Climate change unequally affects the poorest and most marginalized groups of society who have contributed the least to global emissions. They are also usually the groups that have been the most alienated from the formal planning processes. As a result, they have the least access to services, infrastructure, and livelihoods required to sustain their well-being and potential for improvement.
In "Transitioning From Urban Climate Action to Climate Equity," Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 88, No. 4), Joan Fitzgerald examines the climate action planning process for five U.S. cities that have recently updated their climate actions focusing on equity: Austin, Texas, Baltimore, Cleveland, Portland, Oregon, and Providence, Rhode Island. The article identifies how planners and policymakers make the climate action planning process more inclusive of marginalized groups by assessing the planning components based on three aspects of equity: procedural, distributional, and recognitional.
Procedural equity emphasizes the partnership between municipalities, low-income communities, and communities of color that have historically been excluded from planning processes. The key is maintaining continuous participation through implementation and building long-term trust with marginalized communities.
Distributional equity refers to how the benefits and burdens of climate action are allocated among different groups or neighborhoods. As such, its success is often measured by the extent to which goods of climate-related programs, land uses, and infrastructure are equitably distributed.
Lastly, recognitional equity addresses who is included and respected in determining goals and outcomes and ensuring that all the city's demographics are represented.
In regards to procedural equity, Fitzgerald found several means adopted by the five cities to create an authentic participation process, that is:
- Undergoing antiracism training for sustainability staff;
- Employing more comprehensive efforts to bring underrepresented groups to the table; and
- Making sure that the participants are valued through organizing meetings and paying them for their time
In terms of distributional justice, all five cities established metrics of equity outcomes to examine the distributional aspects of each element of the updated plan. Such tools facilitate rating each goal for its feasibility, impact, and equity to guide the city in making decisions that have the most potential to reduce existing disparities and benefit frontline communities. The recognitional justice was primarily centered on the acknowledgment of past harm.
One area that needs further exploration is how these plans will be implemented. As pointed out in the article, climate planning processes focused on equity can take more time than the ones that aren't. Once equity goals have been established, specific metrics for measuring the extent to which they are achieved need to be developed. Competing goals and limitations of city powers can make it difficult to prioritize equity. Political will is only part of the answer to overcoming these challenges.
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About the author
Jiwon Park is a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.