Atoll Habitability Study Echoes UUSC Partner Project

New research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense examined climate change effects on the Marshall Islands’ Roi-Namur island, providing a rare glimpse into wave-driven flood modelling on atolls. Although the research looks at just one of the more than 1,250 islands in the Marshall Islands atoll archipelago, it further validates the threat of climate-forced displacement atoll communities are facing. Sea levels rising at a high rate and increased risks of wave-driven flooding will leave many island homes on atolls uninhabitable by mid-century, according to the research.


New climate change research, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense, echoes the challenges that many Pacific Islanders are facing. Two islands in the Solomon Islands, pictured, have completely vanished and six more are experiencing coastal erosion.

The study appears to be largely motivated by a desire to assess the security of U.S. military infrastructure in the region, though it echoes the challenges that many Pacific Islanders and communities in Alaska are already experiencing to their lives as a result of climate change impacts. In the Pacific, many villages, such as the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea and Vunidogoloa in Fiji have been forced to relocate due to flooding and ongoing erosion caused by rising sea levels. In Alaska Native Villages, such as Shishmaref and Kivalina, communities are losing their homes and lands due to melting permafrost and ongoing erosion. These impacts cause cultural, traditional and livelihood losses, which can also force communities to move.

UUSC partners with communities and organizations around the globe to support marginalized populations are at risk of forced displacement caused by slow-onset climate impacts. Pictured: Partners, community members and UUSC staff on the Cateret Islands of Papua New Guinea.

The study also provides evidence of the ongoing absence of local voices in atoll climate research, which is the focus of a UUSC partner project with the Marshall Islands Conservation Society (MICS). The UUSC-MICS partnership is allowing the Maloelap Atoll community to gather and analyze flood risk information to help build residents’ local capacity to communicate their climate story and make community development and natural resource conservation decisions that prolong the habitability of their atoll home. Core to this project is the community’s ownership of both the work and the data gathered, per the Marshall Islands national conservation area management framework known locally as Reimaanlok or ‘looking to the future.’ The UUSC-MICS project is led by Mark Stege, MICS Chief Research Advisor and Maloelap Atoll Councilman, who shared these thoughts on the new research conducted in his home country:

“If flood risk models will be produced for low-lying island communities, the main question we are asking is, ‘what is the level of local participation and ownership in generating and using these models, and thereupon the adaptation decisions including those decisions surrounding climate-forced displacement?’ The field data needed in atoll flood modelling should be based on observations not only of present and future flooding events but also of past trends (i.e. traditional ecological knowledge). Moreover, who more practical to monitor and assess an atoll community’s exposure to water security risk and flood risk – as they increase exponentially in the coming decades – than the atoll communities themselves? The considerations I am trying to elevate among atoll inhabitants include our own perceptions of individual safety and well-being as both become even more threatened, and strengthening our atoll community’s capacity to arrive at its own determination of ‘how much flood risk is too much?,’ ‘what amount of groundwater and rainwater is adequate?’ and ‘what constitutes potable water?.’ Climate research like that done on Roi-Namur certainly helps us do that.”

Although frontline communities often have the best and most appropriate solutions for climate-change challenges, they often receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. UUSC and our partners continue to advocate for funders to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities facing challenges associated with climate change.

Strength for the Fight Ahead

January 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. For human rights advocates, the past 365 days have been marked by daily efforts to resist actions from our nation’s highest office that propagate racism, hate, fear, ignorance, and greed. Right now, we are fighting for a clean Dream Act even as dysfunction in Washington holds up these efforts.

However, reflecting on the past year, and the work of our partners and staff in action, gives us hope—this work tells a story that is much more about courage and perseverance than one of despair.

Our shared vision of a world free from oppression provides fuel in the fight to advance human rights. Working together, with our partners and allies, we have activated strategies that confront unjust power structures and challenge oppressive policies.

Here are just a few moments from the past year that motivate us for the work that lies ahead.

This year, sustained by the passion of our community and supporters, we will continue to focus on strategies for protecting families fleeing violence in Central America, fighting for an end to ethnic cleansing in Burma, and responding to the front lines of climate change and ready to respond to natural disasters.

Celebrating International Migrants Day with a Call to our Philanthropic Allies

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 18 as International Migrants Day. This day recognizes that international migration is a growing phenomenon in our world and calls us to reaffirm and uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees.

In early December, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, participated in a stock-taking meeting for the Global Compact for Migration – an international mechanism for advancing a more unified approach to the needs of migrants. “The meeting was extraordinary,” Soqo says, “in the sense that in a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, there was great convergence amongst delegates around centering the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants.” The meeting sent a strong signal that the Global Compact — and the international community’s collective actions on migration — must be centered on human rights.

David Boseto, of UUSC Partner Ecological Solutions, and boat driver Muku in Wagina, Solomon Islands

This International Migrants Day, celebrate with UUSC as we issue a new resource, Community-Led, Human-Rights Based Solutions to Climate-Forced Displacement: A Guide for Funders. UUSC is calling more funders to engage directly on the issue of climate-forced displacement and to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities.

Climate change is advancing rapidly and placing people’s human rights at risk. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Report on Internal Displacement: GRID 2017, in 2016, 24.2 million people were newly internally displaced by natural disasters. It is likely that 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050.

“Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society.”

Climate-forced displacement is having severe impacts on human rights. Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society. A majority of disaster-related displacements occur in low- and lower-middle income countries and disproportionately affect small island developing states, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement. The spectrum we have developed outlines human rights at risk and key concerns for frontline communities, from the tipping point at which communities decide they must consider radical adaptation measures, through migration or resettlement.

→    The right to self-determination must be at the core of relocation planning.

“Frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges.”

While frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges, these communities receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. Trends in financing favor climate change mitigation over other approaches. No reliable mechanisms exist for community organizations to access international funds directly. Indigenous communities face additional hurdles accessing funds from national governments — and it is even more difficult for unrecognized tribes.

Our guide offers concrete steps funders can take to advance community-led, human rights-based solutions to climate-forced displacement by:

  • Assessing how climate-forced displacement relates to a current strategy or portfolio
  • Effectively partnering with grassroots communities working on issues along the climate-forced displacement spectrum
  • Advancing a human rights-based approach to climate-forced displacement
  • Acting as a bridge and network builder to amplify the voice and impact of grassroots communities

U.S. Withdrawal from Global Compact on Migration is a Failure of Leadership

Saturday night, the Trump administration suddenly announced that it is pulling out of talks to develop the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) – a grave abdication of U.S. leadership and its moral obligations to the international community. The decision was the latest in a string of blows to multilateral efforts to address global injustices, including forced migration and climate change, and continued the government’s pattern of showing contempt for the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants.

Critically, the news came just two days before a key U.N. preparatory meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – part of ongoing discussions to develop the GCM. UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, who is currently in Mexico to attend the meeting notes that “with this decision, the United States has lost another opportunity to lead, to guide, and to contribute its rich migration history and experience to this global discussion.”

The United States continues to actively contribute to the underlying global injustices fueling displacement, even as it turns its back on efforts to protect their victims. For example, despite its intention to bow out of the Paris Agreement it remains among the world’s worst carbon emitters. Additionally, the people of Honduras – including UUSC’s partners at Foro de Mujeres por la Vida – struggle to defend their democratic institutions against a post-coup government and militarized security forces, both of which have received substantial U.S. support. The corruption, impunity, and violence of U.S.-backed actors have been a driver of forced migration from Honduras and many other countries across the globe for years. The decision by the U.S. government to withdraw from the global discussion on migration is appalling in light of this involvement.

The GCM promises to be the first truly comprehensive international framework addressing all forms of migration (including but not limited to forced displacement) from a perspective grounded in the human rights and dignity of people traveling across borders. It touches on nearly every aspect of our work to advance human rights, including our efforts alongside our partners to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, to uphold the dignity and self-determination of peoples threatened with climate-induced forced displacement, to support migrants escaping persecution in Syria, to protect families fleeing violence in Central America, and to resist the criminalization of immigrant communities in the United States. UUSC has championed the aspirations of the GCM since its inception in 2016 and will continue to do so, with or without the U.S. government at the table.

UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) invites applications for its 2018 Innovation Fellowship on the subject “Resisting Criminalization.” UUSC and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are engaged in a joint campaign that aims to “resist the harm created by criminalization” and to “create more safe, just, welcoming, and sustainable communities.” The UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant, awarded to an individual or non-governmental organization, designed to bring about systemic change by creating, nurturing, or spreading an innovation in human rights. For this year’s theme, UUSC invites applications from individuals or organizations working on projects that seek to combat the systemic criminalization of immigrant communities, communities of color, Muslims, and LGBTQI communities in the United States – and individuals and communities at the intersections.

These innovations may be legal strategies, methods of mobilization, methods of community outreach, technological or financial products or apps, path breaking applied research, advances in corporate accountability, or other new approaches. The successful proposal will be rights-based, align with UUSC’s values and approach, positively impact and engage at-risk communities, and provide a new, different, and timely solution.

Applications for our 2018 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship are now closed.

Learn more about Love Resists, our anti-criminalization campaign with the UUA:

Past winners of Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Lowlander Center 

The focus of the 2017 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was climate-forced resettlement, and the winner was The Lowlander Center, a non-profit organization based in the bayous of Louisiana dedicated to finding community-based solutions for “living with an ever-changing coastline and land loss to climate change while visioning a future that builds capacity and resilience for place and people.” The fellowship was awarded to implement an adaptation tool developed for communities faced with the difficult decision to relocate in the face of climate-induced land erosion and other environmental challenges. Read more about this project.

National Domestic Workers Alliance

The focus of the 2016 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was economic justice, and the winner was National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), in support of the launch of its “National Home Care Workers Hotline,” which serves as a resource for workers who assist the elderly and persons with disabilities and illness. The hotline provides “know your rights” information along with up-to-date tools and resources for workers education and training for self-advocacy. Read more about this project and the work NDWA is doing.

Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research

The focus of the 2015 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was the human right to water, and the winner was Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR). The grant funded a vital water access survey in Mumbai’s Mandala slum, coordinated by PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship Program. This independent youth-driven research collective focuses on issues of urbanization anchored in community-based participatory research. (In Hindi one meaning of pukaris “a clarion call.”) The PUKAR collective encourages disenfranchised youth in Mumbai to learn through training and experience about how to conduct valid social science research, followed by support in how to use that knowledge to produce meaningful environmental change in their community. Read more about the work PUKAR is doing through the innovation fellowship!