Northwest, average air temperatures, which rose only 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2014, are expected to increase another 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100....
Displaced By Climate Change – June 6th at Williwaw
DISPLACED BY CLIMATE CHANGE Tuesday, June 6th 6:00 p.m. (doors open at 5:30) Williwaw, 601 F Street, Anchorage No entry fee, open to the public Join the Alaska Institute for Justice Research and Policy Institute in welcoming guest speakers Salote Soqo and Patricia...
Fleeing Climate Change
November 8, 2016 | Editor's Pick By Liz Mineo, Harvard Staff WriterIn one of the most dreaded science-fiction scenarios, entire communities are forced to abandon their homes because rising sea levels, droughts, and storm surges, driven by climate change, endanger...
Scientists ‘shocked’ by massive snowfall increases among Alaska’s highest peaks
The sun sets on Denali on Dec. 28, 2016, in a view from Kincaid Park. (Erik Hill / ADN) A team of scientists presented data on Tuesday suggesting that even as the state of Alaska has warmed up extremely rapidly in recent years, snowfall in the iconic Denali...