The Impact of Extreme Heat on Environmental Justice Communities in California: Assessing Equity in Climate Action Plans
Climate change projections suggest extreme heat events will be more frequent over the next few decades. Extreme heat has both negative environmental and social impacts as it affects energy security, public health by increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses and stresses food and crop supply through prolonged droughts. The impacts of extreme heat will also disproportionately affect communities of low economic status. Because of this, there is a need for better climate action plans that can adapt to and mitigate the impacts brought upon by extreme heat that does not disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. This research analyzed local government Climate Action Plans of three cities in California with environmental justice communities to determine if appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures are addressed. Currently, Climate Action Plans to raise awareness of climate change impacts at a city level and provide measures to reduce risk through adaptation and mitigation measures, however, local government Climate Action Plans seldom address measures focused on socioeconomic status and inequity. Recommendations for cities to have more inclusive adaptation and mitigation measures to extreme heat include: 1) urban heat island data monitoring and measurement to collect, assess, and share demographic data on climate risk, 2) development of well-designed green retrofits and solutions for priority communities, 3) develop a heatwave early warning systems with response plans to reduce the human health consequences of heatwaves, 4) ensure all communities are educated on hazards and risks and have opportunities to engage in disaster preparedness efforts. These recommendations emphasize the importance of inclusivity and minimizing the disproportionate impacts of extreme heat on vulnerable communities. When creating local government Climate Action Plans, cities should continue to pursue innovative and inclusive solutions to the environmental and social impacts of climate change.