Policy Options

Climate Justice



NCEL Point of Contact

Clara Summers
Climate and Energy Manager



Both in the U.S. and worldwide, individuals and communities that contributed the least to the climate crisis will face the greatest impacts. Because climate change amplifies existing injustices, policies to address climate change should be designed to mitigate inequality and disproportionate impacts. To advance climate justice, state legislation needs to identify and center environmental justice communities, build an inclusive economy, support community-driven solutions, require local pollution reductions, and facilitate a just transition.

Climate Justice Terms Defined

Climate Justice

"The term climate justice while used in different ways in different contexts by different communities, generally includes three principles: distributive justice which refers to the allocation of burdens and benefits among individuals, nations and generations; procedural justice which refers to who decides and participates in decision-making; and recognition which entails basic respect and robust engagement with and fair consideration of diverse cultures and perspectives.” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Climate Injustice

"Relates to how the impacts of climate change will be felt differently by different groups and how some people and places will be more vulnerable than others to these impacts. But vulnerability is not innate to some groups – it is determined by a mix of socio-economic, environmental and cultural factors and institutional practices such as planning rules and housing policy as well as people’s own capability to respond.” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

Just Transition

The concept that as the economy moves from being fossil fuel-based to being clean energy-based, former fossil fuel workers and communities are not left without any support. Economic transitions can be disorganized and disruptive or they can be intentional and pro-worker; proponents of a just transition advocate for policies that will provide economic replacement for fossil fuel communities and ensure that clean energy jobs are good jobs. (Institute for Human Rights and Business)

Policy Strategies

Identify and Center Environmental Justice Communities

  • Massachusetts S.9 (2021) – Defined “environmental justice community” using race, income, and English language-proficiency criteria and created new standards for meaningful public participation in the decision-making process.
  • Washington S.B.5141 (2021) – Required an environmental justice assessment of proposed and historic environment bills, rulemakings, and budgets; created and funded an EJ Council that supports integrating EJ into state government; and set a goal for agencies to allocate 35% of their budgets to serving the communities and geographies most impacted by pollutants and environmental degradation.
  • New York S.6599 (2019) – Required that disadvantaged communities must receive no less than 35% of overall benefits from the state’s climate programs; created the Climate Justice Working Group.

Build an Inclusive Economy

  • Connecticut S.B.999 (2021) – Set guidelines and requirements for renewable energy projects to incorporate community benefit agreements, apprenticeship programs, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements.
  • Washington S.B.5116 (2019) – Created tiered tax incentives for clean energy projects based on job quality.
  • Maryland S.B.516 (2019) – Appropriated $7 million in clean energy funding specifically for small, minority, women-owned, and veteran-owned clean energy businesses; offers grants to clean energy employers that sponsor registered apprentices and pre-apprentices and utilize Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).

Prioritize Community-Driven Solutions

  • Washington S.5489 (2021) – Created a community engagement plan that describes engagement with overburdened communities and vulnerable populations as new and existing activities and programs are evaluated, including facilitation of equitable participation and support of meaningful and direct involvement.
  • California S.B.1072 (2018) – Established a technical assistance program to help under-resourced communities apply for and secure state and federal grants for both mitigation and adaptation projects.

Require Local Pollution Reductions 

  • Washington S.B.5126 (2021) – Required improved air quality in communities disproportionately overburdened by pollution and directed a minimum of 35% of carbon pricing revenues to such communities.
  • New Jersey A.2212/S.232 (2020) – Required DEP to evaluate environmental and public health stressor of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.
  • California AB 617 (2017) – Implemented programs to reduce exposure in communities most impacted by air pollution.

Facilitate a Just Transition

  • Illinois S.B.2132/H.B.3624 (2021) – Invested up to $40 million per year to replace lost property taxes, and support economic development and job training; created a “bill of rights” for displaced workers and provided them with services and training.
  • Colorado H.B. 19-1314 (2019) – Created a Just Transition Office in the Department of Labor and Employment. The final just transition action plan as submitted to the legislature is available here.
  • New Mexico S.B.489 (2019) – Issued low-cost bonds to lower the cost to ratepayers when electric generating facilities retire; directed bonds towards job training programs for former fossil fuel workers and impacted communities, including Indian tribes.


NCEL Resources

Online Resources

Environmental Justice - NCEL

NCEL's webpage on environmental justice with relevant facts and policies.

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Just Transition - NCEL

NCEL's webpage on ensuring just transitions away from fossil fuels with relevant facts and policies.

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Guide to Equitable, Community-Driven Climate Preparedness Planning - Urban Sustainability Directors Network

This guide provides strategies for involving community members in climate adaptation.

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Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs - Georgetown Climate Center

A guidebook for ensuring equity in climate adaptation and resilience efforts.

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Solutions Library - Just Solutions Network

This resource library brings together the best work for or by BIPOC-Frontline communities on just policy and program solutions.

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State-Based Policies to Build a Cleaner, Safer, More Equitable Economy - Blue Green Alliance

Provides examples and frameworks for state-level policies to build clean, safe, and equitable economies.

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Flowing river

Empower State Environmental Champions

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