Building equity, inclusiveness for low-income communities is key in climate resilience planning
About the Author: Shamar Bibbins is a program officer with the Environment Program at The Kresge Foundation. Her grant work supports efforts that help communities build resilience in the face of climate change.
As a student organizer, I saw firsthand the lack of engagement with communities of color around key environmental issues. When I began working on climate change years later, I remained guided by a deep passion to ensure that people from historically underrepresented groups were included in efforts to advance climate solutions.
Low-income communities have, historically, been largely excluded from the benefits of robust investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, high-quality transit, and other climate-beneficial interventions. Climate policies have failed to address the magnitude of environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities these communities face.
I believe the only way we will come close to meeting our global climate challenges is by adopting the principles of environmental justice to develop targeted strategies that address the unique circumstances of these populations. In the absence of proactive efforts to address equity concerns in climate resilience planning, climate change will reinforce and worsen current socioeconomic disparities, diminishing opportunity for low-income and other disadvantaged populations.
Over the years, the Kresge Foundation has worked in conjunction with the EPA by matching funds so that communities receive the financial assistance needed to create healthier and more environmentally-friendly neighborhoods. We are proud to support the EPA’s environmental justice mission, which strives for all communities and persons across the nation to enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process that impacts their environment.
After 25 years of working on these types of collaborative governmental/non-governmental projects, I am honored to see how these types of partnerships truly do make a visible difference in communities. This is why I have been so excited to lead the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative at the Kresge Foundation.
The initiative aims to ensure that the distinct needs and interests of low-income communities are addressed in climate adaption planning. Through the initiative, we support grantee organizations in more than one dozen U.S. cities who are working to establish local and regional climate policies that meet the priorities of low-income communities.
We recently awarded $660,000, three-year grants to 15 community-based organizations to work toward incorporating strong equity provisions into local and regional climate resilience policies and programs.
One of the goals of the Initiative is to systematically engage leaders and advocates who authentically represent the concerns of low-income communities and elevate their expertise on climate change. This engagement is designed to ensure that cities and municipalities adopt climate resilience plans that are more attendant to the priorities of people disproportionately harmed by climate-driven extreme events like flooding, heat waves and intense storms. These are people who have traditionally been left out of broader climate decision-making processes and we are striving to get them involved!
I am grateful to be part of a program that is building the field of climate resilience with a comprehensive, integrated approach that leads with equity. I truly believe that this new cadre of leaders who are both skilled at working in low-income communities and experts in climate resiliency will be an important step in addressing the urgent and complex environmental and climate challenges.
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