Climate Forced Displacement

Overview

UUSC recognizes the grave danger that climate change impacts pose on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Increasing temperatures, low precipitation, and frequent and intensified natural disasters are causing sea level rise, droughts, widespread flooding, and other impacts that are destroying biodiversity and increasing food and water scarcity. These impacts disproportionately affect the most marginalized populations by multiplying their risks, widening inequalities, and threatening their basic human rights and dignities. This reality demands that we expand our focus from advancing and defending the human right to water to advancing and protecting the rights of marginalized populations affected by climate change.

Our Focus

UUSC’s Environmental Justice & Climate Action program focuses on advancing and protecting the rights of marginalized populations displaced by climate change. Our focus on this issue arises from the fact that one person per second is displaced by climate change, making it one of the most catastrophic and complex issues of our current generation. UUSC is specifically focused on assisting indigenous populations of the South Pacific and Alaska—two distinct regions of the world that are highly susceptible to rising sea levels and climate induced natural disasters, and whose adaptive capacities are limited by their geographic isolation, their reliance on coastal resources and habitats, and their development limitations.

Our Strategy

The limited adaptive capacities of these two regions are further heightened by the inadequacy of government institutions and policies to respond to the multiple and ongoing issues that communities experience, and more importantly, the lack of human rights protections for peoples displaced by natural disasters and climate change both locally and internationally. UUSC aims to strategically organize and build the capacities of affected communities from these two polar regions of the world to advocate for rights-based solutions and protection and to assist affected communities to implement community-led relocation/migration in a way that respects and reinforces their rights and human dignities.

Human Right to Water

UUSC’s decade-long work on advancing and defending the human right to water and sanitation in the United States and globally has achieved many great successes, in addition to prevailing challenges. As we pivot our focus, we take with us many lessons that we have learned along the way. Our transition does not preclude our commitment to stand in solidarity with frontline communities working to make this right a reality.

Impacts

  • Safeguarded the water sources of 8.7 million people in Argentina and Chile due to groundbreaking work protecting glaciers.
  • Supported a legal case in which the Mexican court ruled that the city and country are required to fully implement the human right to water.
  • Held a mining company accountable for damaging the local water sources of 18 indigenous communities in Guatemala.
  • Helped pass and implement the California Human Right to Water Act, which benefits 11 million Californians who struggle to access clean water.
  • Advocated for water affordability in Boston, Mass., where Mayor Marty Walsh announced a 30% discount on water rates for low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Research