Workshop addresses climate-induced human migration

People sitting in a conference room listening to speaker at the podium. Photo of car driving through flooded street on screen in background.
People on the Move in a Changing Climate (PEMOCC) workshop in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Sean Kelly/Alaska Sea Grant.

Alaska Sea Grant hosted the workshop People on the Move in a Changing Climate in Anchorage, bringing together experts and stakeholders to discuss research needs, socioeconomic consequences, and building resilience and adaptation related to climate-induced human mobility in U.S. coastal and Great Lakes regions.

People standing and sitting around table talking. Posters with sticky notes on wall.
PEMOCC participants during a breakout session.
Photo by Sean Kelly/Alaska Sea Grant.

The April workshop was organized by a Sea Grant-led research coordination network. This workshop, focused on Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and the greater international Pacific Region, was the last in a series of five regional workshops held across the country over two years. The event leveraged Sea Grant’s trusted relationships with local communities to facilitate collaboration among researchers, practitioners, resource managers and coastal community members in order to improve our understanding of how climate change influences migration away from the coast, and areas where people might migrate to.

Participants came from as far as Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi, and Montegut, Louisiana, and others attended online from even more distant regions, such as the Northern Mariana Islands. Workshop attendees included Alaska researchers, community planners, Tribal representatives, university students, and others, including a large contingent from Western Alaska. Tribal Council members from the Native Village of Hooper Bay and members from the nearby Native Village of Paimiut attended the workshop. Having coped recently with the impacts of Typhoon Merbok in 2022, Western Alaska community residents and leaders were interested in sharing their experience and learning from others to improve resilience.

The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation Coastlines and People Initiative, was organized by Davin Holen, Alaska Sea Grant’s coastal community resilience specialist, with help from Alaska Sea Grant State Fellow Sean Kelly.

Kelly reflected on the significance of these regional workshops for communities experiencing displacement. “This workshop brought together a diverse group of individuals, many of whom are grappling with impending decisions about whether or not to relocate their communities.” Kelly continued, “the central value of a gathering like this lies in participants sharing their stories, concerns, and ideas with one another.”

Workshop segments were organized around four topics:

Narratives from the coast. Personal narratives of migration, from Hoonah in Southeast Alaska, to Chevak on the western coast of Alaska, rooted the workshop in real life experiences.

People on the Move in a Changing Climate poster with artwork about Narratives from the Coast.
Photo by Sean Kelly/Alaska Sea Grant.

Stories from island communities. Speakers from the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Molokaʻi shared lessons of community resilience in response to climate change and sea level rise.

Building and maintaining communities. Presentations from the Northwest Coast, Hawaiʻi, and international perspectives focused on the management of climate-resilient infrastructure, relocation experiences of rural communities, barriers to managed retreat, and social justice.

People on the Move in a Changing Climate poster with artwork about Building and Maintaining Communities..
Photo by Sean Kelly/Alaska Sea Grant.

Future coastal communities. Speakers talked about reenvisioning communities as they grow, how to advance inclusive and collaborative planning, and inspiring examples of resilient coastal communities. This included perspectives from planners from Alaska’s Mat-Su Borough, coastal Alaska, and Hawaiʻi.

A workshop report summarizing the April 2023 event is forthcoming and will be part of a larger final report covering all five series workshops. The People on the Move in a Changing Climate team is drafting a special issue of the Sea Grant Law & Policy Journal, summarizing what was learned in the workshop series. The team hopes to develop another series of workshops focused on how destination communities might prepare for climate-driven migration.

For more information about the event or the group leading the effort, contact Davin Holen or Sean Kelly.