Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

New Policy Brief Calls for Equity and Justice in Response to Climate-Forced Displacement

The Legal Justice Coalition (facilitated by UUSC and the Lowlander Center) and the Rising Voices Community Relocation & Site Expansion Working Group issue policy guidelines to advance community-led solutions to climate-forced displacement in the US.

For Immediate Release: April 12, 2021

Media Contact:

Michael Givens
Associate Director of Strategic Communications
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Phone: +1-857-540-0617
Email: mgivens@uusc.org
Visit: www.uusc.org/cfdbrief

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Federal disaster response efforts have long disproportionately benefited the white and the wealthy, but the growing impact of climate change makes it critically important for policymakers to steer more resources and assistance to Indigenous Peoples, communities of color, and other marginalized populations. The Legal Justice Coalition (LJC) and the Rising Voices Community Relocation & Site Expansion Working Group (RV-Working Group) have released a policy brief (www.uusc.org/cfdbrief) this afternoon highlighting this problem and potential solutions.

Communities nationwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of flooding, storms, wildfires, and other extreme weather events triggered by climate change. Those disasters have taken hundreds of lives and incurred tens of billions of dollars in damages. Efforts to repair the damage, however, have broken down sharply along racial and socioeconomic lines, according to the brief’s authors, a coalition of community leaders, legal advocates, researchers, and allies.

The LJC and RV-Working Group offer four main recommendations:

  • Increase resources for frontline communities by expanding funding, improving accessibility, and expanding eligibility based on need
  • Grant funds directly to communities in order to avoid perpetuating systemic institutional barriers and delays that have prevented communities of color from recovering quickly
  • Reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies and practices to ensure they are equitable by improving access to FEMA funding and other aid, speeding the delivery of that assistance, and reforming the Stafford Act to account for climate change
  • Establish a governance framework for responding to climate-forced displacement that supports communities’ decisions to adapt-in-place and relocate

“Climate change is the existential crisis of our time, and it’s clear that our current system is failing those who most need—and deserve—federal assistance after a national disaster,” said Rachel Gore Freed, Vice President and Chief Program Officer at UUSC. “The good news is that there are affordable ways of reversing that damage and building a more equitable system. We call on policymakers and elected officials to take the initiative and work to solve these problems before it’s too late.”

“Resources must be allocated directly to communities for proactive planning and implementation to meet their priorities and needs. This process must be done at the level of rights, sovereignty, self-determination, protections, security, and concepts of integration,” as articulated by several members of the Rising Voices Community Relocation & Site Expansion Working Group.

The full brief and more background on this issue can be found at www.uusc.org/cfdbrief. Freed and a representative of the RV Working Group are available to speak about the report and its recommendations.

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The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a human rights and solidarity organization founded as a rescue mission in 1940 during the Holocaust. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with a membership of more than 35,000 supporters across the United States, UUSC’s programs focus on the issues of climate change, migrant justice, and crisis response. 

The Rising Voices Community Relocation & Site Expansion Working Group brings together Indigenous and other scientific professionals, Tribal and community leaders, students, and educators from across the United States, including Alaska, Hawai’i, the Pacific and Caribbean Islands and territories. Our collaborations are guided by wisdom and diverse knowledge systems to co-create relational-based adaptation solutions to climate-driven displacement and protections-in-place.