Many Strong Voices – Filling the Gap between Community Needs and Policy

Over the past several years, it has become clear that the severe damage and irreversible losses from climate impacts can no longer be avoided.

Peoples and communities around the world understand this all too well, as storms become more violent and unpredictable, sea levels rise, and coastal erosion literally pushes communities into the sea. 

These devastating impacts threaten the lives, livelihoods, property and culture of those most vulnerable to but least responsible for climate change. 

As these impacts become more severe, many communities – particularly those on small islands and low-lying coastal areas – must consider whether relocation is the best means of adapting to the effects of a changing climate and ensuring their cultural survival.

The IPCC has recognized the potential for large-scale displacement and relocation (4th Assessment Report, 2007), and the UNFCCC has acknowledged the need for international coordination and cooperation with respect to displacement, migration and planned relocation (Cancun Adaptation Framework, 2010). However, the UNFCCC and other international institutions have been slow to respond, and these existing frameworks are inadequate to address the urgent needs of peoples and communities that are relocating or have identified the need to relocate as a result of climate change.

Recognizing the gap between community needs and international policy processes, Many Strong Voices (MSV) – a programme that brings together people and organizations in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to take action on climate change – launched an initiative to connect and build the capacity of communities that are relocating. In September 2012, in partnership with the Center for International Environmental Law and the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, MSV held a dialogue between community leaders from Newtok, Alaska, and the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea to learn how informed and participatory decision-making can guide these relocations, minimize adverse effects, and foster community resilience.

Building on this initial dialogue, MSV held a global consultation, the Warsaw Dialogue, with affected peoples and communities – as well as community and civil society representatives, researchers and policymakers – to identify their needs as a means to develop appropriate tools and resources to assist such communities in their relocation efforts.   Held on 18 November at COP19 of the UNFCCC, the Warsaw Dialogue provided an opportunity to learn from and develop a collaborative network among those who are engaged in community relocation processes or relocation policies. The aim is to discuss the challenges communities face (as well as the opportunities) to gain a better understanding of the tools and resources needed to ensure that affected peoples and communities can meaningfully participate in relevant decision-making processes. The broader objectives are not only to provide direct support and help build the capacity of communities, but also to use this first-hand information and experience to inform policy discussions on climate-induced displacement and relocation at the national and international levels.

This workshop provided an opportunity for participants with diverse perspectives on community-based adaptation as well as internal displacement and relocation to share their knowledge and expertise. Some of the issues discussed – in roundtable plenary and in breakout sessions – included:

  • Which communities are relocating (or have identified the need to relocate) and under what circumstances?
  • What are the implications both of staying and relocating?
  • How are decisions regarding adaptation and relocation being made within these communities?
  • What information and resources are needed to allow communities to make informed decisions with respect to relocation?
  • Is there a need to form a broad network to share information and best practices on community-based relocation?