Heading for the hills: climate-driven community relocations in the Solomon Islands and Alaska provide insight for a 1.5 °C future

Whilst future air temperature thresholds have become the centrepiece of international climate negotiations, even the most ambitious target of 1.5 °C will result in significant sea-level rise and associated impacts on human populations globally. Of additional concern in Arctic regions is declining sea ice and warming permafrost which can increasingly expose coastal areas to erosion particularly through exposure to wave action due to storm activity. Regional variability over the past two decades provides insight into the coastal and human responses to anticipated future rates of sea-level rise under 1.5 °C scenarios. Exceeding 1.5 °C will generate sea-level rise scenarios beyond that currently experienced and substantially increase the proportion of the global population impacted. Despite these dire challenges, there has been limited analysis of how, where and why communities will relocate inland in response. Here, we present case studies of local responses to coastal erosion driven by sea-level rise and warming in remote indigenous communities of the Solomon Islands and Alaska, USA, respectively. In both the Solomon Islands and the USA, there is no national government agency that has the organisational and technical capacity and resources to facilitate a community-wide relocation. In the Solomon Islands, communities have been able to draw on flexible land tenure regimes to rapidly adapt to coastal erosion through relocations. These relocations have led to ad hoc fragmentation of communities into smaller hamlets. Government-supported relocation initiatives in both countries have been less successful in the short term due to limitations of land tenure, lacking relocation governance framework, financial support and complex planning processes. These experiences from the Solomon Islands and USA demonstrate the urgent need to create a relocation governance framework that protects people’s human rights.

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Solomon Islands