Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 2261–2272 | Cite as

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

  • Simon AlbertEmail author
  • Robin Bronen
  • Nixon Tooler
  • Javier Leon
  • Douglas Yee
  • Jillian Ash
  • David Boseto
  • Alistair Grinham
Original Article


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.


Sea-level rise Climate change Relocations Solomon Islands Alaska 



We wish to thank the communities in the Solomon Islands and Alaska who provided the inspiration for this article and generously gave insight into the complex factors involved in relocations.

Funding information

AIJ’s research has been funded with support from the Office of Polar Programs at the US National Science Foundation and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Civil EngineeringThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Alaska Institute for JusticeUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  3. 3.Solomon Islands Community Conservation PartnershipHoniaraSolomon Islands
  4. 4.School of Science and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastSippy DownsAustralia
  5. 5.Climate Change Division, Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and MeteorologySolomon Islands GovernmentHoniaraSolomon Islands
  6. 6.School of Social ScienceThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  7. 7.Ecological SolutionsGizoSolomon Islands

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