Often solidarity is the community currency leftover after any disaster. Full decarbonization of the U.S economy is both technologically and financially feasible, but how can we ensure equitable climate action acceleration through distributed climate prosperity?
Climate change is already disrupting lives and livelihoods all around the world with burning forests, shifting coastlines, changing weather patterns, and rogue disasters. With the reincorporation of the United States in the Paris Agreement and plummeting cost of clean energy, there is renewed momentum and incredible opportunities for bold climate action.
This opportunity can’t ignore the nuanced and lived experiences of marginalized environmental groups, peoples, and ideas by an unfair system that created the problem. Rapid and scalable climate action is only possible through active and direct participation in the design and deployment of climate just solutions. The Paris Agreement, through its Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) or Article 12, reinforces how essential stakeholder-driven action is to reach climate goals.
ACE is the term adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that calls on every nation to ensure all people can understand and participate in solving the complexities associated with responding to climate change. A deep decarbonization is actually the most economical path forward, and social factors will be the final barriers in achieving that transition. Thus making sure that all levels of society accelerate concerted climate action is imperative. ACE has identified six pillars to catalyze behavior change, capacity, and people-centered climate solutions: public participation, training, education, access to information, public awareness, and international cooperation
Climate solutions that fail to address or exacerbate economic inequality are not just inadequate but politically impractical and simply put, false solutions. Climate breakdown is felt the hardest in places with colonization histories of natural resources decimation, weakened infrastructure, and compromised environmentally harmonic ways of living. It is well known that black and Hispanic communities in the US experience the worst air quality despite their activities causing less pollution than their white United States’ counterparts. Racial inequality also leads to inadequate preparedness and lack of resources to cope, for example, more than 30% of New Orleans residents couldn’t evacuate the Hurricane Katrina floods because they didn’t own a car.
Often solidarity is the community currency leftover after any disaster. From Katrina to Maria, in many ways, the outpour of community support was the only form of safety net available in many cases. The ability to respond, bounce-back, or recover from disasters is shaped by socioeconomic factors including pre-existing injustices. Disaster prevention and preparedness should be systemic, social status and racial background shouldn’t pre-determine protection levels in a healthy society.
However, frontline communities are relentlessly leading climate action and a just transition from an extractive development model, because it is the only way of survival when BIPOC neighborhoods have served as the sacrifice zones to fuel an unjust and damaging economy. BIPOC and working-class communities black and Hispanic teens have expressed a greater sense of urgency and lead youth climate strikes in 2019 representing twice as many of their white classmates. Centering the leadership of these communities in leading us out of this crisis is not only the moral thing to do is the only way to actually way out of this crisis.
A just and equitable society is a by-product of co-designed climate action. Driving swift smart climate action requires that everyone is part of the process. Climate change was created by years of corporate greed, exploitation and injustice. We can’t fix injustice with more injustice. Thus, real climate solutions meet the needs of those who are the most impacted. Thus, ACE enhances climate solutions design and implementation by ensuring:
- Legitimacy & Feasibility: One-size does not fit all, we live in multiple overlapping intersecting crises which means technology and economic fixes are not enough. We need to ground climate solutions in local contexts and consent. Through direct engagement, we can have crucial information about local needs, capacities, and place-based strategies. Obtaining, this way, a diverse and adaptive curation process of equitable strategies that can reduce the climate overburden of communities. Legitimate climate action not only serves everyone but also harnesses action at every level.
- Drive & Distribute climate prosperity: Climate actions can deliver social and economic benefits that further equity and ensure a just transition. There is paramount evidence that emission reduction strategies can generate more than 65 million new low-carbon jobs as soon as 2030, generate $36 trillion in net global economic benefits, and avoid 700,000 deaths from air pollution. Providing individuals with the skills through workforce development programs and training can distribute the benefits of climate action while powering the economic transformation with human capacity without leaving anyone behind. Education and communication with affected communities can inform training and safety-net needs (i.e wage and tax-based support, job training, etc.) for a well-managed and well-resourced transition.
- Political stability: Transformation can only succeed if it enjoys societal legitimacy. Policies based on citizens’ priorities, needs, self-determination, and capacities yield broad-based public support needed to ensure the sustainability of the measures. As shown by the yellow vest movement, popular support is a prerequisite for all climate policies and we can’t pass the cost of an essential economic transition to those who can’t bear it. We need to ensure we are investing in physical and care infrastructure that enables facing crises in a sustainable way. A climate transition needs to feel just, especially for historically disproportionately affected communities.
- Transparency & Accountability: Individuals should know and understand the risk and cumulative pollution impact of all policies and projects near their communities to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts. The inclusion of BIPOC and working-class communities can help prioritize their needs in clean energy and climate investments. At the same time, ongoing and direct participatory processes can raise the ambition and ensure its implementation on the local level.
The implementation of ACE will not only distribute the benefits of a just and equitable transition but also the capacity by mobilizing the innovation needed to deliver jobs, justice, and opportunity. A community-led framework seeks to guide the development of a national strategy to advance the ACE principles for a whole-government and whole-society approach. To address the climate disaster we need aggressive action, we need to address the root of the problem, we need communities with the most at stake leading the way. We need all hands on deck in order to rise to the daunting challenge of climate change.
Isatis M. Cintron-Rodriguez (Ph.D. Candidate) is a Puerto Rican climate researcher awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship to study the impacts of atmospheric pollution in the cryosphere and potential mitigation policies. She works in the intersection between climate civic diplomacy, strategizing and community organizing around climate action and human rights in the Latin America and Caribbean Region (LAC). She is the LAC Regional Coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby/International (CCI), focused on advancing climate-smart finance, climate empowerment, and public participation both at the national and the UNFCCC level.