As a necessary addition to the paper completed by our Climate Justice Seminar students last spring on relocation, I highly recommend Robin Bronen’s article, “Climate-Induced Community Relocations: Creating an Adaptive Governance Framework Based in Human Rights Doctrine” (35 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 357) (2011). In her article, Robin argues that “[t]he 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….The policy and practical challenges to relocate the community are enormous and clearly demonstrate the new governance institutions need to be designed to specifically respond to climate-induced relocation.”

The issues Robin raises about Newtok in her article are the same facing Kivalina. The Native Village of Kivalina can only survive if it moves. Villagers voted to move the community years ago but still remain in place. Villagers have run into constant roadblocks, including the real environmental risk of permafrost melt at the new site selected but also unnecessary and imprudent restrictions on the use of government funds under current disaster law. Political and legal barriers are hampering Kivalina’s (and other villages such as Newtok’s) decisions to move, even though the US government has acknowledged that climate change risks their permanent inhabitability.

The issue comes down to funding. Litigation is one avenue for compensation. But there must also be financing mechanisms made available to communities where climate change makes relocation necessary for survival. Elizabeth Ferris of the Brookings Institute, recently raised this concern at the Conference on Climate Change and Migration in the Asia-Pacific: Legal and Policy Responses in Sydney. Distinguishing planned resettlements in the climate change context from development-induced resettlement, she said:

“I worry about the money. When the World Bank or the development banks are financing these [development-induced repsettlement] projects, [the banks] build in the cost of resettlement into the project plans. Who’s going to pay for this? Who’s going to pay for those studies, and the surveys, and the hundreds of community meetings to make decisions that are owned by a community if you don’t have the carrot, if you will, of international financing?” (Read her full treatment on the issue of planned relocations here.)

Dr. Ferris’s concerns are real. In a world abundant with money and resources, the value of a community’s survival must not be met with empty pockets.