Climate Change and the Protection of Indigenous Peoples Under International Law in the Overseas Colonized Territories of the State

This project examines how the international legal (human rights) obligations of a colonizer state transcend into its overseas territories in the context of climate change and its impact on Indigenous Peoples. Its case studies are Kalaallit Nunaat / Greenland and the Cook Islands.


For Indigenous Peoples, the physical consequences of climate change are inherently connected to intangible ones, and can lead to the attenuation of cultural attachment to place, loss of agency, deterioration of mental health, and the erosion of cultural cohesion and identity. At the same time, climate change gives rise to new opportunities in precisely these locations. What does the law have to do with how competing interests are balanced? And where does international legal responsibility lie for upholding rights in these circumstances?  Drawing on case studies from Greenland and the Cook Islands, this project maps where legal responsibility lies, interrogates how human rights protections can be meaningfully implemented, and provides legal clarity for stakeholders.




Bachelor and masters theses:

  • Benedicte Sofie Holm, “Empowering Resilience: Towards a Human Rights-Based Approach to Implementing Culturally Sensitive Disaster Risk Management in Greenland” (defended 2023)
  • Gry Lykke Schmidt, “Peoples and Power: Implementing Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples in the Legal Framework on Energy Resource Exploitation in Greenland” (defended 2023)
  • Elise Juul, “Climate change and Colonialism: Human rights-protection of Greenlandic children” (defended 2022)


  • The Human Right to Science in Greenland”, Greenland Science Week, 9 November 2023, Nuuk Greenland
  • “Climate Justice in Greenland”, presented to Turning the Tide: Climate Change, Social Change, and Islandness – The Second International Conference on Small Island States and Subnational Island Jurisdictions, Panel on Climate Justice for Islands with Limited Sovereignty (University of Aruba, 23-24 October 2023) Miriam Cullen.
  • Podcast interview with KlimaFokus, June 2023, “Det Globale Klima
  • “Free Association - How are Pacific, Caribbean, and North-Atlantic experiences relevant for Greenland?”, 24 May, Ilisimatusarfik / University of Greenland. In collaboration with the Danish Institute for International Studies and Ilisimatusarfik / the University of Greenland. Miriam Cullen spoke about Aotearoa / New Zealand’s relationship of Free Association with the Cook Islands and Niue and potential independence for Tokelau. Read the related policy paper here (also available in western Greenlandic).

  • Presentation 4 May 2023 14.30 to 15.30: Miriam Cullen, “Law, Rights and Nature”, auditorium, Ilisimatusarfik / University of Greenland, Nuuk

  • Podcast interview Dec 2022: Juristeriet “Kolonitidens juridiske strukturer spøger i klimakrisen” (in English)

  • Feature article (Danish) 2021: Dansk Frie Forskningsfond Nyt forskningsprojekt vil udfylde huller i vores viden om klimatilpasning” (in Danish)




Nivikka Witjes, Project Leader, Siu-Tsiu, Kalaallit Nunaat / Greenland

Elsa Stamatopolou, Director, Indigenous Peoples’ Program, Columbia University

Helle Porsdam, Professor, Copenhagen University, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Rights, Professor, University of Copenhagen

Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Professor, University of Akureyri, Iceland

Alberto Costi, Professor, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand








Internal researchers

Name Title Image
Céline E J L Brassart Olsen Assistant Professor Billede af Céline E J L Brassart Olsen
Theodora Valkanou Postdoc Billede af Theodora Valkanou


Independent Research Fund Denmark logo
Climate Change and the Protection of Indigenous Peoples Under International Law in the Overseas Colonized Territories of the State is funded by Independent Research Fund Denmark

Amount: DKK 2.876.423,00

Period: 01-01-2022 – 30-12-2024


Miriam CullenPI Associate Professor
Miriam Cullen

South Campus, Building 6A-4-12
DK 2300 Copenhagen S
Phone: +45 35 32 33 36