By Heather McGray and Heather Grady.
A growing public and political awareness and a growing grassroots power base is shaping 2019 as a year of expanded opportunity around climate change solutions.
Impatient with federal policies, U.S. states, cities and the private sector are stepping up like never before. Consider that 29 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted specific greenhouse gas reduction targets to address climate change. In parallel, individuals and organizations working on climate change at the local level have claimed ever-greater room to speak on national and international stages. The Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, youth strikes around the globe, and the Green New Deal all represent this new energy and action.
This new momentum on climate solutions comes in part from a powerful shift in how the public thinks about climate change. Where once it was a facts-and-figures matter for scientists to debate, it is now a set of increasingly immediate concerns about the safety and wellbeing of people across the U.S. and the wider world.
Everyone has seen the news of thousands displaced by fires in California. They feel the heat in their hometowns, or the latest extreme storm. The risks have become tangible, and personal, and along with this we hear a growing call for “climate justice.”
Linking climate change and equity
The core of climate justice is giving those people and communities that feel the impacts of climate change first, and worst, a central role in how political, business and non-profit leaders take action. It ensures that solutions are driven by those who know the problem first-hand, and that the risks and benefits of climate change are shared equitably across the divides of class, gender, race, ethnicity and age.
For example, in coastal Bangladesh, teenage girls are especially vulnerable when storms hit. A stressed farming family with a damaged home and flooded fields may pull their daughter out of school to save money or arrange an illegal early marriage in hopes of finding her a better home.
The long-term consequences of these actions are dire, so organizations like COAST are re-writing the equation by putting girls on air with local radio stations. As members of radio clubs, the teenagers have researched and reported on climate change in their communities, helping to raise awareness around emergency protocols and highlighting techniques for farmers and fishers to adapt to their changing environment.
The reality is those hit first by climate change are not only the first to suffer; they are also the first to respond and the first to adapt. As they confront climate change in their daily lives, those on the frontlines are hard at work crafting creative solutions, through technology, policy and new forms of investment in their communities’ welfare and safety.
Climate solutions are also coming from outside local communities, whether closing coal plants or erecting large wind and solar farms, there is a need to respect the rights of those communities. For example, safeguards requiring a mining company to obtain prior and informed consent from local communities before using their land.
Climate justice advocates are calling on businesses and policymakers to make certain the era of renewable energy unfolds equitably, without harming or displacing communities as other forms of energy often have.
Optimism and action
In a convening of philanthropic funders committed to climate justice in New York this winter, Former Irish President Mary Robinson called for “a moonshot level of ambition” that combines a focus on local leadership and an exponential expansion of innovation and investment in developing new climate-friendly technologies and industries.
We saw a potential step toward just such an investment last year when 29 philanthropies committed over $4 billion to addressing a host of climate challenges. But for this investment to achieve its maximum potential impact, taking a climate justice approach will be crucial.
We need to capitalize on both the UN Climate Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals as unifying frameworks, recognizing that we share one planet and one atmosphere. And we need to more rigorously apply principles of gender equity, indigenous rights, human rights and transparency to all of our climate change efforts.
Heather McGray is the director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund.
Heather Grady is a vice president for Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
This article was originally published in The Hill