OPINION: From South Sudan to Alaska, climate change is affecting our world

By Carla Montilla

Updated: 8 hours ago Published: 9 hours ago

Communities around the world are feeling the effects of climate change. Record-breaking summer heat is a stark reminder that our planet is in peril and calls on us to invest in mitigation to slow the relentless advance of climate change and in adaptation to protect our communities from its inevitable impacts.

My recent conversations with communities around the world, from the Pan African Peacekeepers Alliance (PAPA) to the Climate Scholars program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have confirmed the dire reality: climate change is already here, threatening people’s way of life. The United States must do more at home and abroad to address it and help people adapt to its impacts in ways that protect them and their identities.

South Sudan

In recent years, South Sudan has suffered from droughts and floods that have led to hunger crises, displacement and conflict. Climate change has increased tensions between smallholder farmers who rely on rain-fed production and nomadic pastoralists, as droughts make it difficult for both groups to find sufficient land and water. In rural communities, flooding has led to the loss of homes, livestock, crops and ancestral customs. Communities that relied on agriculture to feed themselves are now under extraordinary pressure, forcing many to move to cities that do not have the support capacity to accommodate them. In addition, the effects of flooding and associated violence have hit the most vulnerable the hardest, especially women and children.

PAPA and its founder and director, Yoal Gatkuoth, do important work with communities in South Sudan to reduce tensions between different groups. The underlying problem? Climate change is getting worse, and the country does not have the resources to adapt to it. They are not alone. While developing countries have done the least to cause climate change, they are suffering its worst effects and often lack the financial resources to adapt.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Climate change is not a problem unique to nations. As the University of Alaska, Fairbanks students pointed out, Alaskan communities face flooding, coastal erosion, severe winter storms and wildfires. Thawing permafrost soil can damage pipes, buildings, roads and water supplies. Experts estimate that the cost of maintaining public infrastructure could increase by 10 to 20 percent over the next 20 years.

As in South Sudan, climate change is affecting food availability in Alaska and decimating traditional cultures. Rising ocean acidity is impacting the fishing industry, which is the state’s third-largest economic driver and a vital source of food for many of its residents. Alaska Natives are particularly vulnerable, as the loss of sea ice limits hunting areas and reduces habitat for traditional food sources, affecting groups such as the Yupik, Iñupiat, and Inuit. For many of these indigenous communities, the impacts of climate change are not limited to reduced economic well-being, but the loss of their culture and ways of life.

Climate change knows no borders

Leadership on international climate assistance is essential to addressing the urgent challenges posed by climate change. Helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect critical ecosystems, and transition to renewable energy helps us meet global climate change mitigation goals. Initiatives like USAID’s Adaptation Fund help communities in developing countries build resilience and respond to the challenges posed by the climate crisis. It is also financially responsible, as every dollar spent on resilience saves $3.00 that would have been spent on humanitarian assistance. By proactively engaging in climate assistance efforts, the United States can mitigate these risks and promote global stability.

Domestically, the United States took decisive action on climate through the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment to address climate change, support sustainable agricultural practices, and conserve natural resources. However, the federal government must do more to help communities already suffering from the impacts of climate change, increase resilience across the country, and create a more efficient disaster planning response. This would be a smart financial investment since, according to FEMA, every dollar invested in resilience saves $6.00 when a disaster occurs, not to mention the human and financial cost to individuals.

As the hot summer months begin, it is time to recognize the role the United States must play in promoting effective climate solutions around the world. From Fairbanks to South Sudan and every community in between, more can be done to effectively manage this amazing world we live in. Investing in proactive measures and resilience-building strategies will ensure a sustainable future for generations, ensuring global environmental justice that respects all communities and cultures on our planet.

Carla Montilla is a program assistant for sustainable energy and the environment at the Friends Committee of National Legislation. She lobbies for policies that create a green economy, build a sustainable future, and help communities adapt to climate change. She graduated from American University’s School of International Service with a master’s degree in ethics, peace, and human rights and holds degrees in history and political science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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