How NC can tackle the climate crisis and address environmental justice

By: - September 10, 2020 5:30 am

New, “must read” report details six ways to create safe, healthy communities and ensure access to clean, affordable energy

A new report from the Center for American Progress outlines how North Carolina can reduce the impact of climate change in a way that addresses systemic racism and environmental justice.

The recommendations come after the state issued findings earlier this year that show North Carolina will see more extreme heat, damaging storms and floods, and rising sea levels — all to the detriment of the state’s public health, economy and environment. As the CAP report notes:

As North Carolina state leaders work to keep state residents safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading North Carolina scientists have spotlighted how the effects of climate change—another long-term, deadly threat—are expected to worsen in the future. The message from these scientists to state leaders is stark: The already detrimental and deadly consequences of more extreme weather events, flooding, sea level rise, and other impacts fueled by climate change are highly likely to escalate as global temperatures continue to increase over the coming decades.”

Like many other states, systemic and historic disparities in North Carolina, driven by discriminatory zoning and housing discrimination, have exacerbated the risks and effects of more extreme weather and other climate change impacts, the report finds. Again, here’s the CAP report:

“The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the interconnection between systemic racism and injustice and environmental, public health, and economic disparities. People of color—especially Black, Native American, and Latinx people—are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at far higher rates than their white counterparts. Public health researchers have found that residents in polluted neighborhoods are more likely to experience the worst effects of COVID-19. COVID-19 death rates have been highest in communities of color and Native American communities in particular, who are often exposed to the highest levels of pollution. These same communities are also the most vulnerable to emergencies and disasters, including those fueled by climate change.”

The report authors say that Gov. Roy Cooper has committed to pursuing a comprehensive approach to tackling climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy in ways that also advance equity and justice in the state — an approach that should serve as a model for other states in the region. To protect public health, safety, and economic security, however, the report says North Carolina leaders must take immediate action to implement the governor’s climate strategy. As described in the report, state leaders must also take more action to confront systemic racism and environmental injustice and to protect the well-being of all state residents.

Charting a path forward

“State leaders can make progress toward addressing climate change while advancing economic, racial, and environmental justice in communities across the state,” said Cathleen Kelly, senior fellow for Energy and Environment at CAP and co-author of the report. “These and other policies must be implemented without delay to protect the public health and safety of all people living in the state and to support rapid movement toward a just, inclusive, and pollution-free energy future.”

The CAP report lists six ways state leaders can create safe and healthy communities and ensure access to clean and affordable energy:

  • Create standards for building clean and resilient infrastructure and housing.
  • Prioritize equitable housing policies and community development.
  • Accelerate cleanup of toxic sites and flood mitigation.
  • Provide equitable access to clean and affordable energy.
  • Support a just transition to clean energy.
  • Foster inclusive and equitable public engagement.

The report also makes specific recommendations:

  • Provide funds to the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to finance construction of new, safe and affordable housing that is both energy efficient and resilient to climate change risks.
  • Expand investments in rental assistance and affordable housing development; increase data collection on homelessness risks; prioritize investments in hazard and disaster risk-reduction in front-line communities before and after extreme weather disasters.
  • Prioritize and expedite cleanup of toxic sites — Superfund or otherwise — near residential areas, watersheds, and coastal areas at risk of flooding due to increased storms and sea level rise.
  • Prioritize energy efficiency retrofits in low-income communities to reduce energy bills and improve air quality.
  • Increase access to sustainable and affordable energy options by creating a statewide green energy bank that would prioritize investments in low-income communities and communities of color.

Read the report: “Building a Just Climate Future for North Carolina” by Rita Cliffton and Cathleen Kelly

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