Coming to the Table: The Importance of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Justice

A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Photo: HHS
A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Photo: HHS

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr. is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Previously, Tim served as EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

Climate change is one of the major public health challenges of our time.  Certain individuals and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, low-income residents, and people of color.  As the conversation about climate change has grown, a new emphasis on climate justice has emerged, focusing on the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.  Climate justice has become a high priority focus of the environmental justice movement.

Recent calls for action to address the public health dangers of climate change have been joined by leaders such as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They and many other leaders agree that climate change is impacting communities across the country and around the globe, particularly those communities already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and social conditions.

This June, more than 100 people from a variety of government agencies, community organizations, academic institutions, and businesses came together in North Carolina to discuss the health effects of climate change as they relate to vulnerable populations.  Convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference encouraged stakeholders to share community challenges and priorities, as well as promising approaches and opportunities for collaboration for responding to emerging health effects.

Although the conference focused on the strategic elements described in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, the dialogue reflected the larger conversation around climate justice.  Federal staff highlighted federal efforts to build climate resilience and promote climate justice.  Representatives of community groups not only offered on-the-ground examples of how climate change is impacting vulnerable communities, they pointed to how they are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action. Other stakeholders discussed tools and resources designed to help communities better understand the health impacts of climate change and become more resilient to these impacts.

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

  • All stakeholders have a role in responding to the emerging health threats of climate change.
  • Community organizations and environmental justice representatives are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action.
  • Vulnerable communities need to be actively involved as programs, policies, and activities are developed and implemented to ensure climate justice.
  • Strategies are needed regarding how federal agencies could provide additional resources to increase the capacity of communities to address climate justice concerns.
  • Mechanisms should be developed to support workers who live and work in communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Relationships with communities should be established as climate change research is conducted, employing mechanisms such as citizen science and community-engaged research to help empower communities to develop useful information.

Participants also discussed the need to achieve more equitable distribution of technical and financial assistance in the face of limited local resources for addressing climate change.  To achieve this, it is important that government agencies better coordinate and share information about climate resiliency services.

The 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference is part of the ongoing dialogue about environmental justice and climate change, occurring 21 years after the signing of the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice and two years after the issuance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The dialogue among all stakeholders about climate justice and public health must continue.  I encourage you to continue to engage and take appropriate actions to address the health impacts of climate change.

Check out the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference Report and other conference materials, including a video from the meeting: https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/conference/hhs_climate_justice/

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Clean Power, Cleaner Communities

By Jalonne White-Newsome

My daughter and I love to cook together, and one of our favorite shows is “Chopped,” where chefs come from across the country and are given 20 to 30 minutes to create an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert with a mystery basket of ingredients. This show is intriguing in that all the chefs are working with the same ingredients, but ultimately, the way they decide to transform the basket of ingredients is unique. While the Food Network was not the first thing on the minds of EPA’s rule writers, I believe the EPA is providing yet another opportunity for us to create a program that will not only be fulfilling, but enhance the quality of life for all.

At the end of July, environmental advocates across the country will be testifying at public hearings to make their voices heard about EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be produced from one of the largest sources of carbon pollution — power plants (or referred to in the plan as “electricity generating units”). This plan is the next big step in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan introduced last year, which set forth an agenda to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, build community resilience, and encourage energy efficiency.

Yes, this is a huge step forward in addressing climate change and there is a need for ALL voices to be heard, especially those of us who are disproportionately impacted by power plant emissions and numerous co-pollutants from exhaust stacks in our community. There is a need for us to not only be present at the public hearings across the country, but to start to engage with utilities, environmental agencies, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders – at the local and state levels – to ensure that equity is a major part of the state-implementation planning process for this proposed rule. Additionally, if you can’t speak at one of the public hearings, there are other ways to comment in writing. The comment period on the proposal is open until October 16, 2014, and you can click here for tips on how to effectively comment on EPA proposed rules and changes.

This rule, I believe, will be a game changer. It is a federal rule but, similar to other federal regulations that are crafted in the Beltway, the State environmental agencies have the responsibility of creating a unique ‘menu of options’ to meet state-based carbon dioxide emission goals. This ‘menu’ can include things like improving emission rates through technological upgrades from power plants, converting current coal-fired utilities to natural gas, enhancing state-level renewable energy requirements, and other options. So while having options on any menu is a good thing, it is also crucial that environmental justice and social justice advocates across the country help create the ‘best menu’ possible – at the state level – that will ensure that EVERYONE feels full and satisfied.

climate-justice

To understand how you can chime-in, WE ACT for Environmental Justice is hosting a webinar next Monday, July 21st to unpack the Clean Power Plan and highlight some of the key equity concerns that could arise. We know that there are many local environmental challenges that require time, energy, and resources that, quite frankly, do not leave much space to work on federal policy. However, it is my hope that environmental advocates across the country will listen in, and see how much we really have at stake if we do NOT get engaged. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan will have a local/state impact that – in one way or another – will probably touch on issues of energy, air quality, alternative fuels, civil rights, green jobs, and education which align with the work you already are engaged in.

Let us all be at the table and make sure we make the menu work for all of us. There’s a lot at stake.

About the author: Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is WE ACT’s Federal Policy Analyst, based in Washington, DC. Prior to joining WE ACT, Jalonne was the inaugural Kendall Science Fellow with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), engaging in independent research on climate change adaptation and public health. While matriculating through the Environmental Health Sciences Department at the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, her dissertation research focused on understanding the public health impacts of extreme heat events, specifically related to indoor heat exposure and how the urban-dwelling elderly adapt to hot weather.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Announcing EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Untitled-2Climate change is real, its impacts are enormous, and we are already seeing these effects across the planet today. And while we are deeply engaged in a discourse about the extent of the disruptions and devastation that a changing and destabilized climate causes, we don’t talk nearly enough about how those burdens will be shared in our country.

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

You see, not all people bear an equal amount of the burden posed by climate change. The sad truth is the majority of the impacts will be felt in our more vulnerable communities, in neighborhoods filled with people who are already struggling to get by. In low income communities, these impacts have already been distressing, including heat-related illness and death; respiratory ailments; increases in the proliferation of infectious diseases; unaffordable rises in energy costs; loss of farm land, and crushing natural disasters.

It’s also under-appreciated that within these same communities, the seeds of positive action are being sown to adapt and be more resilient to climate change. Thousands of individuals and organizations in low income areas and communities of color are joining hands on the frontlines to counteract the effects of climate change. These actions are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making our cities and towns more resilient to its effects, and doing everything they can to offset these impending challenges.

And that’s why I am excited to start the conversation with EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series. Climate justice is a movement that has been defined by its stakeholders – in the grassroots, in academia, in government – and so rather than EPA attempting to articulate what climate justice is, this blog series will allow you to help define and expand the boundaries of climate justice.

Click on the Map and Follow the Instructions to Share your Story!

 

We have also created an interactive Climate Justice in Action Map. You can use the map below to submit your story and provide further perspective. When you tell us about what you are doing, make sure to describe how your work is improving your communities right now. We need to make clear that when we talk about climate justice, we are not just talking about saving the planet for future generations, but also about creating good paying jobs, healthier and safer communities, and preventing future economic devastation by mitigating the effects of climate change.

Untitled-7Lastly, in order to truly turn the tide on climate change, we all need to work collaboratively. My hope is that through this climate justice campaign you just might think about things a little differently. You may read about projects from other stakeholders that make the light bulb go off for you. Hopefully you contribute your knowledge and share what you’ve learned so others can build from your experience.

We’ll do our part to share your stories. Throughout the summer we will be highlighting your submissions in various ways. At the conclusion of the campaign, we will compile and share all of the stories to keep the conversation going. So, please participate, join the conversation, and make this a meaningful dialogue about how we can work together to put climate justice in action. Your comments and contributions will give a fuller and richer understanding of climate justice than EPA could accomplish alone.

About the author: Mustafa Ali currently serves as the Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice at EPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.