Climate action planning misses opportunities for equity in many California cities

A new study led by UC Santa Cruz has found that most California cities still have a long way to go to address equity as part of their climate action plans, and researchers have identified the pitfalls currents that could impede the progress of these efforts.

The research team analyzed 170 climate action plans, developed by cities in California, which propose policy strategies to address the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with climate change goals. the state. This type of planning has the potential to transform cities, reducing or worsening social and economic inequalities in the process. And poor communities and communities of color in cities are often the most vulnerable to climate change impacts like extreme heat and flooding. the new study sought to determine how cities integrate these types of considerations into their planning.

While more cities are making stated commitments to equity in their climate action plans today than in the past, the analysis showed that the vast majority still lack meaningful discussions. on these issues in substantive political terms. And policy proposals that could affect equity outcomes often focus heavily on aesthetically “green” policies, such as planting trees, rather than “grey” policies related to buildings and infrastructure that could goes further to solve local problems in many cities. The paper found that the equity language and specific policy proposals in the plans were generally not closely tied to actual inequalities in a given city.

“These plans often miss the big picture by focusing on smaller, more superficial interventions that don’t do as much to address some of the structural issues that we believe are producing climate-related equity issues,” said the study’s lead author, Associate Professor of Sociology Hillary Angelo.

The results may also indicate that the ideas and perspectives of the climate justice movement have yet to be integrated into many city climate plans, Angelo says. Of the plans reviewed for the study, 39% contained no equity clause. Others mentioned equity without offering specific policies to address it. The researchers used a three-point scale to assess the degree to which equity discussions were developed in the plans, and only 5% received top marks. Even fewer explicitly mentioned racial inequalities or addressed historical racial injustices.

However, the components of these plans can still affect equity outcomes, so the research team categorized the relevant policy proposals into nine broad categories. Among them, open spaces and trees and recycling and waste management were the two most common and best developed types of proposals, followed by public transport and participatory processes. Plans averaged a score of 2.0 or higher in these categories on a three-point rating scale that measured how specific, concrete and locally relevant the policies were.

Meanwhile, there has been a substantial drop in the proportion of plans that included well-developed proposals to address climate-related health issues, green jobs, access to locally grown food, affordable housing and a denser development in established urban areas. The plans earned average scores of 0.8 and 0.9 in the latter two categories, respectively, on the same three-point scale.

Housing, urban density and other ‘grey’ solutions were more likely to be incorporated when plans included strong equity language. But the researchers say the general lack of attention to these issues in most climate action plans is a missed opportunity.

“Denser urban areas where people can easily walk or take transit to schools, groceries and jobs are the areas where people drive less and have lower emissions from transportation,” the co explained. -author Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of urban planning at UCLA. and a former UCSC faculty member in environmental studies. “Since transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, it would make sense for cities to build more housing in these types of dense, walkable places, and plan together to reduce housing. and broadcasts.”

Yet the research team was not surprised to see trees and open spaces taking precedence over climate action plans. Urban greening can provide significant climate benefits, such as carbon sequestration, shading, and cooling to combat extreme heat. However, several factors may encourage these types of solutions to be favored over local needs.

Green spaces and tree-planting efforts enjoy broad bipartisan support, which the document demonstrated by comparing the results of the city’s votes with the policies of the corresponding climate action plans. Housing policies and equity language, on the other hand, were more likely to be included in more progressive cities, regardless of which cities actually had the highest level of need.

Strategies such as tree planting are also cheaper and easier to implement than housing and infrastructure changes, making them more attractive to cities struggling with limited resources and expertise. And Angelo says green policies align with cultural beliefs about sustainability. His previous book, How green became good: urbanized nature and the making of cities and citizenstraced how green space projects first gained popularity in major American and European cities in the 19th century and eventually became a universal moral good.

“This belief has distorted public policy because aesthetically green projects are so valued that they often go unquestioned whether or not they meet the needs of a community,” she explained. “The findings of this new paper demonstrate this empirically.”

To overcome this, Angelo says communities should focus on “greening better,” with a greater awareness of the limits of what these practices can accomplish. She also recommends greening less, “resisting these ideas as a knee-jerk reaction” to urban problems and thinking more holistically about solutions.

Overall, the authors of the article argue that California’s city climate action plans need to do more to center equity in the future, both in the language that conveys the goals of these plans and ensuring that specific proposed policies are targeted to address the most challenging local injustices.

“I was very surprised at how little the interventions in these plans often have to do with local needs,” Angelo said. “When cities have environmental problems, there are a wide variety of measures that may be needed to address them. Sometimes this may mean more parks, but in other cases more systemic interventions in the built environment will have greater ecological and social impacts.

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