Community risk assessments for “under threat” villages
Detailed risk reports produced following community consultation to engage with local indigenous knowledge alongside climate science, literature review and stakeholder engagement to identify ongoing and intensifying environmental changes for analysis, including riverbank erosion, loss of permafrost and biodiversity change.
The changes in climate, as well as the increased occurrence of extreme weather-related events, are becoming a threat to Alaska and Alaskans. Thirty-one villages have already been identified by the United States of America government as being under ‘imminent threat’. In partnership with Two Bears Environmental Consulting (TBEC) and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), we worked with the villages of Chefornak, Napakiak and Newtok to develop short and long-term solutions to address the impacts of climate change and support Alaskans residing in environmentally threatened communities, including protecting their traditional way of life.
We generated underlying climate risk information for the three villages while TBEC engaged with ANTHC and the local communities. A review of tribal community risk factors was established through community consultation, literature review and essential critical stakeholder engagement.
Early in the project initiation phase, ClimSystems and TBEC staff help consultative meetings with the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning and the International Arctic Research Center. These meetings were essential to understanding previous and current research projects in Alaska regarding climate model development and applied community research.
Community engagement with the process was critical. The villages were able to reinforce their indigenous understanding of climatic and environmental change with that garnered through scientific examination of historical data sources and also future climate change projections.
From this information, of various climate-related factors were identified as linked to ongoing and intensifying environmental changes. Issues such as riverbank erosion, loss of permafrost and changes in biodiversity were prioritised and climate and environmental data were prepared for analysis. The three villages were all riverside sites with already identified riverbank erosion issues, so we applied GIS (Geographic Information System) for mapping climate and environmental change with a focus on riverbank erosion and projections of potential loss of lifeline infrastructure.
Detailed reports were prepared, and TBEC returned to each village to conduct community workshops to verify and validate historical information and discuss future scenarios of possible environmental planning changes that could be required and the timelines. The information gathered in these workshops was used to finalise the report. Options for relocation, either to different parts of the river or inland from the riverbank, were also examined through the regional approach to village assessments.
An understanding of integrating different environmental data sources with climate model scenario data provided not only the villages but also other stakeholders with a better understanding of the importance of linking indigenous knowledge and Western scientific information for adaptation planning in rapidly changing Arctic environments.