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Cities Must Act to Help Poorest, Most Vulnerable Prepare for Climate Impacts

Increasing economic opportunities, making clean energy more accessible, and making disaster preparedness a priority are the three crucial steps cities can take through an environmental justice lens to help their most vulnerable, lowest-income residents prepare for climate change, according to a recent Climate Reality Project primer published by CleanTechnica.

Climate impacts often fall disproportionately and unfairly on society’s most vulnerable, but cities are uniquely well-positioned to do something about these inequities by taking innovative climate action,” Climate Reality notes. And more than 400 U.S. mayors “are ready to take climate action. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. They’re ready to fight for a better tomorrow right now,” as part of their commitment to “adopt, honour, and uphold” the goals in the Paris Agreement.

Citing a September, 2017 local action framework produced by the Center for American Progress, the article points to the equity and environmental justice issues that accompany major climate disasters. “While climate change affects us all, it hits families living paycheck to paycheck the hardest,” CAP notes. “In a world of growing inequities, it is not mere coincidence that the poorest among us not only live and work in areas most prone to flooding, heat waves, and other climate change effects but are also least resourced to prepare adequately for and withstand those impacts.”

For Catherine Flowers, director of environmental justice and civic engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics, that understanding leads to a focus on environmental justice as a basis for “fighting for the equitable distribution of technology and resources, with a preference to those who need them the most.”

The CAP framework begins with jobs and earnings for poor households that are also most vulnerable to climate impacts. “City leaders can help rebalance the economy by designing climate solutions and resilience strategies that tear down barriers to economic opportunities for those who have shouldered the disproportionate costs of environmental and racial inequality,” the organization states. The next step is for cities to make planning decisions that make renewable, resilient energy available to all neighbourhoods, not only those that are well-off.

“Historically, benefits of and access to clean energy sources have not been equally shared,” the report states. “Low-income energy efficiency programs are only about 6% of total efficiency program budgets overall, and the upfront costs of home or community renewable projects are prohibitive for low-income and many middle-class communities.”

Finally, look no farther than Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey for evidence that poor neighbourhoods are hit hardest when severe weather strikes. A dollar spent on disaster risk mitigation saves $6 in future costs, CAP notes. But to take action on that insight, cities must “use municipal bonds, public-private partnerships, and other strategies to finance energy efficiency, extreme weather, and climate change preparedness,” buy out high-risk properties, help residents voluntarily move out of flood-prone areas, and work with non-profits and the private sector to boost communities’ access to insurance and loans to reduce their risks.