New pilot project seeks to build climate change resiliency

A unique pilot project will help to better allocate resources to coastal, mostly indigineous, communities to build climate change resiliency.
Published: Aug. 20, 2022 at 12:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska faces a lot of weather drama.

Scientists say the large swings from one extreme to the other, and their increased frequency over time are tell-tale signs of climate change already having significant impacts on the state, whether by sea, by land, or on the people.

To tackle this present and growing threat, two mighty organizations partnered with each other to leverage their resources with the goal of overcoming the challenges vulnerable — especially Indigenous — coastal populations face, and yet also allowing each to survive, and even, thrive through the chaos.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) have joined together to engage in this research. Information gathered during a series of roundtable discussions in 2021 made it apparent that a more bottoms-up approach was needed to address, and then allocate resources that build resilience for all the tribes and villages that bear unequal burdens created by climate change, and at the same time, also maintain the health, well-being, and prosperity of each. Such is the mission of the “Expanding and Connecting Tribal-Led Climate Change Capacity to Serve Indigenous Community Needs in Alaska” project.

“We recognize that our strength and resilience comes from our ability to work together to solve problems. Erosion, flooding, and melting permafrost continue to threaten Alaska Native communities, impacting the culture, and the ability to hunt and gather food to nourish our loved ones,” said Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, President, and CEO of ANTHC. “Through partnerships with NOAA and their continued efforts, we are able to address the environmental issues that worsen with climate change.”

Three main objectives were outlined in order to successfully achieve the mission. First, establish a director of tribal climate change initiatives within ANTHC that leverages statewide relationships with tribes to identify climate change adaptation activities and challenges in each tribe so that a baseline can be set. Then convene an Alaska native people-led advisory group to prioritize efforts across the state. These priorities will then be published in a report so NOAA and other federal agencies can direct resources accordingly.

Dr. Richard W. Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, traveled to Alaska on Friday, to help solidify the starting point of these crucial conversations.

“I happen to be in Nome right now, where I’m getting personal, firsthand opportunity to see how climate change, how coastal conditions are changing and impacting the villages and the tribal communities across the coastal communities of Alaska,” Spinrad said. “So Alaska is really on the leading edge of impacts from climate change, not just in terms of what it’s doing to coastal communities, but what it’s doing to fisheries, for example, and as you well know, to some of the weather and climate patterns we’re seeing up here as well.”

“I’m hoping that the value of this pilot and the value of, for example, me and my team coming up here to Alaska to talk to people to talk to the local communities, is to develop a much more long-standing relationship,” Spinrad said.

The project just happens to be perfectly timed with President Biden’s recent signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed by Biden earlier in the year.

”The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act, are giving us some of the resources that we need, a nice chunk of resources to address these problems, and by engaging with Indigenous communities, we’re going to be able to develop, I think, solutions to the impacts that we’re seeing here in the state and throughout the state,” Spinrad said.

NOAA is contributing $258,000 for the remainder of the 2022 Fiscal Year, with ANTHC pledging to provide $20,000 in in-kind services in return.

There are seven projects total to take place by 2030.