Equity is key to resilience — three ways make it a priority

Equity is key to resilience — three ways make it a priority
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This summer of cascading climate disasters has put three important facts about our changing climate in stark relief. Climate change is here now, and the scale and pace of the challenge are larger than we imagined. Our infrastructure and systems are not ready for these impacts and extremes. The most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of these impacts.

As this summer has shown, it is imperative that we build resilience in our infrastructure, natural systems, social systems and communities. As defined by Judith Rodin, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, in her book “The Resilience Dividend,” resilience is the ability of any system to “prepare for disruptions, to recover from shocks and stresses, and to adapt and grow from a disruptive experience.” Without a concerted focus on equity, climate change will continue to exploit existing gaps, limiting recovery and opportunity and prevent us from achieving resilience. Therefore, building resilience requires not only that we plan and invest for a different climate, but that we do planning and investment differently to build socioeconomic resilience and ensure equitable outcomes.

Below are three actions — drawn from my experience working in various roles with the state of California — that we can take now to start investing differently to build equitable resilience.   


Identify and prioritize protecting the most vulnerable to changing climate

We are already seeing disproportionate impacts from these climate-enhanced events on the most vulnerable members of our society. Increased vulnerability results from physical risk, socioeconomic circumstances and systemic racism and disinvestment. Factors that contribute to vulnerability include lack of access to transportation or safe housing, age and linguistic or social isolation. This disproportionate risk necessitates proactive steps to identify and prioritize investments for the most vulnerable. California’s approach of prioritizing communities disproportionately burdened by pollution in the California Climate Investments program, the portfolio of California programs that invest revenues from the state’s cap and trade program in greenhouse gas-reducing projects, provides a model for doing this. A similar approach would identify the factors that contribute to climate vulnerability and use them to guide investment decisions. 

Employ integrated approaches that connect investments across built infrastructure, natural, social and economic systems

Working across government “siloes” is needed given the multiple dimensions of equity and resilience. In 2014, the Obama administration launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which required applicants to take a holistic, people-centered approach to resilient recovery. California’s winning proposal brought together state, federal and local partners to support investments in forest and watershed restoration, fuel breaks for community protection, biomass utilization to support economic development and community resilience centers in the area affected by the 2013 Rim Fire. This partnership, catalyzed by the design and requirements of the competition, piloted a new, integrated approach to forested community resilience that is now reflected in other state programs and investments. This competitive program provided the impetus to formalize partnerships and pilot a more comprehensive approach to building resilience, linking social, built, economic and natural systems. California’s Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program takes a similar holistic approach to neighborhood-scale investment in communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and with high concentrations of poverty. Evaluations of these investments show the positive outcomes not just from the physical infrastructure investments, but also the social and economic benefits of these projects. In one case, a collaborative partnership established through TCC pivoted to meet community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future infrastructure investment programs should build on these models and develop platforms and incentives for collaborative and holistic infrastructure investment that support the physical and social dimensions of resilience. 

Provide resources to increase access to funds and amplify the voices of communities and individuals in all phases of project development through technical assistance and capacity building 

Communities know what they need to grow and thrive, but they do not all have the same ability to engage in comprehensive planning or to access funding to build resilience. It is critical that infrastructure funding include support for community-led planning, technical assistance and capacity building, especially in priority communities. As an example, the Funding Guidelines for the California Climate Investments program identify technical assistance and community engagement as eligible expenditures. Evaluation of a California Strategic Growth Council technical assistance pilot program showed that applicants who received technical assistance far outcompeted those who did not, and these results were more pronounced in disadvantaged communities. More recent engagements demonstrate the value of technical assistance for developing successful funding applications, community planning and partnership development. 

As President BidenJoe BidenPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks State school board leaves national association saying they called parents domestic terrorists Sunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases MORE said, this is “code red.” We must build more resilient infrastructure and create socioeconomic conditions to advance equity. We have two near-term opportunities to advance equitable resilience: significant federal infrastructure investment and the recovery funding that will flow to states and local governments after this summer’s disasters. With these funding sources, we must design investment to withstand the shocks and stresses of a changing climate, but also to achieve more equitable outcomes by doing our planning and investment differently. Implementing these three steps will help put equity front and center as we build resilience.

Louise Bedsworth is with the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at UC Berkeley School of Law, where she is the Land Use Program director and a senior advisor to the California China Climate Institute. She is also a fellow with Elemental Excelerator's Policy Lab. She previously served as the executive director of the California Strategic Growth Council under California Govs. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomDon't break California's recall by 'fixing' it Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space Top Latino group endorses Padilla for full Senate term MORE and Jerry Brown.