climigration, migration, climate change, displacement, climate refugees, southern hemisphere, global warming, ecology, humanitarian crisis, indigenous communities, Arctic, disaster relief
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.
(2011) New York University Review of Law and Social Change 35 (2) 357