Centering Equity in Climate Resilience Planning and Action
Communities in the United States and abroad are already feeling the impacts of climate change. In 2021, the U.S. sustained twenty climate disaster events costing $295.9 billion (NOAA, 2022). As the climate crisis worsens, local level action is vital to ensure preparedness and build resilience to meet site-specific conditions. Elected, appointed, and professional staff leaders and other decision-makers at municipal, county, regional, and watershed scales – as well as within community-based organizations and small and medium-sized businesses – are on the frontlines of preparing for and responding to the impacts of a changing climate.
This paper introduces and amplifies principles and best practices for centering equity in climate resilience planning and action. The audience is primarily users of the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit and its Steps to Resilience. Climate resilience is the “capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation.” (IPCC, 2014).
This paper’s focus on equity in climate resilience appropriately emphasizes the final element of the IPCC’s definition: transformation. Race has often kept historically excluded populations from coming together to understand the interconnections that exist across all forms of marginalization. Government’s convening, organizing, and resource mobilization role, in leading with a racial equity framework, can foster unity and strengthen authentic protection of public health, safety and welfare for all. We have an opportunity, now, to transform relationships with one another and with the natural world to strengthen climate resilience and advance sustainable systems.
When historically marginalized communities are centered in climate resilience planning, the outcomes are better for all and more durable. By collaborating in building on existing community strengths, and centering community priorities and needs in climate resilience, practitioners can improve the local economy and strengthen people’s ability to participate in the decisions that will directly affect them. Moving beyond technical assistance to adopting an equity centered framework that builds on existing community strengths, knowledge, and assets moves us all forward in achieving more equitable, just and resilient communities.
The analysis, principles, practices, and other resources presented in this paper draw from peer-reviewed scholarly literature as well as – importantly – from gray literature (e.g., county/municipal, non-governmental organization and think tank reports) in addition to our own research in collaboration with community partners, Eastie Farm and Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW). Our research also included semi-structured interviews with subject matter experts and observation to understand ways to authentically engage with communities in centering equity. Our goal is to highlight and amplify the exemplary contributions to practice from these sources.
Our paper synthesizes guiding principles to apply throughout the planning and action process. These include:
- Focus on root causes
- Balance power dynamics
- Foster a sense of belonging
- Apply a place-based approach
- Evolve with the process
Equity is a frame, a goal, and a process, and as such, it cannot be boiled down to a linear step-by-step recipe. However, we recognize that some elements of planning do have a linear process where certain actions are more successful if followed by others, so we have presented our recommendations in a ten-practice approach, recognizing that these actions may be taken in other orders or should be conceived of as a dynamic, continuous spiral process:
- Community engagement
- Cross sector collaboration
- Understand the historical context
- Equity goal setting
- Data collection and analysis
- Assess assets and vulnerabilities
- Explore hazards
- Identify and prioritize strategies
In addition, we have included a section on “Special Considerations for Specific Groups” to highlight special considerations when working with Black, Latinos, Asian, and Indigenous communities in the United States.
A summary of best practices is a useful way to begin understanding of the subject matter. It does not substitute for lived experience and cannot do justice to a topic as complex as equity. Becoming an equity-focused climate resilience practitioner requires years of open-minded and open-hearted study and immersing oneself in environmental justice communities to understand lived experiences. The ten-practice approach we have outlined in this paper is a simplification of a nonlinear, circular process based on mutual feedback and evolving relationships. Following a predetermined ten-step process is counter to the process of changing power dynamics, yet that is the structure from which we are working. Climate resilience practitioners can approach this document with the understanding that using this guide may begin a genuine transformation in approaching climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation efforts in collaboration with communities.
This guide is part of Climate Resilience Fund's (CRF) Coordination and Collaboration in the Resilience Ecosystem (CCRE) program, which awards grants to projects that support the development of the tools, services and resources that practitioners have identified as essential to scaling the efforts and catalyzing the investment needed to increase resilience to climate-related impacts across the United States.