NCEL Blog

States Working to Ensure Climate Justice

March 17, 2022

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Clara Summers
Climate and Energy Manager

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This piece was written by Olivia Amitay, NCEL Communications Intern. Olivia is a recent graduate from Boston University where she earned a B.S. in Public Relations and a minor in Environmental Analysis & Policy.

Climate justice is more than a term, but a movement that recognizes that climate change can have differing social, public health, economic, and other adverse impacts on historically marginalized and underserved communities. NCEL recognizes that these communities must be leaders and active participants in the conversation surrounding the just transition to a sustainable economy and energy infrastructure. 

Forms of Climate Injustice 

Climate gentrification

Climate gentrification is the process by which land with greater resiliency against the physical impacts of climate change becomes more desirable and valuable. This trend is especially observed in coastal communities where beachfront areas have been the most desirable properties, and thus have been historically inaccessible for Black homeownership. As sea-level rise now threatens these beachfront properties, many affluent Americans are seeking more climate-resilient homes, thus displacing existing communities.  

  • Climate gentrification has been observed in the majority non-White neighborhood of Little Haiti, Florida, sitting ten feet above sea level. Little Haiti is the fastest gentrifying neighborhood in South Florida, with home values increasing by 19% since 2016.

Extreme Weather Inequality 

Climate change causes more frequent and severe weather events, including heavy rainfall, dangerous storms, droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves. The impacts of extreme weather are felt disproportionately by people of color (POC). 

  • Historic segregation has resulted in POC residing in low-lying and flood prone areas in many cities across the United States. The consequences of these patterns were made increasingly clear during Hurricane Katrina, among other hurricanes, where more than half of those who perished were Black.
  • Farm workers are 20 times more likely to die from extreme heat and Latinx people make up about 75% of farmworkers in the U.S.
  • Communities that are majority Black, Hispanic, or Indigenous experience 50% greater vulnerability to wildfires compared to other communities. 

Unequal Climate Impacts 

Even while underserved communities bear the most climate burden, they often release the least amount of carbon emissions and pollutants. 

  • White Americans experience about 17% less air pollution than they produce, while Black and Latinx Americans respectively bear 56% and 63% more air pollution than they cause through consumption. 
  • More than 1 million Black Americans live within a half-mile of oil and natural gas wells, processing, transmission and storage facilities. In Oklahoma, Ohio, and West Virginia, one in five Black residents live within a half-mile of an oil or gas facility.

Groups Working Towards Climate Justice 

Despite the many injustices listed above, countless organizations are paving the way in the fight for climate justice. Below are just a few groups striving to reverse the unequal climate outcomes experienced by their communities. 

  • The Hip Hop Caucus utilizes cultural expression to empower communities who are first and worst impacted by injustice. The organization started the Think 100 Project, a content and engagement platform that provides multicultural millennials with the tools to learn about climate justice and ways to impact their communities. 
  • Formed in 2013, the Climate Justice Alliance creates new grounds for collaboration and action by uniting frontline communities and organizations across the country. With over 70 member organizations, the alliance builds equitable and clean-energy economies rooted in place-based webs of social and ecological relationships. 
  • The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples to address environmental and climate justice issues throughout the country. IEN works to build the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect sacred sites, land, water, natural resources, and the health of all living things. 

State Action 

Many states are working to ensure climate justice is addressed and considered in legislation. For more information on state action, please refer to NCEL’s Climate Justice Fact Sheet.

  • In 2019, New York passed S.6599, which created the Climate Justice Working Group and required that disadvantaged communities must receive no less than 35% of overall benefits from the state’s climate programs.
  • In 2021, Washington passed SB 5126, which required improved air quality in communities disproportionately overburdened by pollution and directed a minimum of 35% of carbon pricing revenues to such communities.
  • In 2021, Connecticut passed SB 999 to set guidelines and requirements for renewable energy projects to incorporate community benefit agreements, apprenticeship programs, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements.