Crisis is a threat multiplier for inequality.  Whether it’s a global pandemic, mass power shutoffs, or devastating wildfires, the impacts and risks are dramatically different depending on who you are and where you live. Climate Resilience bond proposals from the California legislature offer an opportunity to address that inequality and move us toward a just recovery. 

Over the past few months the novel coronavirus has taken the world by storm. Entire countries and states have halted business as usual and we stand on the brink of an unprecedented global economic crisis. This pandemic not only lays bare the flaws and shortcomings of our current political and economic systems, but also foreshadows the devastating global impact and disruptions that we will all face if the ongoing climate crisis continues unchecked. 

As California looks for solutions, we need to move quickly to stabilize our communities and climate — now and for the long haul — starting with the communities facing the greatest risks with the fewest material resources.

The climate resilience bond recently proposed by the legislature could offer one possible way to support frontline communities as they recover from COVID-19 and prepare for climate change threats.  But it’ll only work if we go beyond physical infrastructure and invest in community resilience. That means making sure our communities have the social and economic support they need to face the coming climate disasters.

COVID-19 and Climate Change: Compounding Crises for Frontline Communities

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly affects us all, the impacts and risks differ dramatically depending on who you are and where you live—whether you have a good job, access to healthcare, stable housing, and paid sick leave. In working class communities of color, indigenous communities, and immigrant and refugee communities, people are feeling the impacts of racist attacks, unemployment, housing vulnerability, and energy insecurity. 

Communities on the frontlines of the struggle against climate change have long endured economic instability and worse health from a variety of causes.The COVID-19 pandemic has not only revealed these existing disparities, but is further widening the gap.  

Disproportionate health consequences in polluted neighborhoods, including higher incidence of asthma and cancer, make the COVID-19 crisis particularly harmful in the neighborhoods we represent. Recent data trends link underlying conditions with increased disease severity and vulnerability to COVID-19, with growing evidence that air pollution makes the illness worse. As we’re already seeing, Black and Latinx neighborhoods are experiencing a higher disease burden, with Black residents dying almost two and half times more often relative to their share of the state’s population.

At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a sweeping suspension of key environmental regulations. This will likely leave environmental justice communities experiencing unchecked levels of pollution from nearby oil and gas operations and further worsen community health issues. The simultaneous threats from the climate crisis such as wildfires will inevitably worsen these unequal health outcomes and economic conditions.

Right now, we have an opportunity to dramatically change course — to come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient and better prepared to face the coming storms together — by using the climate resilience bond to propel a just recovery that addresses these disparities.  

We must be intentional about supporting the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.  We must make sure that our policies not only help communities respond to the current moment, but also build resilience for the climate disasters ahead.  Now more than ever, state leaders need to make sure that everyone has a stable home to shelter in, hot water and electricity, the ability to vote safely, and environmental health protections. As organizations committed to advancing environmental justice and racial equity, we seek to support communities to withstand systemic crises and disasters and ensure a just recovery that transforms harmful systems and creates opportunities to thrive. 

Using a Climate Resilience Bond to Recover from COVID-19 and Build Resilience to Climate Change

These proposed bonds can provide critical investments to help the state recover from COVID-19 and prepare for inevitable climate disasters. However, the current proposals focus on what we can do to harden built infrastructure and protect natural resources, and are simply not enough. This pandemic has shown us that without strategies to simultaneously deliver economic relief and social supports alongside environmental protection, climate adaptation efforts will not meaningfully and effectively address the needs of communities as they face crisis. 

The following recommendations are designed to make any climate resilience bond better uplift community needs and address current conditions. They strive to create a genuine economic stimulus, meet community climate resilience needs, and center equity. We acknowledge that there are limitations to what a bond can fund. If a bond cannot directly fund the following proposals, we strongly encourage policymakers to advance them in accompanying policy efforts.

Recommendations for Climate Resilience Bond Addressing COVID-19 and Climate Change

  1. Identify Climate-Vulnerable Populations Using an Integrated Mapping Platform to lay the groundwork needed to protect California’s most impacted communities from climate threats.  Policymakers must be able to see the full picture and prioritize bond investments accordingly.
  2. Establish Community Resilience Centers to protect communities from the immediate threats anticipated from future wildfires, power outages, and evacuations. Community facilities should be offered funding to secure emergency resources and staffing to provide delivery of clean backup power, drinking water, air filters, cooling, food storage, and economic assistance.
  3. Deploy Resilient Energy Infrastructure. In the face of growing wildfire threats, communities urgently need clean energy infrastructure (e.g., energy efficiency, rooftop solar, storage, demand response, microgrids)for medically dependent residents, working class communities, and critical facilities. 
  4. Invest in Resilient Workforce Development and Training. The crisis we face has put a spotlight on the critical importance of investing in social care infrastructure and workers who are on the frontlines of fighting this virus and keeping our communities healthy and functioning. We need to rebuild the capacity of the public sector, the health care system, green jobs, and community-based responses.
  5. Fund and Expand the Transformative Climate Communities program (administered by the Strategic Growth Council) and expand the program to fund robust projects that advance climate adaptation and resilience priorities for disadvantaged communities. These projects are already creating jobs in underserved communities and have the potential to create many more. 

Protecting Californians from climate change, reducing pollution in the most impacted communities and supporting communities as they recover from COVID-19 will require significant investments, particularly in working class communities of color that are being hit hardest by both climate change and COVID-19. As California develops a climate resilience bond, we strongly encourage our policymakers to prioritize measures that stabilize our communities and climate — now and for the long haul — starting with the communities facing the greatest risks with the fewest material resources to recover.

This is our moment to collectively rewrite the story of what our world will become and what is possible when we invest in communities. A just recovery will make our whole state stronger.

For more details on the recommendations provided, please see the full recommendation letter submitted by our partners.

Amee Raval is a senior policy researcher at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Sona Mohnot is a senior policy analyst at the Greenlining Institute.

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