During my research for a paper on planned relocation and justice, I recently stumbled upon an article that the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribal community in Louisiana, US
will be relocated in a US$ 48 million move by the US government, making them one of the first communities in the US to be relocated because of climate and environmental change.[i] While the cases of communities that need to relocate are still relatively few, rising sea-levels and other negative climate-change impacts will make government-assisted relocation of communities one important task of many governments in the future. Exploring this example will help to clarify some of the relevant levels of justice that philosophers ask when considering such projects.

Photo of “Come Hell or High Water”, an installation by Michael Pinsky. (Flickr/Akuppa John Wigham). CC-BY.

Past experiences, particularly with resettlement due to development projects, such as dams and other large infrastructure projects show that in many cases the ones that have to move are less well off than they were before, which raises issues of both human rights and justice.[ii] One particularly worrisome aspect in that regard is that many governments, even in those countries that are likely going to be the most affected have so far done very little to anticipate and plan on how to deal with the issue.[iii] And as the example from the US shows, even some of the richest and most powerful countries in the world face many difficulties in relocating a handful of small communities. Given that more than 220 million people living in the low-elevation coastal zones of the world’s 11 largest river deltas alone might illustrate the scale of the challenge that human societies will face in the not too distant future.[iv] Therefore it is important to start thinking now of how to safeguard the human rights and to find just solutions for those who need to be relocated now and in the future. In terms of justice, a number of levels need to be considered (and this list is by no means exhaustive).

We need to think about the issue in terms of distributive justice or how to avoid that those who are already negatively affected by climate change are not made even worse off because of the need to relocate. There are also questions in terms of global justice regarding who bears the burden for planned relocations, given that historically most of carbon emissions have been released by the more affluent countries in the more developed world, so is enhances justice to ask affected countries to pay for those relocations.

Further, there are also questions of procedural justice, focusing on how globally, nationally and locally, we can develop laws, policies and institutions that manage to do planned relocations in a way that respects the human rights of those affected and allows for just decision procedures that allow for the affected persons to have a sufficiently strong voice in the process.

In addition, there are also questions of intergenerational justice. One issue is if intergenerational justice requires us to put all or most of our resources that we dedicate to climate change on mitigation to prevent severe negative effects for future generations rather than to use the resources to deal with those consequences that we experience already or envision in the near future. In addition, we need to decide how we divide our resources between mitigation and adaptation, with planned relocation being part of climate change adaptation.

These are only a few questions regarding justice that can be raised in regards to planned relocation. Leaving justice questions unaddressed when considering, planning and implementing planned relocation will lead to detrimental outcomes and we better start thinking about those questions seriously.

[i]Hansen, T. Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Get $48 Million to Move Off of Disappearing Louisiana Island. Indian Country (2016). at <http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/02/05/biloxi-chitimacha-choctaw-get-48-million-move-disappearing-louisiana-island-163310 >

There are also other (mostly indigenous) communities such as Newtok in Alaska that are currently planning to relocate.

[ii] Cernea, M. ‘Impoverishment Risks, Safeguards, and Reconstruction: A Model for Population Displacement and Resettlement’  in Cernea, M. (ed.). Risk and Reconstruction: Experiences of Resettlers and Refugees (World Bank, 2000) at < http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2000/03/437761/risks-reconstruction-experiences-resettlers-refugees&gt;

[iii] Petz, D., Neglected Displacement: Human Mobility in Pacific Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation Mechanisms (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council, 2013) <http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2013/201309-ap-islands-neglected-displacement-thematic-en.pdf&gt; accessed 2 March 2016

[iv]United Kingdom Government Office for Science, Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change (Final Project Report, Government Office for Science, 2011), p. 78., at <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-and-global-environmental-change-future-challenges-and-opportunities&gt;