A Roadmap for Frontline Communities

To address the growing climate impacts on low-income people and communities of color, NRDC signed on to a historic platform that seeks to create a future that benefits all.

NRDC joined sister groups large and small—including other national environmental organizations and community environmental justice groups—at a Climate Forum in Washington, D.C., this past June. Our task? To step up collaborative action to address a rising tide of climate injustice.

The problem isn’t a new one; marginalized communities have historically shouldered a disproportionate share of our collective environmental burden, while simultaneously not always benefiting from policies to reduce pollution. And recent dire climate warnings have exacerbated the issue. People earning low incomes and communities of color are the most vulnerable to the worst of climate change’s effects. They experience higher rates of heat-related deaths and greater damage from extreme storms and flooding. To make matters worse, these groups tend to have fewer resources to both prevent and recover from climate disasters.

Forum participants gathered to address this growing burden. The outcome of the meeting—which capped a year of work among all involved to achieve consensus—was the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, a blueprint for a new movement that fuses economic, racial, and environmental justice into a single advocacy framework. The platform allows groups both large and small to leverage their combined resources toward the twin goals of redressing inequity and creating safe, strong, resilient communities.

Credit: From top: Michele Roberts, co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, signs the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform; Richard Moore, co-coordinator of Los Jardines Institute and national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance at the Climate Forum.

“This agreement is a long time coming,” notes Richard Moore of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, a frequent collaborator with NRDC and one of the platform’s key architects. “Only when we come together will we win. The future of all our communities and workers depends on it.”

Lissa Lynch, an attorney in NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, echoes Moore’s urgency. “For too long, environmental justice communities have borne the brunt of pollution and been excluded from the process of developing policies to address that pollution,” she says. “The platform is an important step toward righting those wrongs by acknowledging the interconnectedness of injustice and environmental harm and by elevating the voices and ideas of environmental justice leaders as we work together to solve the climate crisis.”

In calling for renewed and vigorous investment in clean energy, low-emissions public transportation, and resilient infrastructure and housing, the platform’s authors made sure to emphasize the links between environmental progress and economic progress. Together, NRDC and our partners vowed to support expanded job opportunities for communities that have experienced disproportionately high unemployment, responsible transit-oriented development that invigorates neighborhoods without displacing residents, and more abundant (and centrally located) energy-efficient affordable housing.

National environmental group staff, including Ronald Hwang (far left), managing director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, cheer after the signing of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform.

Recognizing that this vision can never be achieved unless policymakers adequately address the legacy of systemic racism and injustice in our country, the forum participants crafted the platform as a tool to aid and inform local, regional, and national lawmakers, business leaders, and civil society advocates. Equally important, says Roland Hwang, managing director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, the platform is meant to provide guidance on how decision makers can go about generating new policy ideas to right environmental injustice.

“The signatories believe communities that bear the greatest burdens from pollution, climate change, and economic inequality should be full partners and co-lead the efforts to develop and adopt the necessary solutions to tackle the climate crisis and environmental racism,” Hwang says. Only then can we truly realize a just climate future.

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