Blog

The Equity Imperative in Climate Resilience

Emily Simonson, Program Manager, US Water Alliance | December 7, 2018

Whether we live on a farm or near a factory, in a coastal or an inland community, in an urban or rural setting, climate change will affect most of us in our lifetimes – if it hasn’t already.  While the conversation is often caveated by the political schism surrounding climate, a recent poll shows the majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and acknowledge its roots in human activity. Regardless of beliefs, we are all going to live with the consequences.

But low-income communities are often the most vulnerable to the consequences of a changing climate. These communities and communities of color are more likely to live in low-quality housing, lack insurance, and have fewer resources to cope with the challenges climate change creates.

In September, leaders from around the world gathered in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. In October, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change released a sobering report about the current rate and consequences of warming. Then, in November, the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment threatening substantial losses to American infrastructure and stunted economic growth (among other threats) in absence of substantial effort to mitigate and adapt.

For all the conversation about climate change, the inclusion of equity as a major point of discussion seems to be largely missing. Climate action plans are coming together in communities across the country, yet very few incorporate concrete recommendations or metrics for advancing climate adaptation in the communities that need it most.

This is a missed opportunity to address historic environmental inequities. We need a new planning paradigm at the utility, city, regional, and state level to prepare for a changing global habitat. Climate action plans should include equity as a principal goal and establish standards for assessing progress. We also have a lot to learn about resilience from the survivors of hurricanes, survivors of wildfire, and survivors of flooding. The planning process should include their wisdom, and direction from the people the plans aim to serve.  

The good news is, some communities are forging new pathways towards equitable climate resilience. As part of the US Water Alliance Water Equity Taskforce, leaders from Camden, New Jersey are focusing on needs assessment, research, and community engagement to lay the groundwork for the city’s first climate resilience plan with equity at the center. Even more examples are available in the Water Equity Clearinghouse.

Whether it’s planning, funding, or project delivery, strategies to foster equitable resilience are out there – several in the report An Equitable Water Future.

Now, it’s time to use them.