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

Communities around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change. The record-breaking summer heat is a stark reminder that our planet is in peril, urging us to invest in mitigation to curb climate change’s relentless advance and adaptation to safeguard our communities against its inevitable impacts.

My recent conversations with communities across the globe, from the Pan-African Peacemakers Alliance (PAPA) to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Climate Scholars program have affirmed the haunting reality: climate change is already here and threatening peoples’ very ways of life. The U.S. must do more at home and abroad to tackle it and help people adapt to impacts in ways that protect them and their identities.

South Sudan

In recent years, South Sudan has experienced both droughts and floods leading to hunger crises, displacement, and conflict. Climate change has increased tensions between smallholder farmers relying on rain-fed production and nomadic pastoralists because droughts make it harder for both groups to find enough land and water. In rural communities, flooding has caused the loss of homes, cattle, crops and longstanding customs. Communities that have relied on farming to feed themselves are now under extraordinary strain, forcing many to move to cities that do not have the support capacity to receive them. Additionally, the impacts of floods and associated violence have hit the most vulnerable the hardest, especially women and children.

PAPA and its founder/director, Yoal Gatkuoth, do important work with communities in South Sudan to reduce tensions between different groups. The underlying problem? Climate change is worsening, 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 experiencing its worst effects and often lack the financial resources to adapt.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Climate change is not just an international challenge. As the students from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks pointed out, Alaskan communities are facing flooding, coastal erosion, severe winter storms, and wildfires. The thawing of permafrost soil can damage pipelines, buildings, roads and water supplies. Experts estimate the cost of maintaining public infrastructure may increase by 10-20% over the next 20 years.


Like in South Sudan, climate change is affecting the availability of food in Alaska and is decimating traditional cultures. The increasing acidity of the ocean is affecting the fishing industry, which is the state’s third-largest economic driver and a vital food source for many in the state. Alaska Natives are particularly vulnerable since loss of sea ice limits hunting grounds and reduces habitat for traditional food sources, impacting groups such as the Yup’ik, Iñupiat and Inuit. For many of these Indigenous communities, the impacts of climate change aren’t simply about the reduction of economic wellbeing, it is about a loss of their culture and their very ways of life.

Climate change knows no borders

Leadership in international climate assistance is essential for 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 reach global goals to mitigate climate change. 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 U.S. can mitigate these risks and promote global stability.

Domestically, the U.S. took decisive climate action through the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment to address climate change, support sustainable agriculture practices, and conserve natural resources. However, the federal government needs to do more to help communities already experiencing climate impacts, increase resiliency across the country, and create a more efficient disaster planning response. This would be a smart financial investment as, according to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), each dollar invested in resilience saves $6.00 when there is a disaster, not to mention the human cost and financial costs for individuals.

As the hot summer months begin in earnest, it’s time to recognize the role the U.S. must play in advancing effective climate solutions around the world. From Fairbanks to South Sudan and every community in between, more can be done to effectively steward this amazing world upon which we live. Investing in proactive measures and resilience-building strategies will secure a sustainable future for generations, ensuring global environmental justice that respects every community and culture on our planet.

Carla Montilla is the sustainable energy and environment program assistant at the Friends Committee of National Legislation. She lobbies on behalf of policies that create a green economy, build a sustainable future, and help communities adapt to climate change. She graduated from American University 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.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.